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Local Syrian Proxies, Hezbollah Stooges

1:24 PM, Aug 26, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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Lebanon’s two main Muslim sects have chosen opposing sides in Syria’s ongoing civil war.  The Shia back the Assad regime and Sunnis support the Sunni-majority Syrian rebels. While Sunnis have smuggled arms to their comrades in Syria and many have joined in the fighting there, it is Hezbollah fighting alongside Assad that has so far had the largest impact.  Along with Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force units and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, Tehran’s Lebanese asset Hezbollah has spelled depleted Assad regime forces that over the last two and a half years of civil war have suffered perhaps thousands of casualties and maybe more defections. Most recently, Hezbollah proved instrumental in changing the balance of power in the Syrian town of Qusayr, a strategically significant node for both the regime and the rebels, and vanquishing Assad’s adversaries.

However, the battle for Qusayr also showed Hezbollah’s limitations. The Party of God absorbed a large number of casualties there, especially early in the battle, which alarmed its domestic Shiite constituency—why, many wanted to know, was the Islamic resistance fighting in Syria if its main purpose was to defend Lebanon and the Shia from Israel? Moreover, Qusayr also raised questions about the group’s fighting strength. Despite the wild exaggerations of both Hezbollah supporters and their adversaries, as Tony Badran recently wrote, the group probably has about 5000 fighters. Even if Hezbollah is only deploying several hundred troops across the border in Syria, that still leaves it more vulnerable than otherwise on its most important front—not the Israeli border, but Lebanon itself.

With its commitments in Syria, Hezbollah needs help keeping the domestic situation under control, especially with the Sunni community now enraged by Assad, Iran and Hezbollah’s depredations against their Sunni brethren in Syria. Consequently, Hezbollah has tapped the Lebanese Armed Forces for assistance. While the United States continues to fund this state institution, presumably under the misguided belief that it’s the only card Washington has left to play in Beirut, the reality is that Hezbollah long ago infiltrated the LAF, particularly its directorate of intelligence, which is effectively under Hezbollah’s control.

For instance, consider the June confrontation between the LAF and a Sunni group in the southern city of Sidon, in which the Lebanese army was ostensibly responding to an attack on its soldiers. That version of the story, as Badran explained at the time, was incomplete. “There was a third protagonist,” wrote Badran—Hezbollah. “In fact, the operation in Sidon was a preemptive power play by the Party of God. Using the LAF as cover, Hezbollah moved to eliminate what it considered a potential threat.”

Fast forward to last week’s bombing in the southern suburbs of Beirut, credited to a Sunni group with ties to the Syrian rebels, and Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah’s warnings of retaliation. Friday’s mosque bombings were likely a part of that retaliatory campaign, and it seems that the flurry of rockets aimed at Israel was as well.

The rockets were fired from an area dominated by Hezbollah and its ally Amal, near Tyre in southern Lebanon where security procedures have been further enhanced since the bombings in Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold. The notion that a gang of Sunni fighters could sneak in four rockets and fire them off without being noticed is improbable.

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