Hezbollah is facing mounting domestic criticism for its involvement in fighting alongside the regime of Bashar Assad and for apparently sending an Iranian-made drone to Israel, actions which local critics say could drag Lebanon into a regional war.
On Thursday, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah boasted of Hezbollah’s responsibility for sending the drone — he said it was Iranian-made – that was downed by Israel on Saturday.
But in a rare reaction, Lebanese president Michel Suleiman tacitly criticized Hezbollah for what he considered to be reckless action on the part of the Shiite organization, a member of the country’s ruling coalition.
“The act of sending a drone over the land of the Israeli enemy demonstrates the need to adopt a defensive strategy that will regulate the ability of the resistance [Hezbollah] to defend Lebanon,” Suleiman said. “A decision-making process must be formulated that will use this ability in accordance with the army’s plans and its defense needs.”
Hezbollah has been facing mounting criticism in Lebanon since footage proving the involvement of its members in fighting alongside Syrian government forces began to emerge in recent weeks. Funerals of three Hezbollah fighters were secretly carried out in Lebanon earlier this month, with Hezbollah claiming only that the men had been killed in the line of duty.
‘Some mistakenly consider Nasrallah a friend. These people should recall the famous saying: ‘with friends like these, who needs enemies?’
Opposition leader Saad Hariri, head of the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition, claimed that President Suleiman’s statement revealed “deep concern shared by all Lebanese” regarding “Hezbollah’s reckless adventures.”
“Everyone must understand once a for all that Lebanon is not an unmanned aircraft,” Hariri said.
Hariri said that sending a drone over Israel was a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which solidified a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon in the wake of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He also accused Hezbollah of involvement in fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria.
Nasrallah and his deputy Naim Qassem were forced to dedicate their recent public appearances to rebuffing domestic accusation of irresponsible foreign policy.
In his speech on Thursday, Nasrallah justified the drone mission by claiming that Israel had violated Lebanese airspace “over 20,000 times;” violations, he claimed, that went unanswered by the Lebanese government and the international community.
Nasrallah denied that the Hezbollah fighters buried in Lebanon in early October were engaged in combat in Syria, instead claiming that they had been killed during an arms depot explosion in the eastern town of Nabi Sheet. Nasrallah said Hezbollah was justified in hiding weapons so far from the Israeli borer, since the Beqaa Valley was also within Israel’s firing range, and had in fact been targeted during the war in 2006.
Meanwhile, Nasrallah’s deputy Qassem on Saturday accused Hariri’s coalition of arming the rebels in Syria and causing the deaths of 33,000 Syrians.
“They said we gambled in 2006, but it turned out that our gamble liberated Lebanon and defeated Israel… in 33 days, we sacrificed around 1,200 martyrs, fighters and civilians, for that end,” Qassem said. “But the gamble of Mr. Saad Hariri and his Future [Party] in Syria cost the lives of 33,000 victims according to their count. This gamble involved the Future Party in the Syrian crisis, the result of which we have only just begun to witness.”
‘All government members in Lebanon have adopted a policy of staying out of the Syrian game,’ Nir told the Times of Israel. ‘But Hezbollah has been independently sending its men to Syria. This will inevitably cause friction within the government, which Hezbollah is part of’
Omri Nir, a Lebanon expert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that in its independent foreign policy, Hezbollah was effectively contradicting its stated strategy of integrating into the Lebanese political game. Nir said that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria was much more politically damaging domestically than the drone incident.
“All government members in Lebanon have adopted a policy of staying out of the Syrian game,” Nir told The Times of Israel. “But Hezbollah has been independently sending its men to Syria. This will inevitably cause friction within the government, which Hezbollah is part of.”
Try as Hezbollah might to portray its actions as being in line with Lebanon’s best interests, Tareq Homayed, the editor of the influential Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, still accused the Shiite party of being no more that an Iranian proxy in the region.
“Hassan Nasrallah described the drone as ‘manufactured in Iran and assembled in Lebanon.’ The truth is that this is the best description not of the drone, but of Hezbollah itself. This party is nothing but ‘manufactured in Iran and assembled in Lebanon,’” Homayed wrote on Sunday.
“Nasrallah today is trying to drag Lebanon and the region into another unjustified war with Israel, without the knowledge of the Lebanese state, as he did in 2006,” he added.
“Some mistakenly consider Nasrallah a friend. These people should recall the famous saying, ‘With friends like these, who needs enemies?”