A propagandist-in-chief's war on intellectual imperialism and pursuit of a resistance episteme

"If you want the Arabs to fight Israel, tell them Israel converted to Shi’ism"—the Lebanese Sunni Sheikh, Maher Hammoud
“اذا اردتم للعرب ان يقاتلوا اسرئيل قولوا لهم ان إسرائيل قد تشيعت"

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All those who are childishly trashing Hizbullah for not intervening in Gaza on the one hand, and those who are too embittered and petty-minded to forgive Hamas on the other, should read this interview with Osama Hamdan and recall that the Palestinian cause is bigger than us all: 
"Hamdan also said that there was a “permanent cooperation and coordination on the field” with Hezbollah….
“The ties with Hezbollah and Iran are much better than many people think, and the ties with Hezbollah especially are way better than optimists expect them to be,” Hamdan told As-Safir newspaper. “The relationship with Hezbollah is based on [the fight against] Israel and the endeavor to liberate Palestine. Everybody is keen on preserving it no matter how the circumstances change and the points of view differ,” he added.

Full Arabic interview with Hamdan in As-Safir here: http://www.assafir.com/Article/360865/Archive

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Given Arab outrage at Israel’s latest round of aggression against the Palestinian people, some Arab leftists and Palestine solidarity activists have been attacking Hizbullah for fighting jihadis in Syria while abstaining from intervening militarily in Palestine. Aside from ignoring the existential nature of the far less manageable conflict with the takfiris (who are accountable to no one), such accusations ignore the fact that Hizbullah has never directly intervened in Palestine. 
In 2009, I wrote this piece explaining why Hizbullah couldn’t militarily intervene in the 2008/2009 war on Gaza. I think the excerpts below are even more relevant now, considering Hizbullah is currently fighting on 2 other fronts, over and above its deterrent strategy vis-a-vis Israel: 
"While Israel fervently attempts to terrorize the Palestinians into submission in Gaza, many observers have started to wonder why Hizballah has refrained from stepping in militarily to assist its brothers-in-arms, Hamas. Such musings fail to take account of the constraints on Hizballah’s room for action, as well as the circumstances under which Hizballah would ignore such constraints. The question that should be posed is not so much if Hizballah will act, but when.
As things currently stand, Hizballah is not in a position to directly help Hamas militarily by opening a new front with Israel. In the first place, Hizballah and its supporters have only recently recovered from the devastating impact of Israel’s war against them in July 2006. A Hizballah offensive against northern Israel would surely be met with “disproportionate” force on Israel’s part, which Israel has been threatening as much for several months now. Mass destruction and devastation aside, Hizballah would once again be faced with intense domestic pressures to disarm, and possibly, more externally manufactured, locally-executed conspiracies hatched against it that could drag it into the kind of civil warfare that the movement found itself in during May 2008.
Armed action by Hizballah would not only hurt the movement but would also harm Hamas whose status as a nationalist resistance movement, capable of defending its own people, would be greatly undermined and its raison d’etre called into question. Furthermore, since Hamas has thus far managed to withstand the Israeli onslaught on its own without suffering any significant damage to its organizational hierarchy or military infrastructure, Hizballah does not regard an intervention on its part as an exigent need…..
Hamas’ fighting style also seems to bear the hallmarks of the military tactics Hizballah used during the July War such as its use of underground bunkers and tunnel networks, as well as adopting similar rocket tactics, all of which suggest Hizballah’s extensive training of Hamas’ military forces. Nasrallah came close to admitting as much when he claimed on 31 December that “the resistance in Gaza benefitted more from these lessons [from the July War] than the Israelis.” More than simply receiving military training, Hamas’s military strategy appears to conform to the “new school of fighting” founded by Hizballah’s assassinated military leader, Imad Mughniyeh (himself rumored to have personally trained and equipped several Palestinian groups over the years), which combines conventional and non-conventional, guerilla warfare that functions not only to liberate occupied territory, but to defend it from aggression.”

