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MIDEAST MIRROR 10.06.15, SECTION A (ISRAEL)

 

Right wing shenanigans

 

Deputy Knesset Speaker Oren Hazan – the freshman Knesset member who has been accused of pimping for guests at the Bulgarian casino he ran and of supplying and consuming hard drugs – is the unwilling star of the front pages of all Israeli newspapers on Wednesday.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads with an analysis by Sima Kadmon, which asks the questions that most Israelis are posing today: How on earth did such a shady character make it into the Knesset? Israel Hayom and The Jerusalem Post lead with a further allegation against Hazan, which emerged after he was told that he cannot – in light of the original allegations against him – head a meeting of the Knesset's anti-drug authority. In response, Hazan is accused of threatening Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, saying that he would dig up dirt to discredit him.

Haaretz, which also carries the Hazan story on its front page, leads instead with what it calls a concerted effort by ministers to limit actors' and performers' ability to protest against government policies. Haaretz says that two recent moves by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Culture Minister Miri Regev are the first harbingers of this campaign. Bennett ordered the immediate removal of 'A Parallel Time,' a play performed by the Al-Midan Theater in Haifa, from the list of performances made available to schoolchildren, arguing that it justified the murder of soldiers. Regev, for her part, said that she is considering cutting government funding to the Elmina Theater in Jaffa after its leader Norman Issa refused to perform in the Haifa Theater’s play 'Boomerang' in a Jordan Valley settlement.

In other news, comments by various officials at the annual Herzliya Conference are given varying degrees of prominence in the newspapers. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who addressed the conference yesterday evening, said that Arab leaders agree with him that an emerging nuclear deal with Iran won't stop Tehran from getting atomic weapons.

Netanyahu told the prestigious conference that he is not the only voice in the Middle East against the deal. 'I am often portrayed as the nuclear party pooper,' Netanyahu said. 'But I speak with quite a few of our neighbors, more than you think, and I want to tell you that nobody in this region believes this deal will block Iran's path to the bomb.' Netanyahu warned the deal would spark a nuclear arms race that will see the region 'crisscrossed with nuclear trip wires as other states nuclearize' in fear of Iran. He said lifting the sanctions rewards Iran with 'prosperity at home' while allowing it to continue 'aggression abroad.'

Speaking earlier in the day, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that he does not believe a stable peace agreement could be reached with the Palestinians in his lifetime – one of the bleakest assessments from a top-level cabinet member since talks collapsed last year. Ya'alon, one of Netanyahu's closest allies, accused the Palestinians of having 'slammed the door' on efforts to keep discussions going, and said they had rejected peace-for-land deals for at least 15 years. His comments were dismissed by a Palestine Liberation Organization official who told Reuters that Netanyahu's administration bore the blame for the impasse.

Elsewhere, Israel Radio reports that the most senior U.S. military officer has reassured Israel that it will maintain a military edge over potential adversaries, including Gulf Arab states, regardless of whether Washington completes a nuclear deal with Iran. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the statement after meeting in Tel Aviv with his Israeli counterpart and with Ya'alon. Dempsey told reporters that Israeli officials expressed their concern at the scope of U.S. military assistance to Gulf States as a bulwark against Iran.

Washington has long pledged to ensure that Israel has what is called a 'qualitative military edge' over its potential adversaries in the region. But Dempsey said the Israelis are concerned that the growing size of Gulf Arab militaries could erode Israel's edge.

Finally, Haaretz reports that top Egyptian intelligence officers met recently with senior Hamas officials from outside the Gaza Strip to discuss the poor relations between Egypt and the Strip’s Hamas regime, senior officials of the Islamist organization confirmed on Tuesday. According to Palestinian media reports, Hamas’ main demand was that Egypt reopens its Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Egypt, for its part, demanded several confidence-building measures from Gaza’s rulers, though Hamas officials declined to specify what these entailed.

Hamas said it has agreed to some of these measures, but others require further discussion. Senior Hamas official Salah Bardawil told Palestinian media outlets in Gaza that Egypt’s intelligence agencies understand that Hamas isn’t involved in any activity to undermine Egypt’s national security, contrary to the picture painted in Egypt’s official media. But while the sides are discussing easing the Egyptian blockade of Gaza, Bardawil added, it’s impossible to speak of a true reconciliation or a restoration of Hamas’ former close ties with Egypt.

