Hezbollah, no longer the Arab world’s favorite son
Arabic media review

Hezbollah, no longer the Arab world’s favorite son

French and UN claims that chemical weapons were used in Syria dominate Arab headlines

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

In this picture taken on Saturday May 25, 2013, a Hezbollah supporter holds a portrait of her son, Ibrahim Kanso, 24, who was killed 40 days before, at Sayida Zeinab shrine during a battle in Syria against the Syrian rebels (photo credit:AP/Hussein Mella)
In this picture taken on Saturday May 25, 2013, a Hezbollah supporter holds a portrait of her son, Ibrahim Kanso, 24, who was killed 40 days before, at Sayida Zeinab shrine during a battle in Syria against the Syrian rebels (photo credit:AP/Hussein Mella)

A French assertion that chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict leads the news in all Arab dailies on Wednesday.

“France asserts the use of sarin and Putin insists on delivering the S-300,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, which reports that the French findings coincide with a similar conclusion reached by a UN investigation committee.

The daily reports that the French Foreign Ministry, which revealed the information, intentionally did not name the culprit and is waiting for a UN fact-finding delegation to investigate the matter on the ground. However, France is “completely certain” that the regime forces of Bashar Assad used the banned materials, according to French sources.

“The United Nations asserts the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, featuring a photo of the Brazilian head of the UN committee Paulo Pinheiro at a press conference Monday evening. According to the UN report, limited amounts of chemical weapons were used in four separate occasions during March and April 2013, though according to the UN the chemical agents used could not yet be identified.

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Qassem Saaduddin, denied that his forces ever used chemical weapons, telling the daily that “the regime is the only one that owns this type of weaponry, which requires a certain mechanism for maintenance and use, and which the opposition does not have.”

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reports on the failure of the Syrian opposition to hold the city of Qusair near the Lebanese border amid opposition claims of a government and Hezbollah-perpetrated massacre which killed hundreds of opposition fighters.

Hezbollah’s changing image in the Arab world

Many op-eds in the Arab press are dedicated to Hezbollah on Wednesday, focusing on the changing perception of the Arab world toward it given its pivotal role in crushing the anti-Assad opposition in Qusair.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah buried four of its fighters in villages across Lebanon, Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reports.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Othman Mirghani writes that Hezbollah’s claim that it is aiding Assad in order to safeguard the “resistance” against Israel is reminiscent of a similar claim made by Saddam Hussein when he occupied Kuwait in 1990, claiming that he was fighting a conspiracy against Iraq and that he would pray in Jerusalem.

“It seems like he too [Nasrallah] has lost his compass, since in the past he always said that his weapons are directed at Israel and not at Qusair or Damascus,” writes Mirghani in an op-ed titled “Hezbollah’s mistake.”

“It makes little difference that Saddam was a Sunni and that Nasrallah is Shiite. Both use the phrases of resistance and conspiracy and Palestine to rally people and cover the true excuses for sending fighters to war in another Arab country. In both cases, involvement was a costly adventure for which Saddam paid the price. I think that Nasrallah too will lose a lot because of it.”

Abdullah Iskandar, writing for Al-Hayat, focuses on Hezbollah’s relations with the Arab Gulf states. He claims that Hezbollah has miscalculated concerning the strong relationship binding the Gulf States to the United States.

“By ignoring its current image in Arab public opinion generally and in the Gulf specifically, Hezbollah will have pushed the deteriorating Sunni-Shiite relations to the point of no return. The tendency of both sides to demonize the other on religious grounds needs no more that the current sectarian animosity to cause the great explosion,” writes Iskandar.

But die-hard supporters of Hezbollah, like Al-Quds Al-Arabi journalist Rashad Abu-Shawar, use their columns to protect Hezbollah from its offenders.

In an op-ed published Wednesday, Abu-Shawar lambastes former Syrian vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam for calling for the “uprooting” of Hezbollah from Lebanon, a phrase he claims reminds him of the “de-Baathification” of Iraq from Saddam loyalists following the American occupation.

Abu-Shawar accuses Khaddam of wanting to dethrone Assad in order to take his place as Syrian president, at the bidding of Israel and the United States.

“Khaddam has exposed his masters’ plan which clearly strives to finish Hezbollah, “uproot it,” and destroy the resistance in Lebanon as punishment for its victories and loyalty to Palestine. [Hezbollah] has embarrassed Arab states ruled by leaders who hear and see what is happening to Jerusalem and don’t lift a finger. All they want to do is finish Hezbollah and all forms of resistance in Palestine. This will only happen by turning Syria into a base for counterrevolution, a neighbor and friend of the Zionist entities, a lackey of America, and an extension of the regressive entities spreading across Arab lands. These regimes always conspired against Jerusalem and the noblest of Arab causes … can we forget?”

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