Full article here

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Just read this piece by Thanassis Cambanis ” The Surprising appeal of ISIS”. So the new trend in western mainstream media is pimping up ISIS : “As repugnant as its tactics are, ISIS offers Sunnis a rare opportunity: a chance, in effect, to be a citizen.” More than this, ISIS, is a “grassroots” movement and is furnishing its “citizens” with a “participatory” framework for engaging in politics. “It has made clear that it expects people under its power to take an active role in establishing a new Islamic state.”
And the best part: ““It’s not the old model where the citizen is passive and plays no role,” said Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid,“Within certain limits, if you agree to abide by these strict rules, there is an active role for citizens under ISIS.”
What can we expect next from Thanassis Cambanis, perhaps a piece on how crucifixions are the new tolerance? Public beheadings as a participatory activity which engages the masses? Maybe one on how sex fatwas empower women as sexually active citizens. 
Does this moron even know how citizenship is defined in the Western liberal tradition of social science? Does he not know that citizenship is based on civil and political rights? Since when was nihilistic terrorism and religious puritanism a state building project? Does he not fathom that in conventional usage, participatory politics is not synonomous with the mentally deranged politics of rabidly sectarian frenzied mobs? Why am I even bothering?
What a silly little white man.

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"It will always be Palestine first for me, not because Mohammed Abu Khudair’s or Mohammed al-Durrah’s blood is worth more than Syrian or Lebanese or Iraqi blood, but because without their blood, without Palestine, I would never have known justice."

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Resistance versus Jihad is the new faultline in the region. It has now become patently obvious that the US is manipulating and instrumentalizing takfiri jihadism to defeat the Resistance. The hope is that ISIS can achieve what decades of Zionist aggression failed to deliver, by means of a policy of implosion, fragmentation and [strategically employed] terror, dealt by a heavily sectarianized Islamism which is devoid of any anti-imperialist content. 
Forget Clinton’s infamous “we created al-Qaeda” quote, and Seymour Hersh’s 2007 exposé of the US-Saudi role in funding al-qaeda affiliated militants in Lebanon, several developments this week reveal that ISIS has effectively become the US’ (and of course Saudi’s) new weapon of choice in confronting the Iran- Hizbullah-Syria-Iraq Axis:
Obama acknowledges that the notion of a “ready-made moderate Syrian force that was able to defeat Assad” was a “fantasy”, and only days later, requests $500 million from Congress to fund this fantasy; the following day, the leader of one of the leading “moderate” Islamist groups Obama was alluding to, the Syrian Revolutionary Front, tells The Independent that the fight against al-Qaeda was “not our problem” and admits that his fighters conduct joint operations with al-Qaeda’s representative in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra; a Kurdish intelligence source reveals to The Telegraph that his people had informed the US and British governments of an imminent ISIS takeover of Mosul but that the warning “fell on deaf ears;” PM Maliki blames the US’ delayed delivery of 36 F16s Iraq had purchased for ISIS’ advance into northern and western Iraq; Netanyahu warns Obama against military intervention in Iraq, arguing “when your enemies are fighting one another , don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both;” ISIS declares war on Lebanon.
The facts speak for themselves

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 Nothing irks me more than when naive Arab [pseudo] leftists voice their disillusionment with Hizbullah for “abandoning the resistance to Israel” by fighting with “fellow Muslims”; for its allegedly “sectarian” turn because of its military role in Syria and given its protection of the Sayyida Zeinab shrine in Damascus and its intent to protect holy shrines in Iraq; and for its appropriation of Bush’s “war on terror” discourse.

First of all, there is zero indication that Hizbullah has indeed abandoned its struggle with Israel. I would like to ask them if Israel committed any act of aggression against Lebanon which the Resistance didn’t respond to since the war in Syria began. Or if they read IDF General Amos Gilad’s admission that Israel has “not been successful in preventing a buildup (of rockets) in Lebanon,” which now threatens all of Israeli territory. But on a much more fundamentally basic level I want to ask what is inherently ignoble or unprincipled about fighting for one’s existence. Does this Intifada-chic crowd believe that a real resistance movement should turn the other cheek when any group or entity besides Israel attacks it and threatens its people and territory? Or more rudimentary still, do they believe there would even be a Resistance to fight Israel if it allowed petro-dollar funded Takfiris to have their way with it?

Second, despite the infantile Marxist fantasies of these Muqawama Hipsters, Hizbullah is not, nor has ever, proclaimed to be a secular or Socialist movement. It is an Islamic Shia movement which owes its roots both to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Shia Islamic concept of the Wilayat el-Faqih. As such, for Hizbullah, the desecration of Shia shrines is a huge deal, just as the desecration of Islamic symbols is for hundreds of millions of Muslims. This doesn’t make Hizbullah a sectarian organization because religiosity and sectarianism are mutually exclusive concepts, even if they can and often do overlap as in the case of the Takfiris.


