Hezbollah may pay the price of any Russian-Turkish deal
The battle for Idlib province seems set to be the final chapter in the Syrian revolution-turned-regional conflict and, therefore, the stakes are high. Last week, for the first time, Turkish forces initiated a drone and airstrike on Syrian and Iranian positions, in retaliation for the killing of more than 33 Turkish soldiers. The Turkish response resulted in the deaths of at least eight Hezbollah fighters and 21 Afghan and Pakistani Shiite fighters from brigade forces also guided by the Iranian regime.
The presence of Hezbollah in this battle was a reminder, if needed, of the key strategic role given by Iran to the Lebanese group on a regional level. This is aimed at pursuing, covertly and militarily, the interests of the Iranian regime, which seeks to expand and impose its influence. This strike was also a reminder of the presence in Syria of armed Shiite brigades that Hezbollah essentially helped create and train, and today it commands under the tight supervision and logistical support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force.
Even though Lebanon is in crisis, Hezbollah is still fighting in Syria in support of the Assad regime in order to safeguard Iranian interests. In these conditions, how can analysts still refer to it as a Lebanese political party? This is simply a fighting unit of the IRGC that uses Lebanon as cover. This situation again reminds us that Hezbollah has no respect for state sovereignty or borders; its assigned mission is what matters.
Hezbollah has no respect for state sovereignty or borders; its assigned mission is what matters
Khaled Abou Zahr
Yet Hezbollah has suffered severe losses in recent months, which some analysts have linked to the death of Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a weakened power structure on the battlefield. Losses in Syria have also been putting more pressure on the proxy in Lebanon from its own militants, as they keep questioning the reason for their presence in Syria while they face financial difficulties in light of US sanctions, as well as the general situation of the country.
Despite these conditions, Hezbollah will find ways to survive, whatever the outcome in Lebanon, and keep its community’s loyalty. This is mainly because it can count on Iranian financial support, which has allowed it to build parallel institutions to the state. It also has a few scapegoats in the shape of corrupt allies it can sacrifice to ease the pressure if needed. Yet, in the case of total chaos endangering its control and any of its networks, as a last resort Hezbollah might decide to directly take over the entire government and impose a new regime in Lebanon that is in direct alignment with Iran. Analysts recently pointed out that Iranian illegal trade is increasing, and alternative financial instruments can be activated.
It is in Syria that Hezbollah is at risk of paying the price of any deal between Russia and Turkey under US approval, especially as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are looking for ways to de-escalate. Despite their different positions on the future of the Assad regime, Moscow and Ankara agree on having a smaller Iranian presence and influence in Syria. Turkey does not want to have the IRGC and Hezbollah at its border, while Russia would welcome not having to share too much influence with Iran in key Syrian power centers. This is also in alignment with Israel’s objectives.
When it comes to Lebanon, the final decision center for Hezbollah is ultimately in Iran. Its actions, whether appeasement or escalation, will always be following Iranian goals and strategy. The Iranian regime is certainly not willing to sacrifice its main proxy force in the region by letting it go. The Lebanese should understand this and act accordingly.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.