Decade after ‘divine victory’, Hezbollah’s in trouble

Sunday 17/07/2016

Syria war might achieve what 2006 failed to do

BEIRUT - On the tenth anniversary of Hezbollah’s “divine victory” over Israel in their war, critics of the Party of God are com­plaining that the Shia movement is alive and kicking. The way things are going, however, the Syria war might achieve what 2006 failed to do — destroy Iran’s proxy in the Le­vant.
On July 12th, 2006, Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers, trig­gering a war. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert vowed to rescue the soldiers and destroy Hezbollah.
He failed on both accounts and Hezbollah fought Israel’s vaunt­ed military to a standstill, some­thing no non-state Arab group had achieved. Hezbollah emerged from the war stronger than ever, with a whole new arsenal of missiles thanks to non-stop supply from Iran and Syria.
That war lasted for 34 days and led to the killing of 250-500 Hezbol­lah fighters in addition to 121 Israeli troops and approximately 2,000 Lebanese civilians.
The Lebanese economy, particu­larly the civilian infrastructure, was virtually destroyed, yet Hezbollah insisted that the July war was a “di­vine victory” for the Axis of Resist­ance.
Olmert stepped down in disgrace. The two soldiers were eventually returned to Israel — in coffins — in a bodies-for-prisoners swap a few years later.
The 2006 war did wonders for Hezbollah Secretary-General Has­san Nasrallah, who won the hearts and minds of millions throughout the Arab world with inflammatory speeches during the conflict. He marked his Kodak moment by giv­ing a blow-by-blow account on live television — from a secret hideout — as Hezbollah gunners sank an Israeli warship off Beirut.
It was Arab theatrics at its finest, reminiscent of the moment in 1956 when Egyptian president Gamal Ab­del Nasser announced the nation­alisation of the Suez Canal. As he spoke, Egyptian officials seized the canal administration from British personnel, triggering the Suez war.
In 2006, many hailed Nasrallah as the next Nasser. Ten years later, Nasrallah’s popularity has largely eroded due to a cripplingly unpopu­lar decision in 2012 to send his fight­ers into the Syrian maelstrom to protect Hezbollah’s all-important supply from Iran through Syria.
Nasrallah defended a position dictated to him by Iran’s mul­lahs, claiming the Syria war was an absolute necessity for Hezbol­lah because, if the Syrian regime collapsed, Saudi Arabia and Israel would “devour” the “Lebanese re­sistance”.
His mission was to secure the Syr­ia-Lebanon border to prevent jihad­ists from infiltrating Lebanese terri­tory and to safeguard Shia shrines in Damascus and northern Syria.
The international community has been trying, with little luck, to disarm Hezbollah through a series of UN resolutions starting in 2005. When that failed, Israel tried to do it by force, with the implicit backing of Saudi Arabia and several Leba­nese politicians in the US-backed March 14 coalition of Lebanese po­litical parties.
That never saw the light of day, prompting the United States to at­tempt disarmament through Leba­nese authorities, starting with taking over Hezbollah’s telecommu­nications network at Beirut Interna­tional Airport in May 2008.
That attempt backfired and led to a mini-civil war on the streets of mainly Muslim West Beirut, where Hezbollah fighters overwhelmed their opponents within hours and were on the verge of overrunning Beirut before a truce was struck.
The fourth attempt started in 2012, when Hezbollah’s enemies hoped that the Shia movement, by entangling itself in Syria, would be signing its death warrant: It would either be swallowed up in the sav­age war or provoke jihadis to come after it on Lebanese soil.
Those enemies hope a long war inflicts maximal losses on Hezbol­lah, crushes its power base and leads to its demise.
In the final analysis, Hezbollah’s adversaries say if the party does not bleed to death in Syria, it would cer­tainly distract the group from the objective for which it was formed: fighting Israel.
In the meantime, the Israelis wait for one side to eliminate the other in Syria, knowing that both would emerge battered and weak — just as the United States stood by and watched Iran and Iraq sav­age each other in 1980-88, hoping the war would either rid the world of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini or Saddam Hussein.
US president Ronald Reagan re­portedly observed at the time: “It’s a pity that one side has to win. It would be great if both were defeat­ed.”
That logic applies today to Hez­bollah in the Syrian bloodbath. Inas­much as the Syrian opposition is fu­rious about Hezbollah’s support for Damascus, the international com­munity is doing nothing to stop it, hoping that the conflict will achieve what 2006 failed to do: consume Hezbollah, topple its leadership and eliminate its massive arsenal.