In a rare interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Russian TV, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah offered that the group act as a mediator in the Syrian conflict. He confirmed that Hezbollah had contacted the Syrian opposition, offering them a channel of dialogue with the Syrian regime, but the opposition members rejected it. Many analysts argue that indeed Hezbollah is toning down its anti-uprising stance.
Nasrallah's remarks were rebutted by most observers. For one, Hezbollah cannot play the role of mediator in this conflict, by virtue of its close relations with the Syrian regime. Hezbollah would be severely weakened by the fall of its ally, which currently serves as a conduit for Iranian weapons and provides it with strategic depth in the region. It would further weaken the trilateral alliance between the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, and Iran and distance the Lebanese group from its two regional allies.
What is more revealing in Nasrallah's statement is an underlying recognition of the Syria opposition. For over a year, Hezbollah toed the Syrian line by claiming that the protests were American-Israeli conspiracies targeting the "Resistance," even as it supported protests across the Arab world. Its new stance, however, seems to admit, at the very least, that there is an opposition group. Hezbollah went a step further in an earlier speech he gave last month, saying that it stands with the group in Syria that want reform but rejects Israel and supports Palestine. It was lost on Nasrallah that there are more atrocities in the Syrian conflict and more injustice, as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said this week, than in the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
Perhaps it is the unrelenting courage of the Syrian protestors, and fear of rising sectarian tensions in Syria and Lebanon, that inspired the group to use more moderate language. However, the essence of the message was the same. Nasrallah portrayed the opposition as the violent faction that is neither prepared for dialogue nor for reform. His stance does not bode well for future relations with Syrian leaders. The longer it continues to support the Syrian regime against its people, the more difficult it will be for Nasrallah to foster a positive relationship with the new political leadership.
As Hezbollah continues to follow Iran's lead in propping up the Assad regime, March 14 has taken this as an opportunity to cast the spotlight on Hezbollah's arms. Future Movement leader Saad Hariri made this a top priority for the upcoming elections and is likely to campaign against the group's arms, or, some suggest, boycott the elections should the group hold on to its arms. Hezbollah appears undeterred.
Hariri and his March 14 allies embraced the Syrian opposition early on and exchanged warm messages calling for cordial, healthy relations between the two countries and the hope for a stronger sovereign Lebanese state and a free, democratic Syria.
The upcoming months will be tainted by this continued divide in Lebanon. The outcome of the Syrian election will determine which party will emerge stronger. There is a base of supporters for each side that will maintain loyalty to the sect regardless of the politics, but there are also variables that may influence future dynamics. A stronger regime with influence in Lebanon may continue to threaten the safety of some of March 14's leaders, as it did with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea this month. A weaker regime, on the other hand, will reduce Hezbollah's clout regionally, and force it to consider coming to an agreement with other Lebanese groups. The Lebanese have but to wait and see which direction the country will take.