Politics

Hizbullah's human losses in Syria anger base

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

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Mourners attend the funeral of Hizbullah fighter Abbas Jaafar in the Hermel area of eastern Lebanon. Several Hizbullah fighters were killed in the recent fighting in Syria's Idlib and Aleppo provinces. [Photo courtesy of Lebanon's National News Agency]

As Hizbullah continues to suffer heavy human and material losses as a result of its participation in the Syrian conflict, the anger roiling its base in Lebanon is beginning to boil over.

It has become clear to the party's base that Hizbullah's actions are serving the agenda of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and that their sons are dying for an unjust cause, experts said.

Hizbullah's involvement in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen "has caused it to suffer heavy human losses", said Lebanese security expert Naji Malaeb.

This has caused mounting dissent among its base in Lebanon, as its young recruits are being killed in foreign wars, he told Al-Mashareq.

As many as a dozen Hizbullah fighters were killed in the recent fighting in Idlib and Aleppo, he said, though the full toll has yet to be announced.

The funerals of Jaafar al-Sadiq, of Harouf in southern Lebanon; Ammar Darwish of Shukin; and Abbas Jaafar and Abbas Taha, of Hermel, were held in late January, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

Mounting discontent within the party's base can be attributed to parental convictions "that their sons are dying for agendas that serve Iran and its IRGC", he said, rather than for their own country.

Meanwhile, members of Lebanon's Shia community have been taking part in the national protests that have brought together people of all sects and backgrounds from across the country for a common cause.

Hizbullah's attempts to quash the protests have stripped it of its credibility, Malaeb said.

This feeling is compounded by "the rise of the conviction that it is futile for it to continue fighting in the wars of the region and suffer more human losses that serve only Iran", he added.

Hizbullah hides its losses

Hizbullah continues its involvement in the war in Syria, alongside the Syrian regime, Lebanese Centre for Research and Consulting director Hassan Qutb told Al-Mashareq.

The Syrian regime has been pressing a brutal offensive in the north-western provinces of Idlib and Aleppo that has sparked massive displacement, heavy civilian casualties and drawn widespread international concern.

"The losses suffered by regime-affiliated militias are huge, as acknowledged by the official websites of these militias," Qutb said.

Though Hizbullah was among the militias that suffered heavy casualties, he said, "it has yet to officially admit to suffering casualties, dead or wounded, despite its heavy participation in the fighting".

But the death of five Hizbullah fighters, including a commander, have been broadcast by social media users, who have "posted their names, photos and their hometowns" online, he said.

Hizbullah "follows a policy of not announcing its death tolls nor the fronts where the fighters were killed, to preserve the stability of its internal front", Qutb said.

But this "internal front" -- the party's Lebanese base -- "is beginning to grow restless over the high human and material losses" and Hizbullah's continued involvement in the Syrian conflict, Qutb said.

Regarding the ongoing protests, he said, the Lebanese public "now feels that the economic crisis in which Lebanon is embroiled was caused by Hizbullah's foreign policies and its involvement in armed conflicts".

These have negatively affected Lebanon's foreign relations and its economy, he said, and have put it at risk of sanctions.

Justifications ring hollow

The base that supports Hizbullah "has started to tighten the screws on it because of its absurd wars outside Lebanon", Shia Reform Movement member Hussein Ezzedine told Al-Mashareq.

"The slogan of [defending] the holy shrines and jihad in support of the vulnerable has grown stale, as everyone among the party's supporters and allies has become certain that its agenda is merely an Iranian mission," he said.

The party "does not care about Lebanon, other than it being a battleground that it can ignite or threaten to ignite whenever it wants", he added.

After fighting in Syria for many years on behalf of the regime, under the purview of Iran, "the families of Hizbullah elements are bitterly disappointed", he said, noting that many thousands of Lebanese Shia have been killed in the conflict.

But their ideological and religious commitment to the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which calls for allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, "has tempered their anger", he said.

Ezzedine said it was notable that during the funerals held for the three most recent Hizbullah fighters killed, "no large crowds were present".

"The only people in attendance were Hizbullah political figures and residents of the slain fighters' hometowns," he said.

"There was a total absence of the party's allies, the Amal movement and those who normally attend the party's occasions," he said.

Those close to the party feel that the Iranian leadership is acting as if Hizbullah is "merely a tool that carries out [orders] without objection", Ezzedine added.

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