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Lebanon, Syria—and the CIA

9:48 AM, Aug 19, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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Nasrallah

Even with all eyes turned toward Egypt and the increasingly violent rifts pulling that society apart, the region’s active civil war in Syria burns on. Last Thursday, the two-and-a half-year-long conflict touched neighboring Lebanon, again, when a bomb detonated in the Hezbollah-held southern suburbs of Beirut killing 27 people and wounding hundreds. Claiming responsibility for the attack, the second to strike the Dahiyeh in the last month, was a previously unknown group, the Brigade of Aisha, Mother of the Faithful, a Sunni Islamist organization that was almost certainly acting on behalf of Syrian rebel units.  The message to Hezbollah is clear: If you fight alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, we will take the war to your homes in Lebanon.

The explosion targeted civilians, said Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah, distinguishing the Shia community at large from Hezbollah members. “The assailant wanted to cause a big loss of life among the ranks of women, children and people,” Nasrallah explained. Here the Hezbollah chieftain is slightly off-message. As the party of God and its supporters typically argue, Hezbollah isn’t simply a militia with fighters, guns and money, or a political party representing Lebanon’s Shia community, it’s a way of life. As Amal Saad Ghorayeb, a Middle East scholar who reliably puts out Hezbollah’s line argues, “Hezbollah is a community, it’s a people based on a grassroots movement.” If that’s the case, then there are no civilians in the community and everyone, including “women, children and people,” is a legitimate target.

This of course isn’t exactly what Hezbollah intended by obscuring the lines between the party and the rest of the Shia community. As Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, recently wrote, “blurring all distinction between party and community was precisely what Hezbollah figured is the best way to shelter itself. The party has long been clear that integrating the Shiites—and also Lebanon more broadly—into the so-called ‘resistance’ project, is at the heart of Hezbollah’s strategy.” 

The idea is that by using the Shiite community in particular, and all Lebanon more generally, as a human shield, Hezbollah is able to deter its adversaries, as Badran writes, “out of concern for the citizenry and the country as a whole.” It worked in 2006, when after Hezbollah took all the country to war with Israel, the Bush administration got a ceasefire at the UN in order to protect Lebanon from further devastation, and the government of U.S. ally Fouad Siniora from falling.

But what worked seven years ago is no longer feasible. As Badran explains, Israel effectively accepted “Hezbollah’s decision to turn Lebanese villages into military compounds” and countered with the Dahiyeh Doctrine, declaring that in any future round of hostilities with Hezbollah, all of Lebanon would be regarded as Hezbollah territory, and leveled. In yesterday’s operation, the attackers employed a version of the Dahiyeh Doctrine in treating the Shia community, civilians, as if they were indistinguishable from Hezbollah.

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