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Syria truce threatened by Hizbullah activities

By Junaid Salman in Beirut

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People are seen crossing at an army checkpoint, as opposition fighters and their families prepare to leave the town of Deir Kanun in the Wadi Barada region, on January 11th, as part of a ceasefire deal with the Syrian government. A fragile ceasefire in Syria is threatened by the actions of the Iranian regime and its proxies in the region, notably Hizbullah. [Stringer/AFP]

The actions of Lebanon's Hizbullah in Syria threaten an already fragile ceasefire that has been in place since December 30th, analysts tell Diyaruna.

The war in Syria has been fertile ground for various regional parties seeking to advance their interests through proxies , they said, noting that Hizbullah is implementing an Iranian agenda that seeks to control the Syrian decision-making process and expand its influence in a number of other countries in the region.

Hizbullah will not leave Syria when the ceasefire agreement goes into effect, Iranian World Assembly of Islamic Awakening secretary general Ali Akbar Velayati, a top foreign policy advisor to Iran's supreme leader, said on January 3rd.

On December 31st, the head of Hizbullah's political council, Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, said the party’s military wing would remain active in Syria until the end of the conflict.

If the ceasefire holds, political negotiations between the Syrian regime and opposition are slated to begin in the Kazakh capital of Astana on January 23rd.

But the ceasefire has been shaken by Syrian warplanes, which have continued to carry out airstrikes in several regions of the country.

The Iranian regime does not want to see peace established in Syria, as that would bring the topic of regime change to the fore, "which is rejected by the Iranians", said American University of Beirut political science professor Hilal Khashan.

Meanwhile, "Hizbullah is seeking, through its presence in Syria, to control the Syrian areas adjacent to Lebanon, which indicates that the party’s troops will be remaining in Syria", he told Diyaruna.

"Sustaining the unrest and tension in Syria serves [Hizbullah] and Iran and keeps the Syrian government constantly dependent on them," he added.

Hizbullah serves Iran's interests

Rami Ollaik, a professor at the American University of Beirut and former member of Hizbullah who has written two critical books on his experiences in the party, said "the party did not hesitate to intervene militarily in Syria, because of its convictions and its calculations that go beyond Lebanon's borders".

Hizbullah is impervious to the effects its decision to enter the war in Syria will have on Lebanon, Ollaik told Diyaruna, noting that the party "is involved in random war crimes and their actual long-term repercussions will soon come to light".

Hizbullah is considered as "an elite division within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)", Future Movement official and former MP Mustafa Alloush told Diyaruna.

The Iranian regime "is working hard to secure a safe route from Iran through Syria, to Lebanon , as the latter serves as an advanced position for Iran in the Middle East", he said.

"We are therefore seeing fighting raging around the capital Damascus," he said, adding that Iran has been trying to establish a military and demographic reality in the area that links Damascus to Lebanon.

In addition to serving Iran's interests in the region, Hizbullah's insistence on fighting in Syria provides fertile ground for the emergence of extremist groups from other sects, he said.

Such conditions have brought about the creation of groups such as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and al-Nusra Front (ANF), now known as Fatah al-Sham Front, and could lead to the emergence of other violent groups, he added.

Justification for emergence of extremist groups

The party’s presence in Syria is part of the conflict in Syria, and therefore part of the solution as well, Lebanese American University international relations professor Imad Salamey told Diyaruna.

"The party is fulfilling a military role that benefits Iran politically in any solution to the Syrian crisis and consolidates its role in the distribution of power," he said.

Therefore, any solution that guarantees Iran’s interests in Syria and removes the threat to the Syrian regime would lead to the military withdrawal of Hizbullah and other Shia militias , Salamey said.

"Every foreign military presence on Syrian territory serves the logic of similar foreign presence," he said.

Likewise, every sectarian militia provides rationale for its counterpart to be there , Salamey said, referring to ISIL and ANF.

"Accordingly, the presence of Hizbullah and other Shia forces provides justification for the presence of other Islamist extremist forces fighting the regime, and vice versa," he said.

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