In the beginning, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah condemned the Syrian uprising. Then, when things started getting violent, he tried to help moderate a ceasefire between government and rebel forces. Now, ever so subtly, he is hedging his bets, voicing tentative and vague support for the Syrian rebels, careful not to antagonize his second-greatest patron. But is that too little, too late?
On March 15, Nasrallah spoke to students in Lebanon about illiteracy but eventually turned to the Syrian uprising:
We tell our Syrian bothers—people, regime, state, army, parties, and political forces—your blood is our blood, your future is our future, your life is our life, and our security and fate are one, and therefore, brothers please resolve this problem politically, period. . . .
All forms of massacres and the targeting of civilians and innocent people are to be condemned. Now the opposition is accusing the regime and the regime is accusing the opposition. One of the regime’s responsibilities today is to present the facts to the people.
Nasrallah—unlike Hamas, which abandoned its Damascus headquarters and declared itself neutral in the Syrian uprising—has so far aligned Hezbollah with its Syrian benefactors. Hezbollah and Syria’s Alawite leaders share religious backgrounds, and Nasrallah worries about the backlash against Shiites if Assad were to fall. But Nasrallah’s support for Assad thus far might have already condemned Hezbollah in the eyes of Syria’s rebels: As the NYT reports,
Syrian rebels have burned the Hezbollah flag, claimed that its snipers are killing civilians in Syria, and named their brigades after historic warriors who defeated Shiites in Islam’s early schismatic battles.
Syria’s increasingly bloody sectarian conflict is unlikely to bring peace, harmony and pluralistic democracy to Syria any time soon, but the struggle has some very benign consequences for the geopolitics of the region.
No miracles are yet on the horizon, but Hezbollah has definitely had to go into a defensive crouch.