 

A NEW DIPLOMATIC TSUNAMI: Writing in Maariv, Shlomo Shamir explains why the next few months – once the nuclear deal with Iran is finalized – are likely to see a redoubling of international onslaught against Israel.

"Israel hopes to nix the signing of a nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers not simply because it is a dangerous deal. The more immediate concern is that, on the day after the deal is inked, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will once again become the main item on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union and the international community will turn its attention to the party it sees responsible for the impasse in the peace process – Israel.

This is the prevalent opinion that I have heard in off-the-record chats with diplomats in Washington and New York. 'Israel is likely to be subjected to a diplomatic onslaught that will surprise even the most pessimistic people in Jerusalem,' one senior Western diplomat told me this week. 'In the Security Council, in Western capitals and at the headquarters of the European Union they are just waiting for the Iranian nuclear deal to be finalized and approved by the U.S. Congress.'

The assumption is that this enforced waiting period will end in September. So, the annual United Nations General Assembly will mark the start of a massive and global diplomatic campaign against Israel.

According to my conversations with reliable sources in New York, who are well aware of the atmosphere in European capital cities regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is clear that Brussels has already drawn up documents and working papers that detail the sanctions that will be imposed on trade with Israel and on Israeli agriculture, science and culture. Unless, of course, Israel puts forward some kind of diplomatic initiative, which would lead to a major breakthrough and significant progress toward a resolution of the conflict.

'Senior officials in Jerusalem are aware of these European sanctions documents, some of which have even reached Israeli hands,' I have been told. When U.S. President Barack Obama talks repeatedly about how it will be hard for his country to defend Israel in various international forums, he is referring most specifically to the planned European sanctions against Israel.

The Americans are facing a complex dilemma. The White House and senior State Department officials are opposed to the involvement of the Security Council and other international bodies in its own diplomatic efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – since this is an area that they feel they should be dealing with exclusively. The White House has not yet decided how it will respond to the French proposal that is currently being touted at the Security Council – a resolution that Israel, of course, vehemently objects to – and it is still considering how best to respond to the package of planned European measures.

The problem, according to Western diplomats in New York, is that the new government that has been established in Israel is not expected to launch any new and daring diplomatic initiative. 'Given that there is no one in the new Netanyahu government who will object to the lack of a diplomatic initiative on the Israeli side,' one Western diplomat told me this week, 'Israel can expect a stormy time over the next few months. This time, Israel will pay a heavy price for the prolonged stalemate. This time, it's far from clear that Uncle Sam will manage to save Israel; he might not even want to,' he warned."

Ends…

 

QUESTIONS FOR ABU MAZIN: Writing in Maariv, Yitzhak Bar-Ner calls on Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas to agree to resume negotiations with Israel.

"Good morning, Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas. I would like to ask you a few critical questions, if I may:

Do you not want to disprove the argument that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers keep on making, that Israel has no one to talk to on the Palestinian side, since you refuse to engage in dialogue and you have some unacceptable preconditions to the resumption of negotiations? Could you not make some kind of effort to ensure that you are not remembered as the last Palestinian leader who refused to recognize the existential need for negotiations and for reaching the two-state solution and because of whom Israel became a binational state of all its citizens?

You are a clear-thinking and realistic leader, who sees how Israel has gone on the defensive. It is under threat because of your approach to the International Criminal Court and it is at a loss how best to deal with this threat. It is starting to feel the effects of the boycott movement and finds itself – much like your own people – at international checkpoints. Israel's relationship with the Obama Administration is on the edge; it is headed by a clone of Erdogan and Putin and someone who is intoxicated by winning 10 seats thanks to the gullibility of the Israeli voter.

The threat from the Gaza Strip is starting to grow again, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is bloodied and trying to intimidate people and Syria is in turmoil. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? So don’t you think that this is the perfect time to convene one final round of negotiations, perhaps involving moderate Arab countries? During the course of these negotiations, we could determine the borders of our countries, the status of Jerusalem, the payment of compensation to refugee (on both sides), the political relationship and cooperation between us, as well as joint measures that can be taken against anyone who tries to derail the peace talks, who incites violence or who resorts to violence. As soon as both sides have agreed to think outside their respective boxes, the negotiations can continue until an agreement is reached? Is that acceptable to you?

