Haifa, Israel – Hizballah’s continuing alliance with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has the notorious Shia political and military movement navigating choppier waters than at any other time in recent memory.
Led by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah – the Iranian-backed preacher rarely seen in public these days for fear he might be assassinated – Hizballah had been the unquestioned Shia force in Lebanon. But cracks have begun to appear as both internal dissent and external pressures have been brought to bear and reveal a vulnerability that had rarely, if ever, been seen before.
President Obama – angry at Hizballah’s continued support of the Assad regime – didn’t mince his words in Jerusalem March 21: “Every country that values justice should call Hizballah what it truly is – a terrorist organization.”
That’s a much more direct statement than administration officials previously were willing to make. In 2010, then-National Security Advisor and current CIA Director John Brennan spoke of trying “to build up the more moderate elements” of the organization.
It’s a fast fall from Hizballah’s previous high-point of influence, Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli scholar of Arabic specializing in Islamic movements and ideology, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. “Hizballah was the most popular organisation in the Arab world after the 2006 Lebanon War [against Israel], but now their image is as bad as it could be because Hizballah is considered as a collaborator with the most vicious of regimes [Syria]. They have lost much of the image they gained after the 2006 war.”
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Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who blogs at paulalster.com and can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster