William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun
“A state within a state” is how observers have often described the Lebanese Shiite Militia Hezbollah.
But a journalist, Thanassis Cambanis, who had written a book published in 2010 about that organization entitled “A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel” concluded that a more appropriate description would be a state that is surrounded by the remnants of the failed state of Lebanon.
And, Cambanis detailed in that work how Hezbollah maintained the loyalty of Lebanon's Shiite population by providing them with services such as health care and education that were not offered by the Lebanese state. He also documented how Hezbollah had won the respect and support of much of the Arab World for its successful guerilla war against Israel that resulted in the Israeli Army leaving southern Lebanon in 2000.
But recent actions taken by Hezbollah's leaders may turn much of the Arab world against it.
Hezbollah is supported by Iran, which is a Shiite governed state, and it receives from Iran missiles and other armaments that are shipped through Syria to southern Lebanon.
Several years ago, a revolt broke out in Syria and the government of Bashar Assad is now fighting the rebels in an increasingly bloody conflict for control of that nation. Assad is a member of the minority Alawite Sect that is part of the Shiite Islamic tradition, and the majority of the rebels are members of Syria's Sunni majority.
The forces fighting against Assad are supported by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states, and his government is allied with Iran and Russia. Recently, the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, announced that his organization was sending soldiers to fight for the Assad government and that Hezbollah would stay in the conflict until Assad was victorious.
Hezbollah has always claimed to be the champion of the Arabs in taking their battle against Israel, but it's willingness to turn its guns on fellow Arabs will surely lessen its support among the Sunni majority of the Arab world.
Nasrallah's statement, which was made shortly after the Russian government stated that it would be supplying Assad with missiles, made some observers fear that Hezbollah's involvement in Syria could serve to reignite the Lebanese Civil War. That conflict, which took place in the 1980s, pitted various Lebanese militias composed of Christian, Druze, and Sunni and Shiite Muslim militias against each other in street battles which took place in the Lebanese capitol of Beirut.
While the international media's attention has been focused on Syria, violence between Sunni and Shiite forces in Iraq has been increasing and it has been reported that some Iraqi Sunni Muslims have gone to Syria to join the rebel forces there.
The European Union recently decided to lift the embargo on the shipment of arms to the Syrian insurgents and many Americans, including Senator John McCain, who has visited rebel-held areas in Syria, are urging President Obama to do more to assist the rebels.
But a more prudent course of action may be to use American influence in the area to broker some type of peace agreement that will end the war before it becomes a regional conflict between the Sunnis and Shiite Muslims of the Middle East.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is a retired attorney.