And finally, Hizbullah refers to Israel as terrorist, not just the Takfiris, so it can hardly be likened to a neo-con US president . Moreover, when Hizbullah uses the term terrorism it isn’t consciously or unconsciously adopting US discourse because a discourse is an entire, ideologically delimited, system of thought and language, not a word which has different uses for different actors. When Hizbullah refers to Takfiris as terrorists, it is using the term within the framework of a Resistance Axis discourse, not quoting from an American imperialist script.”

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This is how the Dahyeh does the World Cup. Some friends noted the absence of the Iranian flag, which must have been sold out at this particular stand, given the Islamic Republic flag’s high visibility in Dahyeh. Nonetheless, If i was a western journo i would totally write a story on how Iran’s inability to beat Nigeria in this week’s match has led to a rift between Hizbullah and Iran, using this scene from a “Hizbullah stronghold”. I would then ask the juice vendor next to the flags why there is no Iran flag. He would merely shrug his shoulders in response because I am a suspicious looking white man, but i would go on to quote him as a “Hizbullah commander”/”Hizbullah source” depending on how stupid my editor is.

This is how the Dahyeh does the World Cup. Some friends noted the absence of the Iranian flag, which must have been sold out at this particular stand, given the Islamic Republic flag’s high visibility in Dahyeh. Nonetheless, If i was a western journo i would totally write a story on how Iran’s inability to beat Nigeria in this week’s match has led to a rift between Hizbullah and Iran, using this scene from a “Hizbullah stronghold”. I would then ask the juice vendor next to the flags why there is no Iran flag. He would merely shrug his shoulders in response because I am a suspicious looking white man, but i would go on to quote him as a “Hizbullah commander”/”Hizbullah source” depending on how stupid my editor is.

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Rouhani’s full statement on Iranian cooperation with the US on Iraq, with English subtitles. The full text reveals that the Iranian president was clearly dismissive of the US’ intent to clamp down on ISIS given that it was funding it in Syria. Also, note his chuckle. Priceless. 

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Watching mainstream media get into a tizzy about the prospect of "groundbreaking military cooperation" between Iran and the US, is quite pathetic. Aside from US official statements, the basis of this misplaced enthusiasm is the much trumpeted Rouhani press conference where he declared that “If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it [cooperation]”. What is omitted in most news reports is the specific context in which the Iranian President made this statement.

According to the Telegraph’s translation, Rouhani was asked if Iran was prepared to cooperate with America in Iraq. He replied that All countries need to embark on joint effort regarding terrorism. At the moment, it’s the government of Iraq and the people of Iraq that are fighting terrorism. We have not seen the US do anything for now. Any time the Americans start to take action against terrorist groups, we can consider that.” He then blamed the US for funding ISIS in Syria:"Where did these terrorist groups emerge from? They came from Syria," he said. "The problem is, why should Western countries, why should America, support terrorist groups? We warned them a year ago that these terrorist groups were a danger for the whole region. [But] they sent them arms – or their colleagues in the region sent them arms."

A closer reading reveals that Rouhani was both dismissive and suspicious of the US’ declared intent to strike in Iraq the very organization it had spent millions arming and funding in Syria via its Arab allies. This explains his assertion that the US wasn’t doing anything to combat terrorism “We have not seen the US do anything for now”.  When Rouhani affirmed “Any time the Americans start to take action against terrorist groups, we can consider that,” he was challenging the Obama administration to give up support for ISIS, not inviting it to co-stage a military attack on the group. In other[less diplomatic]  words, you will be a great help if you simply stop supporting ISIS.

Rouhani’s appointee, National Supreme Security Council chief Ali Shamkhani said as much when he dismissed any US-Iran cooperation over Iraq: “That is part of a psychological war, and is totally unreal,” Shamkhani said, denouncing “information published in the West’s media. As we have already said, if there is an official Iraqi request we will be ready to study it under the framework of international rules, and this concerns no other country.”  Moreover, the Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, was quoted by ISNA as rejecting US military intervention in Iraq: “Iraq has the capacity and necessary preparations for the fight against terrorism and extremism.  Any action that complicates the situation in Iraq is not in the interests of the country nor of the region,” Afkham said.

