The downfall of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is expected to inflict a deadly blow to the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis.
The Shiite group Hezbollah in Lebanon will have much more difficulty obtaining Iranian military and financial support, while Iran will be disconnected from a valuable ally in Lebanon.
“The Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis believes that the fall of one means the fall of the others. Therefore, they will defend each other until the end. Iranian influence in Lebanon will decrease after the fall of the Assad regime,” Ali al-Amin, a well-known Lebanese Shiite figure and editor-in-chief of the highest circulating daily newspaper in Lebanon, Al-Balad, argued in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman. Experts agree that if the Syrian regime falls, Hezbollah’s political and financial support lines could be seriously hurt, which is a life and death situation for Hezbollah. Agreeing with al-Amin, Ali Hussein Bakeer, Lebanese expert for the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), told Sunday’s Zaman that military and financial support for Hezbollah would stop with the fall of the Assad regime. “The political scene in Lebanon is currently witnessing tensions. Allies of the Syrian regime, including Hezbollah and Iran, are getting more nervous as Assad gets weaker by the day.
The fall of the Assad regime will have implications for its allies in Lebanon, too,” said Bakeer.
Hezbollah and Iran have so far strongly supported the Assad regime politically.
Al-Amin said that Hezbollah adopted a stance to defend the Syrian regime, adding that as the crisis intensifies in Syria, Hezbollah defends and supports the Assad regime. “Today, Hezbollah is aware that the Syrian regime will not survive as long as it expects. The Syrian regime expected Hezbollah to find a solution to the crisis, but it is obvious that Hezbollah, or in other words Iran, realized that there is no option left for Assad. Hezbollah is the operations center of the Assad regime in Lebanon,” said al-Amin.
The reaction of Hezbollah, which in the past has received military and financial support from Syria and Iran, to a Syrian collapse would set the scene for what happens next in Lebanon.
“As for Hezbollah, it fully supports the Syrian regime. This is definitely related to the Iranian position and alliance with Assad. Hezbollah is supporting a despotic regime massacring its own people, showing that the alliances and relations with Tehran and Damascus are much more important than any ethical stance,” Ziad Majed, a Lebanese professor of Middle East Studies at the American University of Paris, told Sunday’s Zaman.
Iranian politics have been quite influential in Syrian and Lebanon, especially through Hezbollah.
Agreeing with Majed, Ceren Kenar, a Beirut-based columnist for Turkey’s Taraf daily, argued in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman that Syria and Iran have a common influence, interest and aim in Lebanon. “With the fall of the Assad regime, Iran’s golden project, namely Hezbollah, will suffer,” said Kenar, adding that with the fall of the Assad regime, Iran’s support to Hezbollah would also stop.
“The decline of the Hezbollah project would mean a regional failure for Iran, which aims to use Hezbollah to destabilize other countries’ politics,” said Kenar.
Lebanon is certainly concerned with events in Syria, and the country’s communities and political parties are divided on whether to support the 16-month uprising against the regime of Assad or not.
Some groups, including Hezbollah, have maintained support for the Syrian government, while members of the opposition have spoken out against the regime.
Majed said that since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the Lebanese people were divided on political and sectarian levels towards the revolution. “There are three positions: one supporting the revolution, one supporting the Assad regime and one neutral or just afraid of the consequences and effects on Lebanon,” said Majed.
While Lebanon, with its complex mix of rival sects and its own history of civil strife, managed to preserve stability and calm for the first year of the Syrian crisis, it may now be moving into a period where the crisis may spill over the country and pull various communities in different directions.
Majed underlined that the Lebanese government, with a majority of pro-Assad regime members, decided to adopt a neutral approach towards the crisis, adding this was the reason why Lebanon refrained from voting against the regime in the UN Security Council.
“Moreover, the government tried to avoid clashes around Syrian borders as well as avoided condemning the Syrian regime,” said Majed.
The current Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati has an official dissociation policy with regard to the Syrian crisis, underlining its neutral position by distancing itself from all sides as a means of maintaining stability.
“There are many political views in Lebanon regarding the Syrian crisis. The main political parties in Lebanon are against any religious clashes, which would bring back Lebanese memories of the civil war in 1975,” said al-Amin, adding the Lebanese people do support democracy in Syria even if they have to pay a price for this.
Al-Amin said the Syrian crisis had many implications on the local situation in Lebanon, adding that the political situation in Lebanon was related to what happens in Syria in the coming days. It seems that the future of the delicate balance of power in Beirut hangs more than ever on the fate of the Assad regime.
“There is no doubt that the Syrian crisis has deep implications in Lebanon on many levels, including economic, political, security and stability,” said Bakeer.
Whenever security in Lebanon is discussed, the mention of Syria is never far behind. In this respect, Bakeer underlined that on the security level, Lebanon has witnessing increased tensions since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, adding the Assad regime, with its provocative measures, was aiming to divert the attention of the international community from its internal crisis to neighboring countries, including Lebanon.
Sunnis accused the Alawites and Damascus of stirring up the trouble to divert attention from Syria’s internal struggle to Lebanon.
“The Assad regime’s serious daily violations of the Lebanese borders via its army is another aspect of the security burden Lebanon is facing,” said Bakeer.
Last June, as the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli became the scene of armed skirmishes between Sunni and Alawite communities, concerns arose that sectarian strife may be further complicating the situation in the politically volatile Mediterranean country, Lebanon, which has close political and social links to Syria.
The fighting in Tripoli reflects how the conflict in Syria has jolted Lebanon’s delicately balanced political-sectarian landscape.
Kenar added that the sectarian tension has been embedded and deeply rooted in Lebanon for the last two decades in the post-civil war era, adding that the situation was worsened by the Syrian crisis.
The Lebanese government should act legally and firmly against the Syrian regime forces that violate Lebanese sovereignty on the northern border, said Majed, adding that Lebanon’s inactive stance was evidence of the fragility of a Lebanese government that is incapable of dealing with its Syrian counterpart on an equal basis.