Will Iran, Hezbollah go all out to boost Assad?
After last week’s suicide bombing in Damascus, Lebanese group seems to increase its support as Assad’s position weakens.
Syria's Assad speaks in Damascus, January 6, 2013 Photo: Sana Sana/Reuters
Clashes have intensified in the Syrian capital this month as the opposition
continues to demonstrate its ability to penetrate the regime’s defenses in the
city. The suicide bombing linked to the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front last
week, which killed 90, could be a sign of things to come for
Residents of Damascus had previously thought they were safe,
but now the fighting that had been raging in the suburbs has penetrated the
capital, the editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi wrote. He adds that
Syria is heading “deeper towards a bloody future.”
cross-border fighting between the Islamist-dominated Syrian opposition and the
Shi’ite Hezbollah organization in Lebanon has increased this month.
Sunday, the Lebanese Daily Star reported that heavy shelling and gunfire from
the Syrian side of the border killed three people in Lebanon. The Future
Movement in Lebanon, affiliated with the Sunnis, complained that the firing is
coming from the Syrian regime and called on the Lebanese army to come to their
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman also urged Syria to stop
shooting into his country.
However, the Lebanese army in unlikely to get
involved, because Hezbollah and its allies dominate the Lebanese government and
such a move could lead to a civil war.
Meanwhile, last week, the
opposition Free Syrian Army threatened to launch an attack against Hezbollah in
Lebanon after giving the movement 48 hours to stop firing at its positions in
Homs province. Attacks by Hezbollah into Syria and retaliation by the Syrian
opposition may lead to a larger conflagration if the Shi’te organization decides
to increase the scale of its intervention.
The West realizes that the
conflict is set for escalation and has come up with contingency plans to capture
or destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. Such worries multiplied on Sunday after
news came out that rebels captured the site of the suspected nuclear reactor at
al-Kibar that Israel allegedly bombed in 2007.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front
leads the opposition forces on the ground. Salman Shaikh, the director of the
Brookings Doha Center, told AFP that “the al-Nusra Front could well be
controlling de facto three provinces in the next stage,” adding, “They are doing
the clever thing, establishing local agreements with tribal elders,
administering some of the aid required and getting revenues by controlling some
of the oil fields.”
The Washington Post revealed on Sunday that outside
powers have begun sending more powerful weaponry to the Syrian opposition to
boost those fighters not from al- Nusra. One Arab official was quoted as calling
them “the good guys.”
Just how outside powers differentiate between “bad”
al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra fighters and other “good” Islamists or other groups is
These advances have the Iranian-Hezbollah axis worried and the
cross-border skirmishes in the past weeks could lead to something
“Hezbollah is fighting inside Syria with orders from Iran,”
Lebanese Druse leader MP Walid Jumblatt told Al Jazeera in an interview to be
aired Monday, according to the Daily Star.
The circumstances are ripe for
a bloodier ethnic conflict in Syria that will have many outside forces
supporting various sides.
Lebanon is split; Iraq is controlled by a
Shi’ite government that is friendly with Iran; and Jordan and Turkey are seen as
supporting their Sunni brothers in the Syrian opposition, with funding from the
Gulf and the West.
Joel Parker, a PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University
who closely follows events in Syria, points out that Reuters reported a week ago
that Bashar Assad’s troops had posted signs on the gates of Damascus saying
“Either Assad [will win] or we will set the country ablaze.”
he notes, the Syrian regime has been setting up more checkpoints around Damascus
as people start to lose faith in the regime to maintain security.
is a sign that even with Hezbollah and Iran’s help, the regime is not capable of
preventing the worst kind of massacre in Damascus.
discredits everybody who is working to prop up the Assad regime because they are
not able to protect Syrian civilians,” he says.
Iran and Hezbollah surely
calculate that Israel and the West will not interfere if Hezbollah ups its
involvement a notch, and unleashes its fury on the Syrian opposition, but keeps
the conflict within the Syrian and Lebanese domain.
However, such a move
to escalate would inflame Sunni regimes and ruin Iran’s efforts at befriending
the up-and-coming Sunni Islamists in the region. That is why it is more likely
that Hezbollah and Iran refrain from an all-out war in Syria, though increasing
covert support with more direct Hezbollah involvement if the end looks near for
Assad. The increasing Hezbollah involvement in the past week seems to be a sign
of those worries.