Hezbollah Under Fire

Could the Bombing in Beirut Spell the End of the Shia Group?

A Supporter of Hezbollah gestures as he stands at the site of a car bomb in Beirut's southern suburbs, August 15, 2013.
A Supporter of Hezbollah gestures as he stands at the site of a car bomb in Beirut's southern suburbs, August 15, 2013. (Hasan Shaaban / Courtesy Reuters)

Hassan Nasrallah has to wonder whether his approach to the civil war in Syria is starting to backfire. In a recent speech in the southern suburbs of Beirut on a Shiite day of mourning, the Hezbollah chief, in a rare public appearance, urged hundreds of followers to continue the fight against Sunni extremists in Syria. The result, he claimed, would be to spare his Shiite organization and Lebanon as a whole from Sunni extremism. But the double bombing that hit the Iranian embassy in Beirut this afternoon, killing more than 23 people, shows that Nasrallah’s preventive war in Syria is having exactly the opposite effect.

It is not just that al Qaeda, despite Hezbollah’s military advances in Syria, has been able to penetrate deep into the Shiite party’s sphere of influence and wreak havoc. More important is that the same extremists that Nasrallah was hoping to fight outside Lebanon are on the verge of turning Lebanon into another Iraq, a country defined by Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence. In this increasingly likely scenario, Hezbollah stands to lose the most. That is because Lebanese Shiites, Hezbollah’s main constituency, fear sectarian civil war more than anything else. Even the staunchest Hezbollah supporters want to keep the peace with the Sunni and Christian communities, as I argued in this publication in August (see below for the original article).

But don’t count on Nasrallah to change course. Perhaps he believes that current circumstances, as dire as they are, are much more tolerable than the horror scenario of Syria falling into the hands of his enemies. Regardless of what Nasrallah’s convictions are, the bottom line is that he has put his party on a collision course with the region’s Sunnis -- moderates and extremists alike -- and it is too late for him to take a step back. The tragedy is that he has dragged Lebanon along with him.

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