Lebanese officials have condemned Hizbullah's decision to stage a military parade in Syria's Homs province earlier this month, telling Al-Mashareq this show of force poses a threat to Lebanon's sovereignty and deepens divisions.
Hizbullah staged its parade in rural al-Qusayr on November 13th as part of its annual Martyrs' Day commemoration. Al-Qusayr has been the party's gateway to Syria since it fought alongside regime forces to capture the town in 2013.
Hizbullah executive council chairman Hisham Safieddine attended the parade, accompanied by hundreds of the group's fighters and the armoured regiment, which paraded dozens of tanks and guns.
Activists posted images of the party's militia on social networking sites showing heavy military equipment, including field artillery, tanks, armoured vehicles and vehicles carrying heavy launchers.
The parade was the first of its kind the party has staged in Syria since the revelation of its participation in the conflict in 2013 and its subsequent expansion to al-Qalamoun region and throughout Syria.
"The parade is a clear and explicit message to everyone and does not require clarification or interpretation, because any interpretation would strip it of its connotations, and each party must read it as is," Hizbullah’s deputy secretary general Naim Qassem said in a statement.
"The issue of our intervention is not subject to discussion now in Lebanese circles," he said. "Co-ordination between us and the Syrian leadership is very high and the military parade is part of the field activity."
The Lebanese Future bloc condemned the parade at its November 15th meeting.
The party "confirms once again that it puts Iran’s interest ahead of the national interest, and that it is sending threatening messages to international and regional parties as well to Lebanese parties, and the Lebanese state in particular", the bloc said in a statement.
Caretaker Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi said the timing of the parade, staged before Lebanon's Independence Day on November 22nd, "destroys all hopes in the ability or intention of the government to recover even a small part of the state’s prestige and image".
He called on all that reject Iranian tutelage "to stand together to save Lebanon, which is being used by Hizbullah as legal cover and a platform to serve Iran's project ".
The appearance of military vehicles in the parade prompted the Lebanese army to issue a November 16th statement confirming "the vehicles that were paraded in al-Qusayr are not in the Lebanese army’s inventory and do not belong to it".
Attack on Lebanon's sovereignty
The parade is a "new involvement by Hizbullah in a regional war outside Lebanon in defense of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Iran that will have negative repercussions on Lebanon and the Lebanese", said Akkar MP Khaled al-Daher.
What happened is a departure from Lebanon's policy of self-distancing, he told Al-Mashareq, and is in clear defiance of the authorities and the legitimate institutions, particularly the army and other regular security forces.
It is also an attack on Lebanese sovereignty, he said.
The party is engaging in militia activities and its weapons are under the command of Iran under the Wilayat al-Faqih doctrine, he said, as previously stated by its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah.
"Would any Lebanese citizen accept the presence of an armed militia and gunmen who are outside the state’s authority and under the command of a party other than the Lebanese state?" he asked.
Hizbullah's show of military force also has an adverse effect on politics and the economy as it weakens confidence in the country and harms national unity, al-Daher added.
He described Qassem's declarations following the parade in Syria as "dangerous and inconsistent with the concept of citizenship" as well as running counter to the concept of the state.
The timing of the parade, just before Independence Day, sends a message to Lebanon, Lebanese MP Ammar Houri told Al-Mashareq.
"It was as if Hizbullah was saying with its parade that featured [armoured] vehicles that independence will not be complete without its approval," he said.
Hizbullah’s overt role in Syria
Hizbullah's military parade in Syria "is not surprising, as it is an extension of the party’s overt intervention in Syria and presence of thousands of its fighters there", political analyst Ali al-Amin told Al-Mashareq.
"The parade itself is just an unimportant detail," he said, compared with the party’s possession of advanced missiles and other sophisticated weapons.
The November 13th parade in Syria was intended as "a show of strength for the media, and is more theatrical than strategic", he added.
Its main goal was to raise the morale of its popular base at a critical time of its involvement in the war in Syria, with no victory in sight, he said, while the ongoing loss of life continues to deplete the party in Syria and elsewhere.