LOCALS IN NABATIYA, south Lebanon, carry Hezbollah and Lebanese flags on May 24 while the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah speaks on a screen at a festival to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah is seeking to depict a narrative in which it is protecting minorities such as Christians, Druse, and Alawites in the ongoing Middle Eastern sectarian conflict so as to conceal the ideological sectarian and revolutionary ambitions that it shares with Iran.
Hezbollah, a Shi’ite organization, is presenting itself as the defender of the multi-ethnic Lebanese state and minorities against Sunni jihadists.
For example, Hezbollah announced that it condemned last week’s killing of 20 Druse by al-Qaida’s Nusra Front in the village of Qalb Loze in Idlib province in northwestern Syria.
The Shi’ite group claimed that Israel was being “deceptive and hypocritical” by seeming to show concern for the Druse when in reality “the Zionist entity is the key ally of these terrorists which they provide with weapons,” reported its al-Manar media outlet.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech last year, framed the threat from Islamic State in terms of protecting the Lebanese state and not in terms of supporting its backer Iran in a struggle for regional hegemony.
“Here we live, and – if the battle is imposed on us – here we fight and here we will be martyred,” said Nasrallah.
“Going to fight in Syria was, in the first degree, to defend Lebanon, the resistance in Lebanon, and all Lebanese,” he said of his group’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.
“This danger does not recognize Shi’ites, Sunnis, Muslims, Christians or Druse or Yazidis or Arabs or Kurds. This monster is growing and getting bigger,” said Nasrallah.
Hezbollah and Iran are two branches of the same tree seeking to spread their version of revolutionary Islam, and the fact that they have formed temporary alliances with minorities against their enemy does not mean that protecting them is their objective.
Since 2006, Hezbollah has walked the line in terms of claiming to be allied with minorities, exemplified by its alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement, Michel Aoun’s Christian political party, Phillip Smyth, a researcher specializing in Shi’ite Islamist groups at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics, told The Jerusalem Post.
The Free Patriotic Movement is the largest Christian bloc in the Lebanese parliament and is part of the mainly Shi’ite and Maronite Christian March 8 Alliance, which includes Hezbollah.
Because of the “Sunni jihadism in Syria and the need for manpower as well as political support back in Lebanon, acting like a minority protector makes some strategic sense,” said Smyth.
“Some of its reasoning comes down to domestic politics,” he said, asserting that the less that will be said about Hezbollah in a state largely viewed as a minority haven and the more said about fighting jihadists, the better it is for it.
Additionally, noted Smyth, there is a regional agenda behind this narrative push.
“Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria have all engaged in messaging which casts them as partners/protectors of Christian elements,” he said. “However, wrapped within this sort of positioning comes the added push for ‘the Islamic Resistance’ narrative.”Reuters contributed to this report.