Manufacturing victory with tyranny

By Hanin Ghaddar, NOW Lebanon

'On 7 May 2008—exactly seven years ago—Hezbollah seized control of West Beirut and Druze sections of Mount Lebanon in defiance of a government decision. For the first time, the Party of God used its weapons against the Lebanese people themselves. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah referred to the occasion as a “glorious day,” as it eventually led to the creation of the first ‘National Unity’ government in Lebanon, stripping March 14 of their democratically-won majority in the parliament and government.

Two years later, Hezbollah toppled Saad Hariri’s government, again using tyranny. They did not carry arms, but they wore black shirts, a sign of their political identity and one which overtly pointed to the potential use of arms. The move was interpreted as a clear message to Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who shifted his stance immediately thereafter, abandoning his fragile alliance with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and voting instead for Hezbollah’s candidate, Najib Mikati.

When Hezbollah can’t get what it wants through state institutions, it uses tyranny and intimidation. By Hezbollah’s reasoning, victory must be achieved using all possible means, including violence.

Hezbollah has gone all-out in Syria, and tyranny has been its only means of victory. It doesn’t matter how many people get killed on either side because both Sunnis and Shiites are regarded as mere cannon fodder in the encompassing play for power. Power games are nasty, and arrogance and unrealistic ambitions can backfire. Indeed, the dynamics of the battle in the region have shifted of late, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey deciding to unify their efforts, including in Syria.

Today, Hezbollah faces another challenge along the Lebanese-Syrian border—the Qalamoun battle is underway. Hezbollah is in desperate need of another victory, but it is not at all assured. This battle could go either way, especially as the rebels on the other side have united under the “Army of Conquest” which pushed Syrian regime troops out of Idlib earlier in the spring.

In his speech on Tuesday, Nasrallah couldn’t make any promises: for the first time, he did not pledge victory to the Shiites as he usually does ahead of a big battle.

Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors have been very successful at creating victories out of defeats. No matter how many innocent people are killed, no matter how many houses and properties destroyed, and despite the major economic and social repercussions of every war, they always manage to emerge as victorious. All victories are divine, and all death is sacred.

But after four years of war in Syria, particularly following the recent achievements of the rebels in both northern and southern Syria, manufacturing a victory is not as easy as it used to be. People are tired, scared and broke. Their sons are dying in military camps and in clashes. Their allies in Yemen are losing. Iran is broke, and Assad is on the verge of collapsing. Their media and propaganda machines are still doing their jobs and predicting victory at every corner, but people no longer believe. They hope it’s true, but the blind faith in the sacredness of Hezbollah’s mission and their imminent victory is no longer a certainty.

The problem is that Hezbollah will not admit defeat, even when there is no apparent victory. And the worst scenario—even for Hezbollah’s supporters—is that Hezbollah will not accept Assad’s defeat. Assad’s imminent fall does not mean that Hezbollah will leave Syria, because Iran will never leave Syria. Assad is still in power because they need a facade.

So even when Assad goes, Hezbollah cannot stop fighting—they really have no other choice. If they lose and admit defeat, it will be the end of them. Their ideology, policy and reason for existence are all based on the “we are victorious” notion that has occupied the collective memory of the Shiites since the battle of Karbala. They have to win, or else keep going.

A more practical reason for this is that without Syria, Hezbollah will lose its geographical connection to Iran and hence its military strength. The decision to go to Syria was a conscious decision to start a never-ending war. It was also a decision to take all the Shiites to that war and sacrifice them for that never-ending war.

But it is proving much more difficult to keep going. Even if Iran can boost its operations should sanctions be lifted after the 30 June deadline for the nuclear deal, the money will not be enough. Their war has expanded beyond their resources, capabilities, and manpower. This will not end well for the Party of God. As they bleed, everyone and everything around them will bleed.

Syria is the battlefield, but Lebanon is the source. The longer this war lasts, the more shattered Lebanon will be. Lebanon’s state institutions will be further abused. The Lebanese Army has so far managed to maintain some kind of independence and integrity, but there are valid fears that the Qalamoun battle might drag them into Hezbollah’s war along the border. The borders are fragile and certainly unclear, and in this context there is a very thin line between fighting insurgents and protecting sovereignty.

Lebanon will not be able to hold on forever, and the fragile—almost fake—stability we’ve been enjoying will dissolve once again. A political solution to the Syrian crises will not be reached and the region will drown in yet more chaos and blood. If Iran and Hezbollah cannot stop fighting Syrians, then someone should do something to stop them. This is something to consider before the 30 June deadline, because no one will be able to stop an Iran so emboldened by success in the nuclear deal. The manufacture of victory will be more aggressive than ever.'

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