Rouhani’s diplomatic language reflects not so much a desire for ingratiating Iran with the US, but a means of leveraging the Islamic Republic’s influence in Iraq for political concessions in the nuclear talks with the West. The US clearly needs Iran’s help, but this is need is hardly mutual. To assume that Iran’s security concerns require military cooperation with America is downright absurd. In the first place, any cooperation with the US which transcends the political level would be tantamount to political suicide on Iran’s part and a violation of the anti-imperialist, justice-seeking principles which the Islamic Revolution constitutionalized and institutionalized in its foreign policy. Secondly, US military support for Iraq’s Shia can only backfire on both Iraq and Iran (not to mention the US itself), insofar as it would incite even mainstream Sunnis against the region’s Shia and plunge it further into the sectarian abyss. Third, in practical terms, US aerial bombardment will achieve little militarily beyond killing scores of Iraqi civilians who happen to reside in areas controlled by ISIS and its allies. The unconventional nature of ISIS’ militia-cum-terrorist warfare requires unconventional tactics which is the forte of Iran’s Quds Force. 

Any military cooperation or coordination with the US would be an act of folly for Iran, which is much better served strategically and in terms of its security by supporting the Iraqi army with Quds Force advisers and trainers, while facilitating a political settlement between aggrieved Sunnis and the Maliki government. And by serving its own interests in this manner, Iran can score political points with the US assuming the latter is indeed genuine about stamping out ISIS and stabilizing Iraq. Dialogue with the US  on Iraq will most likely provide Iran with a means for uncovering the latter’s intentions. 

 

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There is no doubt that ISIS’ takeover of Mosul and Tikrit requires an Iraqi-Iranian coordinated military response to prevent the fragmentation of Iraq, secure Iran’s borders, and ensure that none of the hard-won military gains made by the Syrian Army and Hizbullah in neigbouring Syria are reversed. But any security strategy is doomed to fail so long as we remain oblivious to the fact that the Maliki government is little more than a mirror image of its Syrian opposition nemesis: sectarian, weak, corrupt, divided, treacherous, and above all, eager for the US to drone its enemies into submission. That 75 per cent of of Lebanese Shia respondents did not view the Shia- dominated government in Iraq as a legitimate national entity, according to an opinion poll I conduced with the reputable Beirut Center for Research and Information in 2007, testifies to this perception.
If we are to learn anything from the circumstances which enabled 1500 ISIS fighters to overun a 52 000 soldier garrison, it is that Sunni (Baathist and Nashqabandi) sympathies for the attackers, both within and outside the army, can no longer be ignored nor can their long-held grievances, irrespective of the sectarian machinations of ISIS’ Saudi backers. Just as Maliki squandered away Sunni tribal [Sahwa] support with his sectarian discourse and negligence, he has succeeded in alienating Sunni officers in the US-funded and trained army, and antagonized mainstream Sunnis with his oppressive rule and aggrandizement of power. 
At the end of the day, we in the Resistance Axis are strategically aligned with a regime born of the very same invasion and occupation we are attempting to thwart in Syria. While we can rationalize this alliance on strategic and pragmatic grounds, we need to call for its drastic reform, beginning with a new social contract between Sunnis and Shia, as Nasrallah proposed in the midst of the US invasion of Iraq. In the absence of such a contract, any military offensive risks degenerating into a full-scale civil war which will drag our region even further into the sectarian morass so desired by the US-Israel-Arab Gulf.

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Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah introduced a new strategic and political motivation behind Hizbullah’s involvement in the war on Syria, which goes beyond its defense of Syria’s territorial integrity and the Syrian state’s support for resistance movements, and even beyond the existential threat takfiri-jihadis pose to Syria and Lebanon; Hizbullah’s defense of the Syrian Arab Republic today aims at preventing a repetition of the imperialists’ creation of Israel, only this time in Syria and the region as a whole: “the spectre of Palestine’s usurpation is being repeated today”. By arming and supporting takfiri groups (Nasrallah even drew parallels between their deployment and mobilization throughout the region and the mass migration of Jews to historic Palestine) the imperialists seek to fragment Syria and destroy the Resistance Axis, and in so doing, protect Israel. Basically, Hizbullah will never allow Syria to become a second Israel or a neo-colonialist outpost in the region designed to protect the first Israel.

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I have to say say I am extremely disappointed with RT for publishing this clearly bogus story which is based on a DEBKAfile report no less. DEBKA is an Israeli military intelligence website/propaganda machine which is considered right wing even byIsraeli standards, and was criticized by Yedioth Ahronoth for using politicized [usually anonymous] sources. To give you an example of just how ludicrous this report is: “But expectations of the Hizballah track are high and strongly guide the actions of President Obama, John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan. And so, in early March, the first secret rendezvous took place in Cyprus between CIA officers and Hizballah intelligence and security operatives.” 
Does RT seriously believe Hizbullah’s security people met with the CIA? Or even the American government for that matter? I mean why would it need to if Iran is already talking to the Americans? If you read the full DEBKA article it is obvious that the agenda behind the piece was to lump Hizbullah together with Fatah and Hamas: “Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ initiation of a unity pact with the Hamas extremists last week did not come out of the blue. It was prompted by the direct contacts the Obama administration has secretly established with the Lebanese Hizballah. Abbas reasoned that if Washington can start a dialogue with a terrorist organization, so too can his own PLO and Fatah.”
Equally disappointing was RT’s use of the metaphor “top dog” to describe a leader as revered and respected as Nasrallah. Forget Arab cultural sensitivites associated with the term “dog”, could RT think of nothing more suitable and commensurate with Nasrallah’s stature in the region than to refer to him as “one of Hezbollah’s top dogs”?

