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Nasrallah Increases Stakes in Syria War

Famous for his use of allusions and nuance, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah spoke with an unusual clarity and directness on May 9 about Syria, writes Scarlett Haddad.
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is projected on a screen during a live broadcast as he speaks to his supporters at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Al-Nour radio station, which is operated by the Hezbollah in Beirut, May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Sharif Karim (LEBANON - Tags: POLITICS MEDIA ANNIVERSARY) - RTXZGEB

The May 9 speech made by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah was certainly one of his most striking. For the first time, Nasrallah, who is very good when it comes to nuance, spoke quite clearly about Hezbollah’s commitment to the Syrian army. Going far beyond his previous declared support or the Syrian people — where he had called for dialogue between the regime and the opposition and indicated he was limiting Hezbollah’s aid to the Lebanese population living in Syrian border villages — he clearly explained this time that the battle in Syria is a strategic issue.

The "Friends of Syria," he said, without listing them — but one can easily guess that he was mainly talking about Iran, Russia and Hezbollah — will not let Syria fall into the American-Israeli camp or in the hands of the takfiris.

For him, the conflict is no longer between a regime and its opposition, but between two axes, with one of them being the US-Israel axis. Consequently, sending men to fight in Syria alongside the regime forces has become fully justified and even desirable.

Moreover, Nasrallah gave his speech with unusual frankness after his recent trip to Tehran, where he was seen standing on an equal footing with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This shows that he has now taken up on a regional role, strengthening ties between Hezbollah and Russia. In this regard, sources close to Hezbollah said that Nasrallah had met with Mikhail Bogdanov, the special envoy of the Russian president, in Tehran before heading back to Lebanon.

This information is intended to show that the relations between Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and Hezbollah have now taken on a different scale and dimension that go beyond traditional boundaries.

In the same vein, it was the first time that Hezbollah's secretary-general has cited the takfiris by name and has even placed them on the same level as the United States and Israel. Until now, Nasrallah, as well as Iran, has always supported Islamist groups and advocated for the unification of the various Muslim movements.

Indeed, Iran and Hezbollah have always been keen not to criticize the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups operating within its orbit, so as to avoid exacerbating divisions between Muslims, especially between Shiites and Sunnis. They have been quite apprehensive about any discord among Muslims, and have accused Israel and the United States of fomenting it. Iran and Hezbollah have avoided officially censuring Islamist groups, including the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia.

However, in his recent speech, Nasrallah for the first time did not hesitate to openly denounce takfiris, urging other Muslim movements to distance themselves from them.

His message is no longer addressed to the Lebanese, but to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, and especially to Hamas in Palestine. This suggests that the speech has marked a turning point both in the rhetoric and attitude of the Hezbollah leader. He has assumed a new regional role and clearly does not hesitate to proclaim it.

 In light of this, one can only wonder what will happen now in Lebanon under the auspices of Hezbollah’s secretary-General. By adopting with such clarity these new regional positions, Nasrallah has obviously banished the Baabda Declaration, especially vis-à-vis the Syrian issue.

The Future movement and its Sunni allies have more or less intervened in helping the Syrian opposition, but have never openly acknowledged it. Nasrallah, on the other hand, obviously did not care about the domestic reaction his speech might cause.

 This brings us back to the circumstances surrounding the resignation of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati. It is said that the latter called Nasrallah, via his political affairs adviser Hussein Khalil, before he publicly announced his resignation. Nasrallah's answer was: "Do as you wish."

The pertinent question is: Would Nasrallah be able to clearly declare his new position, if the Mikati government, of which he is a part, was still in office?

Scarlett Haddad is an analyst for the French-language Lebanese daily L'Orient-Le Jour. She specializes in Lebanese domestic political issues, in addition to Syrian, Palestinian and Iranian matters from Lebanon's perspective, including topics concerning Hezbollah and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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