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Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda lock horns over Syria crisis



It has been the game changer in Syrian conflict tipping the balance in favour of President Bashar Al Assad. But, back home in Lebanon Hezbollah is facing an existential threat — the gravest ever.

Its establishments, office in particular, are coming under rocket attacks; its strongholds in Lebanon are increasingly being invaded; people, known to be its detractors, are raising their voices to marginalise the organisation politically. In its home turf, Hezbollah is facing unprecedented backlash. Almost half of Lebanon's demography isn't happy over Hezbollah's participation in Syrian civil war. The issue has sharply polarised the nation splitting the country in almost two equal halves right through its midriff. Sectarian division in Lebanon is complete.

And worst, Al Qaeda has found more than what it had ever aspired in Lebanon — a firm foothold. The ABC News reporter Alexander Marquardt says, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda fighters are edging closer to full scale confrontation. And in this many are seeing a tacit support of the United States and its allies. Of them a sociologist thinker and a research associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is the most explicit. He says, the US and its allies are working to open a new front of the Syrian conflict inside Lebanon. The plan is to sow the seeds of sedition in Lebanon, destabilise the country and foment yet another bloody sectarian conflict like what we have seen in Libya and Syria.

The recent bloody conflict between Jabhat Al Nusra, known also as Al Nusra Front, and the Lebanese Army at Sidon only confirms the suspicion that the US and its allies' willingness to open a front deep within Lebanon is encouraging Al Qaeda to engage Hezbollah so that it remains busy in its own war, undercut its ability to fight for the Syrian regime and force the Lebanese militia to retreat from Sysia.

Jabhat Al Nusra is a Syrian rebel outfit and an affiliate of Al Qaeda. Its game plan in Lebanon is clear —to set up a fighting unit in this country and open a new front of the Syrian civil war before regrouping to fight pro-Assad army re-armed with American supplies. It has already unified nearly all the diverse Salafist outfits in Lebanon, especially those in the north, and has been offering training "in at least two locations in the Ein Al Hilweh camp. Lebanese intelligence says that Osama Al Shehab, an Al Qaeda operative, supervises those two locations in Ein Al Hilweh camp." Over a hundred Al Nusra fighters have already poured into Lebanon since they were defeated in the first phase of the conflict in Syria.

In the past few years, more so since the beginning of conflict in Syria, Al Qaeda's presence in Lebanon has become a little more than just perceptible. Today, banners and flags of Al Qaeda flutter all across the country announcing more than just its presence. In Lebanon, Al Qaeda is now a force to reckon with — a force which has empowered almost half of its demography to challenge Hezbollah's hegemony.

The front to engage Hezbollah in its home turf is almost ready. At least four Lebanese radical groups have pledged unification to form Jabhat Al Nusra Lebanon branch which would be the Lebanese affiliate of Al Qaeda.

The United States and its trans-Atlantic allies in Europe cannot win in Syria without neutralising the Hezbollah fighters. The fall of Qusair on June 5 and the role Hezbollah fighters played in the battle for this strategic town drove the realisation home in Washington, London and Paris. The need to open the second front before launching the war for Syria has now become imperative more than ever.

To the United States, Britain and France among others, Hezbollah has long been a painful thorn in the flesh. They are now seeing an opportunity, perhaps the best ever, to take this thorn out once and for all propping up all anti-Hezbollah forces, including Al Qaeda, encouraging them to defeat the Lebanese militia organisation militarily.

Contrary to the reasons for which the United States walked into the war in Afghanistan, elimination of Al Qaeda was never high on the American agenda. In fact, Washington has always been pursuing a flawed policy, rather a Machiavellian one, vis-à-vis Al Qaeda — using the outfit to its benefit as and when needed. In Lebanon, at least, it is more than evident.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya says that the US and its allies have actually turned a blind eye to the support that the Future Party of Saad Hariri provides to Al Qaeda. It is worth noting that the current head of UN Secretariat's Department of Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, who was once the US ambassador to Lebanon before he was promoted in the US Department of State, also turned a blind eye to the support for Al Qaeda by Hariri family's Future Party and its March 14 Alliance.

Proximity of this family with Al Qaeda and the Takfiri (Lebanese edition of the Egyptian Salafists) militias is tale tell. Takfiris have not only been avowed opponents of Hezbollah but have also been benign to those who revered the slain Al Qaeda supreme, Osama bin Laden. Reinforcing the Takfiris within Lebanon has always been a long-term political strategy of the Hariri family, supported by its Arab and American promoters, to weaken Hezbollah.

The myopia has only helped Al Qaeda to bloom full in Lebanon. Today, it is strong and confident enough to warn Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to rein in Hezbollah or else face the consequences.

Lebanon is on its way to be the latest in the list of nations where myopic and cynical politics have wreaked permanent havoc.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.



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