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What Is the Extent of Hezbollah's Involvement in Syria?

While Hezbollah claims that it has sent militants to Syria to protect Lebanese citizens living in border towns, there are conflicting reports regarding the size and purpose of the party’s involvement, writes Elie Hajj.
Shi'ite, Sunni Muslim and Druze Lebanese clerics listen to Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addressing his supporters during a rally to commemorate Martyrs' Day in Beirut, February 16, 2013.  REUTERS/Sharif Karim (LEBANON - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3DVC0

Hezbollah’s participation in the military events taking place in Syria is no longer an unconfirmed controversial matter in Lebanon. It has become unquestionable.

Lebanese people have become increasingly confident about the participation of Hezbollah's militants in the battles raging in Syria between the regime's army and the rebels, given the fact that the party has yet to issue statements denying or confirming these claims, not to mention the consecutive news about the funerals and commemorative ceremonies of many party members in their hometowns.

A Shiite politician who is following up on the details of Hezbollah's policy regarding the Syrian crisis describes the battles fought by the party militants in the neighboring country as a "battle for existence." He noted, "They have become deeply involved and can no longer withdraw.”

He also offered information in this context which is difficult to confirm given the absolute silence of the party's officials when asked about this issue.

This politician said that the Syrian regime's forces have entrusted Hezbollah's militants with a 50-kilometer front, stretching from the Lebanese town of Hermel to the border of Hamssan. He added that Hezbollah fights in Syria as if it were a unit in the army of President Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, he was confident when he said that the decision to take part in this fray was not taken by Hezbollah's local leadership in Lebanon, but was issued from the higher leadership in Tehran. This decision cannot be rejected.

The politician, who was once close to the atmosphere of Hezbollah, spoke about the the party's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, and about the pretext he provided for joining the Syrian battles. According to Nasrallah, Syrian territories bordering Lebanon's northern villages are home to about 20,000 Lebanese Shiites. Thus, many "individuals and groups" that are related to them have crossed the border to help them defend themselves against the attacks by Sunni extremists in Syria.

"I know the region that Nasrallah mentioned very well. It only includes eight villages, each inhabited by 300 to 400 Shiites. Most of them have left their homes due to the dangerous security situation and fled to the Bekaa region in Lebanon, where they originally come from. So we are talking about a maximum of 3,000 people [inside this region]. However, they are nothing but a pretext for the party to justify its involvement in the internal war in Syria, pursuant to the decision taken in Iran," the Shiite politician told Al-Monitor.

Furthermore, according to information from a senior official in one of the parties affiliated with the anti-Hezbollah March 14 bloc, around 2,500 fighters from the Hezbollah units have been involved in the fighting in Syria. However, the Shiite politician said, "My information is that the number exceeds this figure by far, as there are about 7,000 militants deployed in Damascus under the pretext of protecting the shrine of Sayyida Zaynab. They are also stationed in the suburbs of Damascus countryside and Homs."

On a different note, he denied [claims] that Saudi Arabia — according to his information — could be ready to compromise with Iran in Lebanon, "while it has been in a declared and silent confrontation with Iran in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and even in the Saudi territories."

The politician was confident when he confirmed that Saudi Arabia is in favor of the decision to arm the rebels in Syria, while Iran backs Assad's regime with all its might and by all means.

He said he is convinced that eventually the Lebanese army will take the necessary action to put an end to Hezbollah artillery firing from the barren mountains in northern Bekaa on targets in Syrian regions stretching from Zabadani to the suburbs of Homs. "Otherwise the Shiite villages and towns in the Bekaa Valley will be exposed to further shelling by the Free Syrian Army," he said.

According to an internal message distributed by the March 8 bloc among some of its cadres, of which Al-Monitor has obtained a copy, "Hezbollah is currently calming the situation in Lebanon at the political and media levels, in order to cover the heated situation in Syria, in which it is involved."

The March 8 bloc also expressed concerns about coexistence in Lebanon should Hezbollah continue to take part in the battle in Syria, which would also have negative repercussions on the relations between Shiite Lebanese and their neighboring Syrians. The bloc ended [the message] by expressing its fear of what might happen in the future.

Elie Hajj writes on politics for An-Nahar (Lebanon). He previously wrote for Al-Anbaa (Kuwait) and the online paper Elaph.

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