You have always chosen the diplomatic path over the path of terror, Mr. President, but you're not getting any younger. The standing of the Palestinian Authority is getting weaker by the day. If an election were to be held today in the territories, experts say that Hamas (which is hated, battered and humbled in Gaza) would win easily. The young generation in the West Bank and Israel has grown up on hatred of the other side, as well as fear of it. There are good reasons for this hatred, but we cannot allow it to dictate our future. You know that the situation is liable to get worse and that's why your security forces are still helping Israel to thwart terrorist activity in the territories.

So what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for Netanyahu and his government – which has started to show a more forgiving attitude toward Hamas in what can only be described as an insult to you – to reach a long-term truce in Gaza and to convince the Egyptians to open the tunnels between Rafah and Gaza? Just so they won't have to go to war again and – perhaps more importantly – to prevent you from setting foot in the Gaza Strip?

So why don't you assume the role of initiator? Everyone knows that you are furious and insulted. No one is asking you to love the people you hate, but mutual enmity is a recipe for stagnation, for inactivity and for dangerous parasites to take control. Why don't you announce to the world that, in order to allow for the resumption of negotiations, you are suspending your efforts to drag Israel into the dock in The Hague – if Israel promised to implement a settlement construction freeze, to punish the 'price tag' offenders, to remove the checkpoints in Areas A, B and C and to crack down on illegal infiltrators entering its territory?

Before the election, Netanyahu swore that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Why don't you prove him to be a liar and, at the same opportunity, you might live long enough to see the Palestinian state come into existence."

Ends…

 

LIP SERVICE: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Aviad Kleinberg says that the United States' refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel – while de facto accepting the government's policy of creeping annexation - is hypocritical and anachronistic.

"There is something strange about United States refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a policy that was given additional backing this week by a ruling from the Supreme Court. The court's ruling – which does not address the crux of the matter, but merely asks who has the authority to make policy decisions on such matters (the president) – has put this ridiculous anomaly back in the headlines: the United States' traditional refusal to swallow this particular frog – the status of Jerusalem as Israel's capital city – while gladly swallowing other, less palatable frogs.

According to U.S. policy, Israelis born in Jerusalem – both the western part of the city and the eastern section – are not part of the State of Israel; rather, they hover in air. They are residents of a city that, for the time being, does not belong to any country. All of this is a throwback to the partition plan which determined that Jerusalem would be under international control and would be governed by a special commissioner appointed by the United Nations. Not much remains of this partition plan. One by one, many countries have recognized the 1949 Armistice Lines, even though they are radically different from the proposed borders in the partition plan and were reached as a result of war, rather than negotiations. Jerusalem remains a kind of footnote to a plan that long ago stopped being relevant. In practice, despite the fact that the U.S. Embassy is located in Tel Aviv and despite this ridiculous passport ruling, the United States recognizes the status of Jerusalem in every significant aspect. Official representatives of the United States, including the president, do not refuse to visit the city. On the contrary – they visit Jerusalem often, as guests of the Knesset and the government. Refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is a secondary victim of the American obsession with imaginary political correctness and their desire to placate the Palestinians over an issue that is neither here nor there.

As a rule, the United States does not view international relations as acceptance of everything that the other party does. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there is a de facto system of non-indentured slavery and there are countless examples of human rights abuses which the liberal United States must surely be opposed to. This does not mean that the Americans will refuse to have full diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia before the human rights issues have been dealt with. Diplomacy deals with the world as it, not the world as we would like it to be. That does not mean that we should not strive to improve the world. The situation is always dynamic. It just means that diplomacy exists in a world that needs improving.

Israel benefits greatly from this approach. The United States refrains, for example, from imposing any kind of sanctions against Israel over its settlement policy, even though Washington believes that this policy is a violation of international law. In fact, American administrations have placed no impediments in the path of Israel's policy of annexation. Even when Israel blatantly violates its commitments to the United States – by refusing to evacuate illegal outposts, for example – the United States turns a blind eye and merely hints that Israel may have to pay one day.

What is particularly vexing, therefore, when it comes to U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem, is the fact that it is paying lip service and nothing more. If Washington really wanted to promote an agreement between us and the Palestinians, it could find 1,001 ways of doing so. But it doesn't want to, for several reasons: it is not convinced that a deal is possible and it does not see an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as its most important interest. From a political standpoint, an energetic American peace drive would not be acceptable to Israel's annexation government and would lead to harsh criticism of the administration. Obama and his top officials have no political interest in exposing themselves to such criticism, just as they have no interest in sparring with Netanyahu – notwithstanding the way that the Israeli prime minister spits in their faces. That's just the way things work.

