|Clockwise from top: Assad with Iran's Ali Khamenei, Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki and Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah|
“The best defense is a good offense” is a popular saying in sports and military combat.
For Iran, the idiom might also prove useful in politics to prop up its embattled strategic ally in Damascus.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – both Shiites and unabashed surrogates of Shiite Iran – are openly warning of regional sectarian conflict if Syria’s quasi-Shiite President Bashar al-Assad is ousted.
In the words of Sarkis Naoum, the primary political analyst of Beirut’s independent daily an-Nahar: “Nasrallah and Maliki are bracing for civil wars.”
In an interview with The Associated Press (AP) released yesterday, Maliki warned a victory for rebels in Syria would create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East, sparking Sunni-Shiite wars in Iraq and Lebanon.
The implication of his comments is that Assad’s ouster would empower Syria’s majority Sunni Muslims.
"If the world does not agree to support a peaceful solution through dialogue... then I see no light at the end of the tunnel," Maliki told AP in Baghdad.
"Neither the opposition nor the regime can finish each other off," he continued. "The most dangerous thing in this process is that if the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq."
The Iraqi leader's comments come as his government confronts growing tensions of its own between the Shiite majority and an increasingly restive Sunni minority nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The war in Syria has sharp sectarian overtones too, with predominantly Sunni rebels fighting a regime dominated by an Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Nasrallah also warned yesterday against Shiite-Sunni infighting in Lebanon related to the Syria war.
"There are some who are working night and day and pushing the country toward civil and religious strife, and specifically Sunni-Shiite strife," Nasrallah said on the group's Al-Manar TV. If this were to happen, he said, it would "destroy everyone and burn down the entire country."
Nasrallah denied accusations by the Syrian opposition that his men were fighting alongside forces loyal to the Assad regime, and reiterated that some Shiites in villages along the Lebanese-Syrian border, including Hezbollah members, have taken up arms in self-defense against Sunni gunmen. (Nasrallah’s views have been publicly challenged by Hezbollah’s first Secretary-General Subhi al-Tufayli -- see my post yesterday, “The other face of Hezbollah”).
Officials and analysts say there is real anxiety within Hezbollah that if Assad falls, the militant group might lose not only a crucial supply of Iranian weapons via Syria but also political clout inside Lebanon, where it currently reigns supreme.
Editorially, an-Nahar’s Sarkis Naoum writes in his column today:
ON ONE HAND we have the Euro-American approach to the Syrian revolution, which is to starve it of serious military backing in order to keep the regime in place.
Most Western military experts concur the regime could have been brought down last year had the revolutionaries been supplied with antitank and antiaircraft weapons and logistics equipment.
From this perspective, decision-makers in the West do not mind the fighting continuing to (1) destroy united Syria and hearten Israel (2) drain Iran financially, militarily and morally and implicate its Lebanese offshoot Hezbollah in the killing of Syrians (3) ingather as many Arab and non-Arab Jihadists on Syrian soil, where they can be easily monitored, then killed there and elsewhere.
ON ANOTHER HAND is the Iran-led regional alliance fighting full-strength in Syria to avoid losing Iran’s “Jewel in the Crown.”
Maliki, offspring of Iran’s cherished Islamic Dawa Party, warns that a Syrian revolution victory will trigger wars in Iraq and Lebanon. Therein lies a cloaked warning to internal Lebanese and Iraqi sides that (1) they would be made to pay for Assad’s fall (2) the Shiite surge will fight tooth and nail in Lebanon and Iraq to preclude turning back the hands of time.
Maliki means to say (1) Iraq’s Shiites will fight to keep the upper hand in Iraqi politics and security (2) Hezbollah won’t hold back from waging an internal war to prevent putting back the Shiite jinni in the bottle from which it emerged a few years ago.
Maliki’s comments join Nasrallah’s discourse yesterday, when the Hezbollah leader dwelt on the matter of “sedition,” telling his adversaries in Lebanon, “Beware misestimating us.”
In other words, the post-Assad chapter is the subject of serious thinking between Iran’s satellites in Iraq and Lebanon.
They are warning of civil wars here and there if the Iraqis or Lebanese tried to exploit Assad’s fall and capitalize on the rise of a regime hostile to Iran’s regional politics...