Syria is turning into a quagmire, and for once, it isn’t the United States that’s stuck in the mud. Surprisingly, it’s the mighty Resistance of the Middle East. Hezbollah.
In 2000, Hezbollah was hailed as the Arabic version of David, fighting off the Goliath of the hated Israel and forcing them to flee from Lebanon. The Arab world cheered the departure. In 2006, Israel came back and fought a sharp, short war with Hezbollah, and pretty much had their ass handed to them on the propaganda front. While the numbers were extremely lopsided with respect the casualties, in truth, in order to win, all Hezbollah had to do was not lose. Which is exactly what they did. Once again, the Arab world saluted them as heroes.
My, how times have changed.
Syria has been Hezbollah’s ally since its inception, giving them arms, money, and political cover. In return, Hezbollah has supported the Assad regime through thick and thin, going so far as to assassinate those who disagreed with Syria’s approach to Lebanon. The support has been mutual and lockstep, but it’s now causing a little bit of a problem.
When the Arab Spring began in Egypt, Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, was the first in line cheering on the protesters. He kept up the drumbeat of support right up until Mubarak fell. When the spring spread to Syria, he grew silent. Probably sitting in a back room – much like any other politician in the world dealing with a crisis – wondering how to spin the story. The Arab world scratched its head. How could The Resistance cheer on the fall of one dictator but not another?
As the Syrian war slogged on, Hezbollah went from silence to limited support, vocally stating that the insurrection against Assad was fomented by “western” interests. Following this, they felt the first chink in their propaganda armor. Hamas, a Sunni terrorist group, ignored Hezbollah’s proclamations, sided with the rebels and called on all Jihadists to take it to Assad. A significant turn of events that barely made a ripple here in the US, Syria had been Hamas’ protector as well, and Hezbollah had been a Hamas ally, with both focused on the destruction of Israel. Now they are on opposite sides of the fence, and it didn’t make Nasrallah happy. Hezbollah answered Hamas’s call to arms by ordering them to leave Lebanon, which didn’t really fit in with their proclamation of being The Resistance. The heroes’ shining mantle was getting tarnished.
The Syrian civil war continued, and Assad grew more vicious, yet the rebels would not quit. Hezbollah went from vocal support to actually joining the battle, sending fighters to help Assad crush the rebellion. Nasrallah personally came out and said that Hezbollah would fight to the death, vowing victory for Assad. At first working in secret, Hezbollah had now openly chosen sides. And the Arab world answered.
Last week, the foreign minister of Bahrain, a moderate Arab country, called Nasrallah – the leader of Hezbollah – a terrorist. Think of that. An Arab country called the leader of THE RESISTANCE, a man that had been cheered as a savior in 2006, a TERRORIST. When I read that, I just about fell out of my chair. Yes, I understand there’s more at play here (Bahrain is a predominately Shia country ruled by Sunnis, and the monarchy has grown sick of Iran and Hezbollah messing with its little island), but still, it is significant.
Right after this, Turkey, another moderate Muslim country, said that Hezbollah – which directly translated means the “Party of God” – should change its name to the Party of Satan. Yes, you read that right. Turkey said Hezbollah should be called Satan. Once again, the statement is pretty incredible, and it must be making Nasrallah wonder what the hell happened to his shining armor.
There’s a new cold war happening in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other. Both want to be viewed as the leader of the Arab world, and Syria has become a fault line in the battlefield. If Syria has shown us anything, it’s that there is no monolithic Arab identity. Just as in America, all politics is local, and each Arab entity decides on its course of action based on what will help it the most. Nobody is more surprised by this than Hezbollah. The terrorist group expected its old mantle of The Resistance to matter, and that others would follow its lead just because it said so. Much to Hezbollah’s surprise, the goodwill and political capital it had gained in its fight against Israel evaporated as quickly as snow in the Sahara.
And in the Sunni Arab world, Hezbollah went from Hero to Zero just as fast.