Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Most Fearsome Terrorist Groups are Facing Off in Syria !

Hezbollah militia in Syria
The battle for the soul of Syria has taken an even deadlier turn over the past three months. The strategic center of the Middle East is also now a battleground between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, the region's two toughest extremist movements. The groups, both with roots outside Syria, represent rival versions of jihadism. Both use the same repugnantly violent tactics and advocate rigid Islamic rule: they're just from different sects but from the same camel dung-heap.

This war within a war carries new dangers for the Middle East, for Islam and for the outside world. The regionization of the conflict was reflected on May 25 when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed his Lebanese militia would ''bear the responsibilities and the sacrifices. This battle is ours, and I promise you victory.''  Since then, his fighters have helped repel the rebel's spring offensive in northern Syria. In a pivotal battle on June 5, they helped the Syrian military recapture the city of al-Qusayr, a rebel hub for the past year. The victory was a huge military and psychological break for President Bashar Assad -- and a particularly forceful way for Hezbollah to announce its presence in the fray.

Among Assad's enemies, al-Nusra Front -- the best-armed and most disciplined of the rebel's many disjointed factions ( left ) -- formally announced its allegiance to al-Qaeda. It has been especially effective this year in northern Idlib province and in the eastern Damascus suburbs, reportedly with growing help from foreign fighters from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and beyond. Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are also now redefining the Syrian conflict in sectarian terms, pitting Shi'ites against Sunnis and inflaming passions that date back to Islam's greatest split 1,400 years ago, when two factions of the Prophet Muhammad's followers quarrelled over who was his rightful heir. As a result, the conflict is no longer just about man-made ideology or temporal politics or an autocratic dynasty. It's also about interpreting God's will, but this time the Angel Gabrielle has not interfered with his ramblings.

The dangers are reflected in each group's recent targets. The al-Qaeda affiliate claimed to have dug up the remains of a 7th century Shi'ite martyr Hojr Ben al-Kundi after destroying his shrine outside Damascus. In turn, Sunni mosques have come under increasing attack (right). This sectarian stupidness is spilling across Syria's borders. Already attacks have erupted in Lebanon with a 100 kg bomb detonated in the Hezbollah neighbourhood in Beirut. For the outside world, the possible consequences of this escalation are also dire. Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are responsible for two of the deadliest attacks on U.S. targets since World War II. Hezbollah killed 241 Marines in a bombing in Beirut in 1983, and al-Qaeda killed nearly 3000 people on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City.

The role of both groups' followers in Syria increases the danger that Hezbollah or al-Qaeda could gain a long term political or physical foothold in one of the most important countries in the Middle East. That sort of influence would represent the exact opposite of the democratic dream envisioned by many in Syria when the initial protests erupted in March 2011, triggered by the arrest of teenagers who had spray-painted antigovernment graffiti on the walls in the Syrian town of Dara'a.

The Way I See It.....the presence of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda in Syria will also almost certainly complicate diplomatc efforts to find any form of political compromise. Neither group has ever shown much interest in negotiating. The flames of hatred and mistrust even after the war ends will be hard quench. As history repeatedly shows, sectarian wars are often harder to resolve than political conflicts.

The biggest losers from the emergence of this new fault line are the uprising's early heroes -- the peaceful dissidents and defectors who later took up arms to protect themselves against Assad's military. Their brave struggle seems increasingly marginal as Syria becomes a battleground for the region's extremists.

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