“The Beqaa Valley (Arabic: وادي البقاع / ALA-LC: Wādī l-Biqā‘, Lebanese: [bʔaːʕ]; also transliterated as Bekaa, Biqâ orBecaa) is a fertile valley in east Lebanon. For the Romans, the Beqaa Valley was a major agricultural source, and today it remains Lebanon’s most important farming region.” (Wikipedia)
In a perfect world, the above description would be the only association that comes to mind with reference to this beautiful region, but to many Israelis, the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon is mostly known for the battles fought in, and over, the area. Due to its strategic location – just to the north of the Damascus – Beirut highway, and adjacent to the eastern border with Syria, the area has long become a Hezbollah stronghold, and therefore also a target of countless air and commando operations by Israel.
Now however, the region is increasingly becoming a focal point for violent spillover resulting from the Syrian conflict, exemplified by the missiles and mortars launched by Syrian rebels on Baalbek over the weekend (USA Today, June 1). Other than an immediate result of Hezbollah’s explicit acknowledgement last week of fighting on President Assad’s side in the Syrian war, this attack must also be seen as signifying the risk Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah took when involving his organization in the fighting in Syria, and from a wider angle – also the latest outbreak of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East.
We’ve been hearing rumors of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria over the past few months, but the official acknowledgment arrived last week as the casualties suffered by the organization in the battle over Qusayr, a strategic border town, couldn’t be swept under the carpet.
The reason for the belated admission, and for the cloak-and-daggers behavior until now, is the growing internal criticism in Lebanon by Hezbollah’s political and religious opponents. Its core mission and raison d’être traditionally being fighting Israel, Hezbollah is now finding it extremely hard to explain why Lebanese are losing their lives fighting other Arabs abroad who are widely perceived as legitimately rising against their oppressor.
Outside Lebanon, Hezbollah is also facing growing political isolation as most of the Sunni world sides with the rebel cause. Today, the Gulf states are going to discuss whether they should echo Bahrain’s move in April to blacklist Hezbollah (Al-Arabiya, May 30), signifying more than anything the deteriorating political status of the Lebanese organization, and the geopolitical and sectarian lines being drawn on Syrian, Iraqi, and now – Lebanese – soil.
Despite the mounting criticism, Hezbollah feels it has no choice if it wishes to survive. The organization heavily relies on Syria as a conduit to arms originating from Iran, its main patron. It is this supply route that enabled it to replenish its missile stocks after the confrontation with Israel in 2006 so quickly. For the Hezbollah then, Assad’s struggle is a matter of life-and-death.
Facing the increasing internal pressure in Lebanon, Nasrallah decided to make a historic gamble and go “all-out”, officially tying Hezbollah’s fate with Assad’s regime. Nasrallah now risks losing not only his major arms pipeline, but also plenty of internal credibility within the Lebanese military and civilian ranks. Should Assad fall, or should the battle for Qusayr develop into a protracted bloody confrontation, Hezbollah may find itself in a significantly weakened position.
For Israel of course, any struggle that weakens Hezbollah can’t be bad. However, there is still one main scenario that may develop as a direct result of Nasrallah’s gamble. In an attempt to prove to the Lebanese that Israel is still the organization’s main enemy, it may provoke a limited confrontation. Indeed, some say the drones sent from Lebanon a few months back were exactly this – an attempt to divert attention from the fighting in Syria. Either way, I would be careful before rejoicing at Nasrallah’s conundrum, for as history teaches us, a destabilized Lebanon often spells trouble for Israel.