In a better world, the United States would recognize Jerusalem – or at least the western part of the city – as the capital of the State of Israel; at the same time, it would aggressively pursue a peace deal. In this world, however, the United States in reality supports Israeli annexation, but won't allow Jerusalem-born children to write Israel as their country of birth in their U.S. passports."

Ends…

 

THE DISUNITED CITY: Writing in Calcalist, Danny Rubinstein says that some of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem have become no-man's-land, where the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality no longer provide basic services and where armed gangs roam the streets.

"Last weekend, the most widely-read Palestinian newspaper, al-Quds, published a lengthy interview with Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. This was something of a milestone for a newspaper which has consistently pursued an aggressively nationalistic line and which spares no criticism of Israeli government policies. In this rare interview, Barkat spoke at length about approved plans for massive construction of housing for the city's Arab population in the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood. According to Barkat, the start of construction is imminent. He explained the difficulties he had encountered in gaining approval for the plans and how each apartment would cost the city 70,000 shekels in municipal fees. The mayor also said that he intends to narrow the gaps in the infrastructure and municipal services enjoyed in the two parts of the city.

The very fact that al-Quds was willing to interview Barkat shows that the Palestinian residents of the city are undergoing a process of Israelization. The vast majority of them work in the western half of the city and some even commute to central and northern Israel in order to work. Arab construction and haulage companies from East Jerusalem also play an important role in Israeli commerce. The Hebrew-language schools in Jerusalem are full of young Palestinians. More and more students from East Jerusalem study at the Hebrew University and various colleges scattered throughout the city. There is also a gradual trend of more and more Palestinians seeking full Israeli citizenship (more than 20,000 have already become full citizens of the Jewish state).

However, one figure that Barkat mentioned is especially significant: 20,000 dwellings in East Jerusalem that have been erected without the requisite planning permission. This is a stunning phenomenon, which was not addressed in the interview. In some East Jerusalem neighborhoods that are under Israeli sovereignty – beyond the security barrier – municipal rules and services are in meltdown. There is terrible poverty and criminal gangs run wild. Places like the Shuafat refugee camp and the adjacent neighborhoods, with a total population of 120,000. This is almost one third of the total number of Arab residents of Jerusalem.

In practice, what is happening is that the Israeli and municipal systems are unable to take control of these areas. The Palestinian Authority is not allowed to set foot there and, as a result, these areas are becoming a no-man's-land: high-rise housing is being erected without safety supervision; the alleyways are narrow, full of potholes and garbage. There are no sidewalks, no postal service, the water supply is intermittent and residents do not have basic services like sewage and sanitation. In light of this, house prices there are ridiculously low: a four-bedroom apartment costs no more than 100,000 shekels, while something similar in an average Israeli town would cost 20 times as much.

There is no policing, no ambulances and no firefighters. Bullets fired by warring gangs often stray into neighboring Jewish areas like Pisgat Ze'ev. It's only a matter of time before one of them hits someone. These abandoned neighborhoods are a disaster waiting to happen and many people will die: An earthquake, a fire an IDF raid following a stray bullet. Everyone will be looking for someone to blame. For Barkat, this is good reason to be very worried."

Ends…

 

HAMAS COMES TO ISRAEL'S RESCUE: Writing in Haaretz, Zvi Bar'el says that, by reaching an agreement with Hamas, Israel hopes that it can avoid entering into meaningful peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

"It’s hard to explain how the gossip columnists have missed the love story of the year: Israel and Hamas are back together. True, we know Hamas is attracted to Israel for the money, and Israel is mostly enamored by the military insights that Hamas demonstrates, but the dream is already being worked out: a tahadiya, a long-term cease-fire of five or maybe even 10 years, the opening of the Gaza border crossings for incoming construction materials, the construction of a port and perhaps permission to operate an airport.

What could be better than such a marriage of convenience, particularly now that Egypt has given Hamas, although not its military wing, its stamp of approval? 'We need to talk to Hamas,' a lot of people are saying. Such remarks are being carefully directed, calling for talks with Hamas and not the Palestinians in general; not Mahmoud Abbas and not the Palestinian Authority that he heads. After all, they are not partners to anything.

