Analysis: Al-Qaida unlikely to force Hezbollah out of Syria

Al-Qaida-linked jihadist groups are focusing their energies on attacking fellow Muslims; Regional expert: US has decided jihadists are bigger threat to stability in Lebanon than Hezbollah.

February 21, 2014 01:40
2 minute read.
A Free Syrian Army fighter launches a rocket

A Free Syrian Army fighter launches a rocket 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Could the continued onslaught by al-Qaida-linked jihadists force Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from the Syrian war? Probably not.

Such a withdrawal would seemingly allow the organization to focus on defending itself in Lebanon, but the bombings targeting it and Iran are strongly connected to the sectarian struggle in Syria.

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Sunni jihadist groups with a regional presence and connections to the global jihadist network are targeting Hezbollah and Iranian locations, gathering Muslim recruits from all over the world.

Two of the main jihadist groups involved in Syria, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have claimed responsibility for bombings against Shi’ite targets in Lebanon.

To strike back against the Sunnis, Hezbollah and Iran participate in the conflict beyond Lebanese borders, with an emphasis on the Sunni- Shi’ite battle in Syria.

“I don’t think it will affect Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria,” Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Wednesday.

The attack comes right after a major campaign by Hezbollah – with reported indirect US intelligence help – to catch the masterminds of bombings that have targeted Iranian and Hezbollah targets, he said.

In recent months, Lebanese intelligence services have arrested various figures linked to the group, including Naim Abbas, a suspected commander in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

Hezbollah expected the new cabinet to give it more freedom to go after its Sunni enemies. The new government serves as a cover for Lebanese security operations in certain Sunni areas, Badran added.

Hezbollah’s propaganda narrative states that car bombs targeting them originate in Yabrud, a Syrian rebel stronghold just north of Damascus and near the Lebanese border, in an attempt to justify its offensive there.

A fierce battle is being fought in Yabrud, with songs to motivate Hezbollah’s supporters as they continue to bury its fighters, noted Badran.

Asked why the US would indirectly aid Hezbollah by giving Lebanese forces intelligence about Abdullah Azzam members, Badran responded that the US wants a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement in the region, though the Saudis are unlikely to agree to it under the current conditions.

However, Riyadh wants to calm the Lebanese situation as much as possible.

“The US decided that the real threat is al-Qaida and that it cannot have stability in Lebanon without Hezbollah,” he said.

Asked if he sees a possibility for a cease-fire or for Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from Syria, Badran responded that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was clear in his latest speech that the group will continue to fight in Syria and there is little chance for a political solution at this time.

Al-Qaida-linked jihadist groups are focusing their energies on attacking fellow Muslims, even other opposition groups, and not the West. Islamists are targeting religious minorities such as Christians, but a large-scale terrorist attack on a Western target, an attack on the “far enemy” such as what occurred on September 11, 2001, seems less likely now than it did before the Arab uprisings began.

Richard Spencer, in an article for the Daily Telegraph, put it succinctly in an article titled, “Are we seeing the end of Syria’s five-star jihad?” stating: “You come to fight for Allah, and find that the people you are actually killing are fellow Sunni Muslims.”

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