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Der Spiegel has just published a report on the funneling of Ukranian arms to jihadists in Syria via Germany. The following is a translation of the German text by Emily-Dische Becker:

"According to information obtained by Der Spiegel, a Ukrainian state enterprise is delivering rifles to Germany. The German federal government allegedly doesn’t know what is happening with the weapons. Are they being used in the war in Syria?
According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, the Ukraine is apparently doing arms deals through Germany. As the German Foreign Office acknowledged in response to a request by Die Linke (the Left party), the Ukrainian state company Ukroboronprom has been exporting semi-automatic rifles of the SKS Simonov variety to Germany. These imports were approved by the responsible government agencies.

The Foreign Office however is concealing where the weapons are ending up in Germany: The delivery terms of the German contract partner are “a business and a trade secret.” The rifles, it says evasively, are being delivered to Germany “for the purpose of modification.” The American Jamestown Foundation think-tank, which is said to enjoy strong historical ties to U.S. intelligence agencies, believes that the weapons are being delivered from Germany to Syrian rebels. Jamestown estimates the delivery of 54,000 small arms in the years 2011 and 2012. These could have been used for ” covert operations ” in Syria.
The federal government is aware of the suspicions of the Americans, but does not want to investigate them. As stated in their response to the Left party’s inquiry, they have “no findings of [their] own on this matter.” Neither the German army, nor the military counterintelligence agency, nor the federal intelligence service (BND) are involved in the purchase of weapons [the federal government claims].

The Left party’s expert for foreign affairs, Sevim Dagdelen, is alarmed by the government’s ignorance: “It is scandalous that the federal government can not convey anything about the whereabouts of these weapons. ” To make matter worse, Berlin “can not dispel the suspicion that these weapons have been passed on to Islamist holy warriors to cause a regime change in Syria. “

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Hala Jaber, Qalamoun Published: 20 April 2014

A YEAR ago, following a string of victories, Syria’s rebels fought their way so close to the capital, Damascus, that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime appeared doomed.

Many commentators predicted his fall within days; others gave him only weeks to survive. Yet 12 months later the tide has turned dramatically in favour of the Syrian president, who has outmanoeuvred his opponents both at home and abroad.

In the past few days, a string of villages and towns in the strategically important Qalamoun region have fallen to government forces — among them the Christian town of Maaloula, northeast of Damascus, where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken.

Homs, once known as “the capital of the revolution”, is on the verge of falling to a Syrian army offensive. Trapped in the last rebel redoubt in the old city, only about 1,000 rebel fighters remain.

Last week, accompanied by the Syrian army, I walked through Maaloula’s battle-scarred streets after it was returned to government control having been seized by the rebels last November.

The previous day, Assad predicted that the main battles could be over by the end of the year. “This is a turning point in the crisis,” he predicted.

Assad’s closest ally, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, went further, saying the Syrian leader no longer faced the prospect of being overthrown.

What has changed in the course of the year? Based on extensive interviews with senior sources close to Hezbollah’s military command in Syria and briefings from high-ranking army officers, I am convinced the answer lies in the decision by Nasrallah and Assad to throw Hezbollah into the fray, thus changing the course of the war.

Until 2012, Hezbollah’s involvement had been minimal. The Iranian-backed group, a mix of fighting force and Lebanese political party, had only a single unit in Syria to guard a Shi’ite shrine in Damascus. At the time hardline rebels, many of them from abroad and affiliated to al-Qaeda, were gaining territory and influence and had sidelined the more secular fighters of the Free Syrian Army.

For Shi’ite Hezbollah, the largely Sunni rebel fighters posed a danger by threatening to undermine Assad. Syria, the group’s closest ally, stored on its behalf the vast quantities of munitions supplied to it by Tehran.

