12 November 2015

What are the Shiites dying in Syria for?


The excellent report LBC aired on how Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has bought $22 million worth of real estate, since 2005, draws an unmistakable irony: While young Shiite men are dying in Syria — presumably defending minorities against a possible ISIS onslaught — minority charlatans like Bassil are busy accumulating wealth.

Bassil is not the only corrupt government official the Shiites are defending. Stories of the epic corruption of Bashar Assad’s cousin,Rami Makhlouf, were famous long before the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011.

Corrupt Christian Bassil and Alawite Makhlouf are the leaders of the minorities that Shiite men — along with poor Alawite men and women — are dying to protect.

Perhaps it is time for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to come clean with the Shiites as to why he is sending their men into the Syrian inferno. Nasrallah himself has been so confused about Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war that his justifications to his supporters have often been contradictory.

During the first months of the Syrian uprising, when Bashar Assad’s artillery was pounding Homs, Nasrallah insisted that life in neighboring Syria was normal. It is possible that Nasrallah initially resisted getting involved in the Syrian war, but by May 2013 he got the call from his bosses in Iran, who instructed him to help Assad.

Since 2011, Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has proven to be ‘operation mission creep.’ It started as Hezbollah fighters guarding the Shiite Shrine of Sayyidah Zaynab, near Damascus, and later developed into Hezbollah protecting Syrian Shiites who live close to the border with Lebanon. With time, Hezbollah’s fighters became the muscle of the Assad coalition and the party started leading offensive operations in the north and west of Syria, where there are no Israelis to fight or Shiites to protect.

Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria invited the revenge of terrorists, who launched a series of bombing attacks that mainly targeted Shiite neighborhoods and the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

The bombings did not induce Nasrallah to rethink his party’s strategy. Instead, he doubled down on Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war, promising swift results. Yet a victory over terrorists in Syria has proven elusive, not only to Hezbollah but also to a growing roster of armies that includes the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

Despite its inability to score a decisive victory, Hezbollah is still fighting in Syria at a great human cost to the Lebanese Shiites. Meanwhile, in an attempt to mitigate Shiite anger, Nasrallah has repeatedly redefined his militia’s mission in the Syrian war. Instead of defeating ragtag terrorist militias in Syria, as originally planned, Nasrallah now wants to beat Sunni nations wholesale as his lieutenants shout “Death to the Saud family.”

Perhaps, given the instructions he has from Tehran, Nasrallah has little say in deciding when to pull out or whom to fight.

But no matter the outcome, Hezbollah will emerge the biggest loser of the Syrian war. The party has been badly bruised, its fighting ranks thinned, its resources depleted and its Shiite supporters are frustrated.

To keep Lebanon’s Shiites from revolting against Hezbollah, Nasrallah has skillfully reoriented their hate against Sunnis in Lebanon and the region. And to buy Hezbollah some desperately-needed friends, Nasrallah has lent his political muscle to abhorrently corrupt and nepotistic politicians such as lawmaker Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, Bassil.

The Shiites deserve to know why their sons are dying in Syria. From a religious point of view, there is no shrine holy enough to warrant Shiites dying to protect it. Examples of sacred Shiite sites being destroyed without the Shiites lifting a finger, such the razed Baqii Cemetery in eastern Saudi Arabia, abound. On the contrary; the original Shiite doctrine teaches its followers dissimulation in life-threatening situations.

The narrative that Hezbollah is defending Assad and Aoun to reward them for their support of ‘the resistance’ in its wars against Israel is also weak. If in its war for the liberation of Jerusalem Hezbollah cannot find anyone better than its corrupt charlatan allies Assad and Aoun, then Hezbollah had better rethink its liberation strategy and maybe defer it until more honorable allies show up.

If the liberation of Jerusalem means that Hezbollah has to protect corruption in Lebanon and Syria, kill half the Sunnis of the world and lose all those Shiite men in Syria — before the battle for Jerusalem has even started — then maybe leaving Jerusalem occupied is the better option.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain

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