Lebanon a Battlefield between Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and Jihadists

Lebanon a Battlefield between Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and Jihadists

Raghida Dergham |

Now that the Syrian war has arrived to Lebanon through the suicide bombing that took place in front of the Iranian embassy this week, the country has become a likely candidate for “Iraqization,” as well as increasingly likely to be subjected to “preemptive” Israeli military strikes, having turned into a battlefield between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, along with jihadists of various backgrounds and goals. Lebanon has become an unbridled neighbor, lacking a government and rife with armed fighters and militias. Israel fears such chaos at its border and is laying out contingency plans for every possibility. All eyes are now turned towards the way in which Hezbollah, or the Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) affiliated with the Iranian government, might carry out its revenge, and the nature of such an operation, in response to the two terrorist suicide attacks against the Iranian embassy in Beirut’s Southern Suburb (Dahieh) – which led to the death of 25 people, with more than 150 wounded, and for which responsibility has been claimed by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades. There has been unanimous international condemnation of the terrorist attack, as well as of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates wherever they may be active, whether inside of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, or against American, European, Russian and Chinese targets wherever they may be. Indeed, this is a destructive terrorist organization, exploiting the issues of the Arab region to achieve its own ideological and sectarian goals. It has cost the Arabs dearly on the international scene, ever since it carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks against the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Yet, facing near-unanimous international condemnation of the likes of the Al-Nusra Front, which the Security Council has listed as a terrorist organization amid its battle against the regime in Damascus due to its connections to Al-Qaeda, is near-consensus among Security Council members on turning a blind eye to the role played by Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard on the battlefield in Syria under Iranian military leadership. Some Western countries have listed Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, yet no measures have been taken at the Security Council, neither against Hezbollah’s publicly declared military engagement in Syria, nor against Iran’s covert involvement there, which represents the blatant violation of a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter banning Iran from providing military assistance and supplying weapons beyond its borders. There is a certain background and “justifications” for such a paradox among those responsible for it, as long as the matter remains restricted to the Syrian battlefield. But now that the war between, on the one hand, Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard, and on the other Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, has reached the fragile and uncontrolled arena of Lebanon, this international decision to keep Lebanon and Israel outside the fighting has collapsed with it, and it has become necessary to demand that the international community take serious measures to rein in the situation. It has become urgent for the regional forces concerned to reconsider their strategic and arbitrary policies alike. Indeed, what took place this week in Beirut represents a major juncture in the regional equation.


The countries in the region engaged in Syria and Lebanon are countries that are relatively safe within their own borders. They are neither the scenes of civil wars nor of the proxy wars of others. It is held against some of them that they use countries like Syria, Lebanon and Iraq as arenas for confrontation and attrition, while their bilateral relations are – in appearance – based on mutual respect and non-interference in the affairs of others. Underneath this, the disagreement is a fundamental one, at the sectarian and ideological levels, as well as within the framework of the regional balance of power and the leadership of the Muslim World. Iran’s relations with the United States have been striking, not just under the Shah when it had been the primary US ally, but also under the Iranian Revolution. Indeed, the United States struck at the chords of the Iran-Iraq war and of the balance between Sunnis and Shiites, at times in favor of Iraq and at others in favor of Iran, within a carefully designed strategy. Then came former President George W. Bush to offer Iraq to Iran within the framework of his War on Terror. President Barack Obama has followed in Bush’s footsteps, and he now wants to consecrate the relationship between the United States and Iran by strengthening Iran’s regional role in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, which represents within the framework of this American strategy Iran’s link to Israel. This is thus the strategic policy laid out by the American “establishment”.


All this talk of cooperation between the Arab Gulf states and Israel in the face of Iran’s expansion is neither logical nor realistic. Indeed, the relationship between Iran and Israel is as stable as it has historically been between the Persians and the Jews. There is perhaps a tactical need for Israel today to somewhat rein in President Barack Obama’s enthusiasm towards Iran, so as for his rush not to prevent him from paying his dues to Israel. And perhaps such a need meets with the need of the Arab Gulf states concerned for anything that might help to “put the brakes” on the Obama administration and its obsession with Iran. Yet this is a tactical step that should not blind us to the long-term strategies of any and all of the regional and international players.


What the leaders of the United States, Russia, China, Iran and Israel agree on today will meet with the interests of the Syrian government and its ally Hezbollah, and that is eradicating those referred to as Takfiris, Jihadists and Salafists. They have all come to believe that their enemies are the Sunnis – America because of the events of September 11, 2001; Russia and China because their Muslim problem is a Sunni one; and Israel because its battle is against the Arabs, not the Persians. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have provided all of the ammunition needed for such a gathering, due to their resorting to terrorism as a strategy and as a method, and can be considered to represent the side that is in effect carrying out the interests of this gathering. Most surprising is the fact that the funding of Al-Qaeda and its derivates comes through Arab channels mostly connected to individuals and families who delude themselves into thinking that they are defending Islam, Sunnis and Arabs. How wrong, harmful, ignorant and defeated they are. Indeed, no matter how many volunteers they might “spawn”, and no matter how many attacks they might carry out in the Arab or international arena against the poles of this alien gathering, they would only be harming others as much as they would be harming those they claim to be supporting.