There was further danger to Hezbollah as jihadist rebels began to discuss the prospect of extending their holy war to Lebanon. This would have put them in a powerful position to strangle the group by severing its supply lines from Syria. As a source close to Hezbollah described it to me recently: “Syria is Hezbollah’s lungs.” He added: “It doesn’t matter how many weapons Hezbollah keeps in Lebanon. In any war with Israel, their stocks would be depleted. Resupply is vital.”

By early last year, 70% of Syria’s territory had slipped from Assad’s control.

Day after day, Damascus was being rocked by car bombs, and the regime had been shaken when the rebels succeeded in launching an assassination attempt on key members of his inner circle.

Assad had been leaning heavily on the advice of his generals, who were trained in conventional warfare, and were ill-suited to a guerrilla struggle. It was time for a wholesale change of tactics, he decided, and that could come only from Hezbollah.

Nasrallah went to Tehran to seek religious guidance from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who gave his blessing to sending fighters. Khamenei said it was a religious obligation to fight the jihadist rebels.

Nasrallah’s military advisers insisted that Syria’s army, reinforced by his men, had to go on the offensive. With the backing of Russia and Iran, a strategy was formulated to drive the rebels out of Damascus and win back control of the strategic corridor that links the Syrian capital to the Mediterranean coast.
Nasrallah went to Tehran to seek religious guidance from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who gave his blessing to sending fighters. Khamenei said it was a religious obligation to fight the jihadist rebels.

Initially Hezbollah said its intervention would be confined to retaking the Syrian border city of Qusair and defending the Lebanese villages bordering Syria.

But Hezbollah’s fighters had underestimated their enemy. They soon found themselves in danger of being bottled up by rebel forces and realised they needed to capture far more territory than they had envisaged. This was now a full-scale war for them.

First, Qusair had to be taken in order to block the flow of rebels and weapons from Lebanon into rebel-held Homs.

Hezbollah sent several thousand fighters to the front while the Syrian army provided artillery and air support. In a sign of how closely they were now working together, Hezbollah was granted access to Syria’s military command operations centre for the first time.

Qusair proved a vital learning curve for Hezbollah, fighting far from its own terrain. The organisation was taken by surprise by the rebels’ prowess. In the first few days of battle, it took heavy casualties and was forced to regroup and change tactics.

After three weeks of heavy fighting, in which much of the town was destroyed by shell and rocket fire, Qusair was finally taken back into the hands of the regime last June.

The scale and ferocity of the battle persuaded Hezbollah’s commanders they needed to widen their strategic objectives. Homs, a rebel stronghold, had to be captured in order to choke off the rebels’ supply lines into Lebanon.

Today Homs no longer poses a threat to either Hezbollah or the regime, although it has a rump of rebel fighters, blamed for a car bomb outside a mosque on Friday that killed at least 14 people.

Control of the city was vital for Assad, as it links Damascus to the coastal towns of Latakia and Tartus, both parts of his Alawite heartland. The Alawite sect, to which Assad and his family belong, represents about 12% of the Syrian population.

In the next stage of their plan, the Syrian army and Hezbollah moved their attention to Qalamoun, the region where it made significant gains last week. Its harsh, mountainous terrain close to the Lebanese border had for months provided a base for rebel fighters to launch suicide attacks in Lebanese villages in revenge for Hezbollah’s support for Assad. Dozens have been killed by the bombs in recent weeks, most of them civilians.

“Ensuring the recapture of Qalamoun was becoming critical for Hezbollah,” the source close to the group explained.

Hezbollah fighters spearheaded the attack after the Syrian army had softened up the rebels by pounding their positions with artillery, rocket launchers and mortars.

Once Hezbollah won control of a village or town, it was handed over to Syrian troops or the pro-government militiamen known as the National Defence Force.

Despite the triumphs at Maaloula and Qalamoun, an all-out victory for Assad is still far from assured. Rebel brigades have made significant inroads in the north in recent weeks. Last month they captured Kassab, the sole remaining government-controlled border post with Turkey, cementing their hold on Syria’s northern border.

Though Kassab has little strategic importance, the well co-ordinated attack appears to have taken Assad’s military by surprise. Within 10 days, the rebels occupied a large area running down to the Mediterranean.

Despite the setbacks, Hezbollah has emerged as a bigger and more influential player in the region as a result of its intervention.

“There will be no limit for Hezbollah’s role and no boundaries,” said the Hezbollah source. “They’ll stay as long as he [Assad] needs them. When he considers Hezbollah’s presence is no longer needed, they’ll pull out immediately from all fronts,” he added.

Full story here

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