“Let them bleed each other” is the usual way Israelis respond to internal conflicts in Arab countries. In the case of the Syrian war, however, Israeli public opinion sways like a pendulum between two expressions. A few weeks ago it was “better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know”, as the rebels were perceived as the greater overall threat to Israel’s security, though it’s highly doubtful you’ll find anyone in Israel happy to define Al-Qaeda and Salafi militants as “friends”. Now that it seems as if Assad and Hezbollah are on a winning streak, “the enemy of our enemy is our friend” is back in fashion, since no one wants to see Nasrallah win.
You’ve got to hand it to Nasrallah. He took a huge risk when openly taking sides in the Syrian war. Losing the battle in Qusayr could have dealt a serious blow to Hezbollah’s already damaged credibility. But as he stands victorious over the ruins of Qusayr, looking ahead to the next offensive against the rebels – in Homs and Aleppo, all this is forgotten. Making his victory even sweeter, Hezbollah has also managed to bring about the cancellation of the Lebanese legislative elections by extending the current Hezbollah-dominated parliament’s term by another year and a half. Lebanon is now virtually in Hezbollah’s hands. But is Hezbollah’s victory absolute?
Over the past few weeks, Hezbollah has faced a huge amount of criticism within the Arab and Muslim world. The most interesting condemnation was voiced by Sheikh Qaradawi, president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. Sheikh Qaradawi lamented his previous defense of Hezbollah and Iran at a time when major Muslim scholars, notably in Saudi Arabia, had voiced skepticism over the militia group’s plotting in the region. “When Hezbollah was fighting against Israel, I defended it. I stood against the Muslim scholars in Saudi Arabia, the most renowned scholars who warned us against Hezbollah,” Sheikh Qaradawi said. “They warned us against Hezbollah’s plans to sow discord. They warned us against their ideology and intentions. I stood up and defended them” he added. His words were subsequently backed by Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Asheikh (Al Arabiya, June 2, 2013).
In view of the long standing sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunni, and coming from someone who once described Shiites as heretics, Qaradawi’s comments should be kept in perspective. What, then, should be said of the words of former Hezbollah Secretary-General Subhi al-Tufayli? In a televised interview with Al-Arabiya News, al-Tufayli criticized the Hezbollah for its military intervention in Syria. Belittling its military achievement, he significantly added that “Hezbollah’s project as a resistance party that works to unify the Islamic world has fallen…it is no longer that party that defends the Umma (Islamic nation); instead it plagues the Umma.” (JPost, June 9, 2013).
While only words, the fervor accompanying the various condemnations seem to express a strong feeling of surprise and disappointment within the Muslim world about the path the Lebanese organization has taken. The imminent battle over Aleppo is expected to be extremely bloody, and will likely provoke even harsher condemnations by Muslim and Arab leaders. Words alone will not stop Assad and Hezbollah, and neither will the arms supplied to the rebels by Sunni states. Yet, the criticism voiced against the Hezbollah can influence the future of stability within Lebanon.
One possible scenario is a withdrawal of Saudi investments in Lebanon, an outcome feared by many Lebanese regardless of the sect they belong to.
Rising anti-Hezbollah rhetoric and resentment has already deteriorated into violence in the north of Lebanon, which has always been a flash-point between the supporters and opponents of the Syrian government, and is now being fueled by the growing sectarian conflict in Syria. Anti-Hezbollah demonstrations, such as the protest outside Iran’s embassy in Beirut a few weeks ago resulting in the death of one protester, are likely to multiply as the criticism against Hezbollah intensifies.
So, while definitely a victory in the short run, it is still very much unclear where the path Nasrallah has set upon will lead Lebanon.