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A matter of time

Guest post by DaveM

“All the warfare is based on deception, the battle is won by catching enemy off guards.”
Sun Tzu

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
Aeschylus

On the 16 February Hizbullah held a ceremony in Beirut honouring its “martyred leaders”– namely Sayyed Abbas Al-Mousawi, Sheikh Ragheb Harb, and Hajj Imad Moghniyeh. It was the usual hour-long televised speech by Hassan Nasrallah on a big screen inside what looks like a large aircraft hangar.

However this time, in addition to his usual threats and cliches, he offered condolences over the death of Hassan Shateri (Hussam Khoshnevis), Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander and head of the Iranian Committee for Reconstruction in Lebanon, who was killed in Syria. The Saudi newspaper Asharq Alawsat reported that he sat on Hizbullah’s central command and was behind re-arming the party after the 2006 war.

The circumstances of his death aren’t clear and the unconfirmed reports of Hizbullah members in Syria fighting the rebels won’t go away.

While Hizbullah make no secret of their support for Assad, they deny any involvement in fighting the rebels. However if members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are in Syria, then Hizbullah must be there as well; they’re basically the Lebanese branch of the IRGC.

As of yet there haven’t been any Hizbullah fighters captured, so this is conjecture on my part. But it’s only a matter of time before they are. In fact members of the Free Syria Army have been attempting to do just that, to prove the party’s involvement in fighting on the side of Bashar Al Assad, as this video which was uploaded to YouTube on 16 February shows:

0:14: “These are the shells which have fallen on civilian’s homes in the village of Abu Houri. We’ve been shelled by members of the Lebanese Hizbllat [i.e. Party of Fart] situated in the villages which they have occupied in Zaity (not clear) and Aqabia (not clear) and others.

“Just a moment ago the shells fell near by.”

[Note: from now on I'll refer to Hizbollah/Hizbllat as HA]

5:07: “We’re at the frontline in the clash against the Lebanese HA. As you can see, the rebels (are fighting with) light and medium weaponry (against) members of Lebanese HA.”

5:26: “That’s one of the members of Lebanese HA holding a machine gun. The injured or killed person who is carrying that weapon is in the trench which is only 20-30 metres away from us. The Lebanese HA are trying to… ” (gunfire)

5:53: “We’re in the front line fighting against the Lebanese HA. Thanks to God the Free Syrian Army set up an ambush for the Lebanese HA and killed no less than 12 of the soldiers of those HA dogs, and injured others. HA are trying to remove the bodies… (interuption)

“HA are trying to remove the bodies of those who were killed by the FSA ambush and the FSA are also trying to approach the bodies to get hold of them to show conclusive evidence of HA’s intervention [in Syria].

“We’re not able to get to the bodies to remove the right now, and they [HA] aren’t able to remove the bodies either.

“The clashes are continuing and are violent. HA are responding by firing mortars and shells on civilian areas, not on FSA areas but on civilian homes and areas in the village of Abu Houri, Bourharni and .. (not clear)

7:20: “The members taking part [in the clash] are the 4th Brigade in the Independent Farouk division in … and the Baraa Brigade affiliated to the Haq Brigade here.”

Then the members of the FSA attempt to reach the HA bodies but are forced to retreat under intense fire. I think one of them is injured and another killed.

Most of the stuff which is said in the Middle East, especially in the Arabic media, has to be taken with a pinch of salt or totally discounted. But these reports of Hizbullah fighting in Syria won’t go away and they fit a pattern.

MEMRI were among the first to pick up on this last October:

Then the BBC’s Wyre Davis went looking for for answers.

There were also sporadic reports of Hizbullah members being buried after carrying out unspecified “Jihadist duties”.

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab recently said Syria was practically under Iranian occupation. The Washington Post reported that Hizbullah and Iran are forming militia networks inside Syria with the aim of preserving Assad’s rule or, if he falls, maintaining Iranian influence in the country.

A senior Obama administration official cited Iranian claims that Tehran was backing as many as 50,000 militiamen in Syria. “It’s a big operation,” the official said. “The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it’s important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on.”

Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.”

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

…..

Tehran’s interest in preserving a Syrian base partly explains why the financially strapped Iranian government continues to lavish resources on groups such as Jaysh al-Sha’bi, an alliance of local Shiite and Alawite militias that receives weapons and cash from Iran, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials who have studied the organization. The groups are receiving military training from officers from Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

While ostensibly created to bolster Syria’s battered, overstretched army, Jaysh fighters — separate from Syria’s pro-regime shabiha, or “ghost,” units, which are notorious for reprisal killings of suspected rebel sympathizers — are predominantly a sectarian fighting force overseen by Iranian and Hezbollah commanders.

Hizbullah certainly didn’t hesitate to kill fellow Lebanese when it felt its interests were under threat. Four of its members are to be tried in absentia for the murder of Rafik Hariri

It’s inconceivable that when one of its patrons is fighting for his very survival, they would not be doing whatever it takes to help keep him in power. If they didn’t need him, they would have abandoned him as Hamas did and collected cheques from Qatar.

Hizbullah has done all it could to keep its deadly role in the Syrian conflict hidden. But as it intensifies, it’s only a matter of time before it finally gets exposed.

Gene adds: Ahram reports:

Two Lebanese Shiites have been killed in fighting in Syria, a Hezbollah official said Sunday, as the opposition accused the Shiite militant group of intervening on the side of its regime allies.

“Two Lebanese Shiites living in Syria were killed and 14 others wounded in clashes with rebels,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that they were acting in “self-defence”.

Update: al-gharqad writes in the comments:

A small correction: “Hizballat” is a wordplay. Instead of “Party of Allah”, the Sunni rebels say Hizb Al-Lat, because Al-Lat was a god worshiped in the Jahiliyya. So it is basically saying that Hizbullah are the bad guys, fighting for Al-Lat.