Hezbollah too is taking risks and may well pay the price for its arrogance on the long run. It may boast today of being a regional player, primarily a military one, in Syria as in Yemen, and in Lebanon. Hezbollah makes no secret of the fact that it plays its regional roles on behalf of Iran, not on behalf of Lebanon, where it is geographically rooted, despite its loyalty lying first and foremost with the Islamic Republic of Iran. It also makes no secret of the fact that it is fighting a sectarian battle as a Shiite party that views Persian Tehran as an ally and Arab Riyadh as an enemy.


Today, Hezbollah has the right to boast of having been the one to tip the military balance on the Syrian battlefield in favor of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. Indeed, had it not been for the battle of Qusayr waged by Hezbollah, the regime would not have emerged victorious in the face of the Syrian opposition. Hezbollah is today mobilized to entrench the military balance of power in favor of the regime in Damascus through the coming battle of Qalamoun.


Clearly Hezbollah does not care about the price Lebanon is paying as a result of the influx of Syrian refugees and migrants to it, in terms of its infrastructure. Hezbollah does not care how high the price paid by Lebanon is economically, as a result of it openly waging the battle against the Arab Gulf states and preventing them – in effect – from coming to Lebanon to save its vital tourism sector. Hezbollah is clear in its strategy aimed at entirely controlling Lebanon, in terms of its government, its decision-making and its identity, because it is an important link in Iran’s regional strategy stretching to Israel.


In effect, Hezbollah has summoned the Al-Qaeda organization to Lebanon by waging the war in Syria. It is a double-edged sword. Hezbollah’s self-confidence and its trust in belonging to the gathering opposed to the Takfiris may well turn against it, not just against Lebanon. Indeed, it is implicated in the war in Syria, where it is training for major battles and obtaining advanced weapons, which it is smuggling, into Lebanese territory, relying on them to fight Al-Qaeda, and perhaps Israel as well if the need arises, or if tactical Iranian considerations were to require it. But its war with Al-Qaeda moving to Lebanon also forces it to fight on two fronts at once – and perhaps on a third one as well, because Israel could be forced to take measures to protect itself from both of the extremist factions active in its neighborhood.


And then there is the issue of “abandonment” that has always hounded those who have wagered on the United States. Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is in dire need to have its sanctions lifted. This is why it is wooing the United States. Hezbollah, through its Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, is defending American-Iranian rapprochement, and is wagering on the gathering of the United States, Russia, China, Iran and Israel to combat Al-Qaeda and similar groups. But “abandonment” will be its fate at the end of the day, especially if the rumored “Grand Bargain” is struck. This is why it is taking risks, not just with itself as a “regional player”, but also with the Lebanese Shiite community. That is because the price for summoning Al-Qaeda to Lebanon as an enemy will be paid by the Shiite community first and foremost. And all of Lebanon will fall victim to the arrogance of a party that represents a minority, even if it claims to represent the Shiite community.


Lebanon is a country of minorities, a country without a majority. This is why Western countries, which claim concern for the interests of minorities in the Arab and Muslim worlds, should step in and do something before it is too late. And the first thing they should make clear is what they have in mind regarding Lebanon when it comes to Hezbollah summoning both Al-Qaeda and Israel to it militarily, for different reasons.


Indeed, the most important question – to which an answer is required primarily from the United States – is: what are the limits of Iran’s victory in Syria and in Lebanon, and of Iran winning Syria and Lebanon after having won Iraq?


It is understandable that the United States wants to build on what it believes to be a historical opportunity of which the main feature is moderation in Tehran in the form of President Hassan Rohani, at the nuclear level. But what are the perspectives of Iran’s regional role as legitimized by the Obama administration, knowing that its military wing as represented by Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard extends today from Syria to Lebanon in a military confrontation against Al-Qaeda? The policy of mutual exhaustion may be tactically useful for America’s goals, but what comes next? And what does the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which manages the wars of militias, want?


There is a smiling Iran, and there is a shrewd Iran, which uses the method of “wounding by cotton” in order to implement its strategy with patience and perseverance, and to build on the weak memory of the West – which has deluded itself into believing that Iran has never been belligerent, forgetting the role it played in backing militias and interfering in the affairs of neighboring countries, and in detaining American hostages for 444 days, and not even hesitating to foster Sunni extremism and its instruments.


The role played by the Arabs in fostering Sunni extremism is no lesser than that played by Iran, and in fact equals it, from Afghanistan to Lebanon. And the time has come to reconsider and to take firm decisions, either in terms of reaching an understanding between the Arab Gulf states and Iran, or in terms of finding an alternative to supporting Al-Qaeda and its derivates as a means of confronting Iran and its militias. Correcting such a course in Lebanon represents a necessary step for the Arab Gulf states concerned, for which the sponsorship of this descending spiral will prove detrimental.


As for the “international community”, its isolationist members as well as its exceedingly enthusiastic ones, it must wake up and stop hiding behind its own finger, because the war in Syria reaching Lebanon threatens of civil wars which proxy wars of attrition will not be able to contain.