But those calling for talks with Hamas, bypassing the peace process, are forgetting what happened when Israel carried out its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Here’s a reminder: It’s not Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that spurred Hamas to shoot rockets at Israel. Hamas was doing so, and committing attacks against Israeli settlers, even before the disengagement from Gaza. Such acts caused the Israel Defense Forces to pour troops onto the streets of Gaza until it almost didn’t have the freedom to carry out any other operations.

The Israeli public at the time was sick of a situation in which the task of protecting 7,000 Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip was consuming the attention of entire brigades. Ultimately Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from the Strip, not in an effort to establish a preliminary model for an independent Palestinian state, but so that he could hold onto the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It was a unilateral move, taken without negotiations with Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. And after that, Israel boycotted the joint Palestinian government formed following the 2006 Palestinian election that included Hamas, just as it later boycotted Abbas when he set up a consensus government after reconciliation with Hamas. As long as Abbas doesn’t manage to control Hamas, Israel ruled, there could be no talk about peace. It was a convincing bluff. As if Israel would have been prepared to map out its final boundaries, uproot the settlements or divide Jerusalem if Abbas did manage to 'control' Hamas, but Hamas was a nice excuse.

Now Hamas may again get the role of coming to Israel’s rescue. Thanks to Hamas, Israel can avoid entering into peace talks and at a cheap price, because when it comes to Hamas, there is no need to talk about evacuating settlements or withdrawing from territory. Hamas won’t turn to the International Criminal Court, the expanding boycott of Israel doesn’t affect it one way or another, and more generally, Hamas isn’t at all excited about any kind of peace agreement with Israel. Hamas and Gaza will get quiet and in return, Israel can declare that there is finally quiet in Gaza — and no urgency in advancing the peace process.

That’s the core of the lie over talking with Hamas, but in such an idyllic situation, it’s important to remember that the organization is playing the role here of the battered wife. She is imprisoned in a ghetto surrounded by electrified fencing. The residents of Gaza are not allowed to freely travel to the West Bank. Exports from Gaza are small, and mostly wither in the fields. The international aid that was promised Gaza in October 2014 is mostly still firmly in place in the pockets of the donor countries. Trucks with merchandise from Israel don’t even supply a quarter of the consumption of the residents of Gaza, more than half of whom are unemployed. University students can’t finish their studies and tens of thousands of Gazans are still homeless thanks to Israel’s Protective Edge military operation last summer, which accomplished only the first step in urban renewal — tearing down without rebuilding.

Israel is ignoring all of this. It only gauges the extent to which it is quiet in Gaza based on the number of rockets fired from there. That is a measurement based on mutual deterrence, with Israel convinced that the mutual threat is stronger than the mutual despair. But quiet in Gaza doesn’t have a life of its own. It requires a foundation that will ensure its existence, and is not a substitute for an overall peace process."

Ends…

 

HIZBOLLAH’S FIGHT BACK: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Alex Yung says that Hizbollah is seeking to offset recent setbacks with a retaliatory offensive.

"Hizbollah has claimed victory in a battle with its rival Jabhat Al-Nusra, over the significant Qalamoun area on the Lebanese-Syrian border. If true, the fighting would represent a change to the otherwise consistent losing streak that allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have sustained in recent months.

'A strong defeat was dealt to the armed militants and they left the areas of the battlefield,' Hizbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said in a televised address to supporters in Beirut. But the attack on Al-Nusra, the Al-Qa’ida affiliate in Syria, is also an attempt to win the media battle.

Following months of sporadic skirmishes triggered by Al-Nusra in Lebanon’s border regions, Hizbollah launched its own counter-offensive. The aim was to clear the mountainous area that separates Lebanon and Syria of rebel groups fighting against the Assad regime in the country’s long running civil war. As well as a military operation, the move is representative of a broader attempt by Hizbollah to reassure the Lebanese population that the Shiite group still has the initiative.

Paramount for Hizbollah is the reversal of the image that has been portrayed recently in the media that the group and its allies are losing the war in Syria. A number of strategic setbacks to the Syrian regime have sparked speculation that rebels may soon defeat what is left of Assad’s forces. This would represent a huge blow to Hizbollah’s image and to its logistical supply lines from Iran.

