Fort Russ – 25th January, 2016
Edited by Ollie Richardson
Iran Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei described Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and its effects as follows: “Hezbollah has changed the destiny. Hezbollah stopped the regime from falling and is turning the course of the battle from a great defeat into the path of victory regardless of losses”.
This is a strong statement about the involvement of the Lebanese Hezbollah organisation in the war in Syria, with reference to “changing the course” of the ongoing battle and the long waited Imam Mahdi in Shia ideology (although not explicitly clear in Khamenei’s statement), with Iran’s blessing.
But why is Hezbollah in Syria and until when? What did Khamenei mean by “Hezbollah has changed the destiny”? Which destiny? Is it only Assad’s destiny?
Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria in support of the Syrian regime was, and still is, considered by the organisation a survival necessity for itself and for the regime. In 2013, the battle in Syria reached Sahat al-Abbasiyeen, the heart of Damascus. Until that date, President Bashar al-Assad refused any participation of Hezbollah beyond the front of Sayyeda Zaynab (the sister of one of the 12 Shia Imam Husein Ibin Ali Ibin Abi Taleb and nephew of the Prophet Mohammed), in the suburb of Damascus, a holy shrine for the Shia. The rebels and Takfiris have bypassed another holy shrine, Sayyeda Ruqay’ya, occupying it and moved to the demarcation line with sayyeda Zainab’ shrine. The shrine itself was shelled and Hezbollah fighters, protecting its surrounding, started to suffer casualties.
Assad called the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, in March 2013. The meeting between the two men was not rare. A secure landline was created between them and the contact was regular. This is when Assad was in urgent need for an immediate meeting. He wanted Hezbollah’s full involvement in the war.
Nasrallah, before travelling to Iran to meet Sayyed Ali Khamenei after his meeting with Assad, asked al-Majlis al-Jihadi, the highest military authority in the organisation, to study the military situation in Syria with the Syrian military commanders. Such access, now allowed by Assad himself, was not permissible until that date.
Nasrallah was in need of religious cover for all of his men who were expected to die or remain injured. According to Hezbollah Shia doctrine of Welayat-al-Faqih, Nasrallah needed a religious Fatwa from a higher cleric as he has declared loyalty to his doctrine.
By that time, the military commanders in Hezbollah were shocked by the outcome. “Are you asking us to intervene now that Jabhat al-Nusra and other rebels are in Damascus?”said a Hezbollah high-ranking commander to Nasrallah, not wanting to dismiss his instructions but to explain the gravity of the situation. The decision was made and the blessing was given: Hezbollah must consider fighting the takfiris as a priority above the one fighting Israel. The Takfiris declared war against the Shia, men, women and children, while Israel was at war against Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’ objective when intervening was not only to save the regime. Hezbollah’s intervention is both ideological and existential. To summarise Hezbollah’s words: “It is a religious duty, a continuity of military supply, a support to an ally in the “resistance axis”, a protection of its supporters in Lebanon from terrorist acts, a backing for its presence as a main player, a balancing element in the struggle against Israel and finally a war quoted in the prophecy to stop the slaughtering of the Shia in Bilad al-Sham, Jabal ‘Amel (Lebanon) and until the final battle in al-Koufa (Iraq).”
Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has not worsened the sectarian violence in Lebanon but has accelerated its timing and brought it to the surface. A sectarian struggle in Lebanon was expected to trigger extreme violence between 2004 and 2005. It was delayed due to the Israeli war in 2006 but it was too difficult to avoid. For Hezbollah, fighting the Takfiris in Syria is less costly than facing those in Lebanon, and above all, in Shia controlled areas if they win in Syria and control it.