Hezbollah: terrorists or facing terror?

Hezbollah: terrorists or facing terror?

Anno Bunnik
“It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization” argued Frans Timmermans, Dutch Foreign Minister, on the EU decision to blacklist its military wing. Following the accusation of the Lebanese militia-cum-political party’s involvement in the Burgas bombing and the Cyprus incident, this hardly came as a surprising move.

The real reason to push for black-listing, however, is political: The EU, largely clueless on how to deal with the Syrian conflict, saw it as an opportunity to take revenge for its shameless participation in the civil war.

Spurred by Iran – and after careful consideration with Russia – Hezbollah’s military went all in last May. The “Party of God” has sent several thousand of its fighters across the border to take over much of the guerrilla warfare from Bashar al-Assad’s forces. With considerable success, “liberating” Qusayr in a matter of weeks after failed attempts by the Syrian army.

“The resistance” argues that their presence is necessary in order to protect local Shiite communities and shrines against attacks from the “takfiris,” notably Al Qaeda’s local branch, Jabhat al-Nusra. And it does have a valid point, as it is not just regime loyalists that are engaging in brutal violence against civilians. But in practice, Lebanese Shiites are doing more than merely protecting local communities; they are knee-deep involved in a brutal war for regime survival and by doing so reinforce militant sectarianism as the modus operandi for politics throughout the region.

Following Qusayr, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah held a victory-speech blazing with confidence. Under his leadership, the movement has transformed into the most powerful political actor in the country and de facto controls the outgoing government. His main opponent, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, meanwhile has not set foot in Lebanon in over a year, out of fear of facing the same fate as his father did.

In Dahiye, the Southern suburbs of Beirut, Hezbollah supporters were celebrating the victory and handing out sweets. These images coupled with Nasrallah’s victory speech have stirred ill-feelings among Lebanese and Syrian Sunni communities and could severely backfire.

It has fuelled hatred of “the resistance” across the Lebanese Sunni communities and created tension with their former allies Hamas, still influential in Lebanon’s twelve Palestinian refugee camps. In the camps, and in the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli, protests against Hezbollah are becoming more frequent and it is not uncommon to see the infamous yellow and green flag go up in flames.

It has also drawn the attention of the Free Syrian Army. Over the last couple of months rebels have frequently shelled the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah’s stronghold in the North East of the country. The question now is: will rebels also start crossing the border into Lebanon to fight Hezbollah on their own turf?

Fortunately for Nasrallah this is not likely to happen anytime soon as the rebels cannot afford to divert resources away from their battle at home. The opposition fighters desperately need all their men and weaponry to halt the recent progress Assad has made in Qusayr and Damascus. The rebels – and their Sunni supporters across the region – though, have other tactics at hand to take revenge for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.

The recent bomb attack in Southern Beirut was already an indication of dark times that could be ahead. The car bomb was poorly executed and only caused many injuries. In the Bekaa valley, a Syrian was arrested this week for bombing a Hezbollah convoy which killed one party member.

As frustration against Hezbollah grows it will likely be only a matter of time before Al Qaeda-linked militants strike Hezbollah strongholds with more lethal force – “the resistance” is certainly expecting as much as checkpoints are popping up in Southern Beirut.

Last month, the influential Egyptian sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in his program on Al Jazeera Arabic called upon his followers to “wage Jihad” against Assad and Hezbollah. With over 60 million viewers tuning in worldwide, this message will certainly get heard and provide the theological rationale for further attacks against Hezbollah.

For these reasons, Hezbollah will likely face more terrorist attacks in its own back yard during the course of the Syrian conflict. Like their “brothers” in Baghdad, Lebanese Shiites might also have to get used to car bombs and suicide attacks. It is highly ironic that as the EU labels Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization, perhaps the party itself and its supporters could become the main victim of terror.

Anno Bunnik is a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Applied Research in Security Innovation at Liverpool Hope University. Follow him on Twitter @Eurabist