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Will the "Party of the Devil" Get Chased Back to Hell?


Over 4,000 Hezbollah fighters have taken position around Aleppo, according to sources in the Free Syrian Army. Large numbers of Hezbollah fighters are already battling Syrian rebels in and around Qusayr. Reports suggest as many as 75 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in that battle so far, the highest death toll for the “Party of God” since the 2006 war with Israel. Are Hezbollah and the Assad regime preparing to launch a Qusayr-style attack and siege of Aleppo next?

“We will chase Hezbollah to hell,” warned General Salim Idriss, the chief of staff of the Syrian rebel military council. The Syrian rebels have taken to calling Hezbollah the “Party of the Devil” as the Lebanese guerrillas have become more and more involved in the Syrian civil war.

This is a huge gamble for Hezbollah. It’s an “all-in” strategy that is taking a heavy toll, reports Loveday Morris from Lebanon:

At the Rawdat al-Shahidayn cemetery in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the dead from Syria are buried under the floor of a brightly lighted room next to those who have died fighting Israel. In one corner, floor tiles had been removed and a shovel rested on the side of a freshly dug pit that awaited the body of the next fighter to be laid to rest.

Ali Fadl sat on a plastic chair at his brother’s graveside as his widowed sister-in-law, wrapped in black, rocked back and forth in prayer. “This is not painful. Everybody hopes for martyrdom,” he said. “Whatever Hasan Nasrallah says, we do. We do not question.”

Nasrallah could yet lead Hezbollah—and Lebanon—down a very dark road. Fighting in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, has spiked in recent days. The city has become “like Kandahar,” one of the most war-torn cities in Afghanistan, said an unnamed Lebanese security official—a strange but evocative comparison. Unknown gunmen have attacked pro-Hezbollah Lebanese leaders. The commander of the rebel Supreme Military Council in Aleppo vowed “to strike at your stronghold in Dahiyeh,” Hezbollah’s headquarters in southern Beirut. An important Egyptian Sunni sheik, whose television program reaches an estimated 60 million people, issued a fatwa on June 1 that labeled Hezbollah and Iran infidels and exhorted Sunnis everywhere to join the Syrian rebels.

None of this looks good—for Syria, for Lebanon, for the entire Middle East, and for the Obama administration. It would have been a huge challenge for the US to intervene in the Syrian civil war a year ago, but since then the options have only become worse and will continue to do so as time goes on. Intervening—or at least backing up strong rhetoric like “Assad must go!” with action—might have also convinced the mullahs in Tehran that Washington means business. Instead, in the absence of strong American leadership, Iran and Hezbollah have doubled down in Syria and appear to be turning the tide against rebel forces. John Kerry said yesterday that the US came “late” to the crisis in Syria. Yes, Mr. Secretary, indeed it did.

For now, sitting on its hands is all the Obama administration appears likely to do. Will the calculus change? It’s anyone’s guess.

[Hezbollah flag image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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  • Christopher Patti

    I feel very strongly that we should have an incredibly good reason for intervening in the middle east. While I understand that isolationism is madness, we should spend the lives of our brave service women and men very, very carefully.

    • Pete

      When you say intervention in the Middle East must require “incredibly good reason,” I trust that means a direct and clear threat to the U.S.

      That rules out any so-called R-T-P and any nation building.

      As for Israel, if they perceive a threat, let them do their own intervention; it is not America’s job.

      • Christopher Patti

        I don’t think we should be engaging in “nation building” in the Middle East.

  • bpuharic

    I keep waiting for elucidation on the terms ‘intervene’ ‘back up words with action’, ‘convince the mullahs we mean business’.

    What is being suggested here beyond vague rhetoric? What ‘action’ is WRM suggesting that could ‘change the calculus’? Nation building like our successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps? Do we break Syria then own it?

    Other than a gratuitous swipe at Obama, I really don’t see anything of substance.

    • Tom

      Obama shutting up and saying nothing if he’s not willing to do anything might be a good start.

      • bpuharic

        And it might be equally good if those on the right who have killed so many

        did the same

  • Bob_from_Ohio

    “None of this looks good—for Syria, for Lebanon, for the entire Middle East, and for the Obama administration.”

    I still do not get it, why is a protracted war grinding down Hezbollah not good for the United States (and Israel)?

    • BrianFrankie

      If a protracted war *does* grind down Hezb, then perhaps that would be a good outcome for the US and Israel.
      But that is not usually the way war works. Usually, the more an army fights the better it gets. Particularly if it is winning.
      Material I have read says that Hezb has about 5000 front line troops, another 15,000 trained reserves, and could perhaps double that total with militia/police troops in an existential struggle. They are already deeply committed with more than 6000 troops in Lebanon. These troops will be learning infantry and combined arms tactics, use of heavy weaponry, intelligence and organisation, all the skills needed to create a hard fighting expeditionary force capable of offensive operations. And they’ll be learning these lessons against an experienced and determined foe. Israel cannot possibly be happy about the capabilities Hezb is gaining against the losses of a few hundred, or even a thousand, fighters – losses that will be made up within a year.
      Hezb will also beef up their arsenal – both in quality and quantity, and their logistics capabilities. Overall, assuming they can achieve a result that can plausibly be spun as “victory”, they will be a much more formidable adversary in the future.
      Of course, there is the possibility that they lose, however you want to define that. Perhaps one of their larger formations is surrounded and forced to surrender. Or they cannot capture their objectives. But I do not see that the Syrian rebels have the ability to inflict this sort of defeat on Hezbollah at this time. Perhaps if the Syrian Free Army is supplied with anti-armor and anti-aircraft weaponry, and given training, they’ll be able to match Hezbollah. Or, alternatively, if a more powerful military intervenes to tip the scales – you could postulate a lot of possibilities: the Israeli military destroys the Syrian government air force or launches a ground offensive in south Lebanon, or if US drones start destroying Syrian armor, or drop a couple of MOABs on the Presidential Palace (see A. Garfinkle’s post from a few days ago). But any of these possibilities are pretty far fetched based on my perception of the will of the current US admin to take action.

  • ljgude

    Hezbollah versus al Qaeda and their backers. Just supply whichever side is losing.

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