In mid-March, Hizbollah launched the Qalamoun operation to secure the Lebanese border from encroaching Sunni rebel fighters. The group has always maintained that its intervention in Syria was in order to protect Lebanon, its Shiite communities and sites within Syria. Lebanon has at times experienced spillover violence from the neighboring civil war, including a series of explosions in civilian areas in 2013 and 2014 and sectarian clashes in Tripoli throughout 2014. Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance was jeopardized by the Shiite Hizbollah’s battles against predominantly Sunni organizations in neighboring Syria.

Nasrallah has claimed that groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front represent an existential threat to Shiites living in Syria, and by extension to those living in Lebanon.

Just weeks after the start of the operation, Nasrallah announced in a televised address that the first phase of the assault was complete and that Al-Nusra had been pushed away from the border. The second phase of the operation, against ISIS fighters in the region, could now begin, he said. It remains unclear how much of Nasrallah’s comments are merely propaganda and how much represent actual facts on the ground.

'Hizbollah wants to show they can still project [force], especially against Al-Nusra, as recent headlines have all been negative,' Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who specializes in Shiite militias, told The Media Line. Smyth, referring to the string of recent regime defeats in Syria that included the loss of the historic city of Palmyra in May, highlighted the effectiveness of groups like ISIS at utilizing propaganda, including making clever use of conventional and social media to advertise their exploits, he said. This media attention has given them the appearance of maintaining near unstoppable momentum and can be extremely intimidating to fighters arrayed against them. However, Smyth also pointed out that this is not the first time that the media has speculated over the imminent demise of Assad’s regime in Damascus. 'Sometimes the media sphere overblows this threat,' explained Smyth, so he is cautious about the most recent wave of conjecture.

ISIS’s skill stands in stark contrast to the less social media-savvy Hizbollah, which is now seeking to use similar methods in an attempt to dispel the rebels’ image. A quick, decisive and concrete gain, made in front of the media’s lenses, is one way to do this.

In a rare departure for the often-secretive group, Hizbollah organized a number of media tours for major regional and international news agencies. The group took a number of journalists to see the gains claimed by Hizbollah, allowing reporters to meet and interview combatants in an apparent attempt to counter the effective media narrative that ISIS is infamous for.

A second key public relations objective for the Qalamoun offensive is to rebrand Hizbollah as the defenders of Lebanon, rather than simply as a Shiite fighting force. Many people in Lebanon’s religiously divided state have felt that Nasrallah’s army has been sounding increasingly sectarian, and the group wishes to reverse this perception.

Nasrallah’s recent condemnation of the Saudi Arabia-led air campaign over Yemen was a key example of this sectarianism, Imad Salameh, associate professor of political science at Beirut’s LAU University, told The Media Line. 'Nasrallah’s message is self-defeating for his own party as they say they are ‘defending the legitimately-elected government in Syria’ and then do not use the same logic in Yemen,' Salameh said.

'Hizbollah is very much working in the interests of Shi’itism and fragmentation, so pretty much the whole of Nasrallah’s program of undermining and creating conflicts in Arab states - under the banner of fighting Israel - is becoming very exposed now… this is of concern for the group,' Salameh explained.

Since the beginning of Hizbollah’s intervention in Syria, it has pushed the narrative that it is protecting Shiite communities and locations in Syria. This message had a lot of traction with Lebanon’s large Shiite population, but has not played strongly with other major sects among Lebanon’s religiously diverse population.

Smyth points out that Nasrallah needs a better message, in particular for Lebanon’s Christian and Druze populations. The group asserts that it is the ‘true defender of Lebanon and the only one capable of keeping the country safe.’ But for this message to be effective, Hizbollah needs to keep wining in Syria and to do so in a way that can be related to by the Lebanese people. For this, operations like Qalamoun are key.

The recent offensive, although smaller in scale than many of Hizbollah’s other Syrian campaigns, had far reaching implications for the group - both domestically and internationally. It arguably was seen protecting Lebanon, completing a job that the Lebanese army had been unable to achieve due to a lack of manpower, arms and restrictive rules of engagement. This may have garnered some support domestically for Hizbollah but is unlikely to change the long-term belief by many in Lebanon who see the intervention in Syria as an extension of Iran’s foreign policy."

Ends…

 

 

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