by WorldTribune Staff, August 14, 2017
Iran-backed terror group Hizbullah is attempting to sway Lebanon’s government to abandon its official policy of neutrality on Syria and full support the Bashar Assad regime, reports say.
Hizbullah, an ally of Assad, is pushing for closer ties with the Syrian government, including on refugee returns and military operations on the Lebanon-Syria border, Reuters reported on Aug. 13.
Lebanon’s government in 2012 set a policy of “dissociation” aimed at keeping the divided state out of regional conflicts such as Syria even as Hizbullah sent fighters to help Assad, who is also allied with Iran.
Related: Analyst: By funding Lebanon forces, Pentagon is only boosting Iran’s strategy, Aug. 15, 2017
“Everybody recognizes (the dissociation policy) as a farce to some extent, but at least it contained the conflict and prevented Lebanon from being dragged even further into what is going on in Syria,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
While Lebanon never severed diplomatic or trade ties with Syria, the government of President Michel Aoun has avoided dealing with the Syrian government in an official capacity.
This week, however, government ministers from Hizbullah and the Shi’ite Amal party plan to visit Damascus.
While the government, citing the dissociation policy, has refused to sanction the visit as official business, Industry Minister Hussain Hajj Hassan, a Hizbullah member, has insisted they will be in Damascus as government representatives.
“We will meet Syrian ministers in our ministerial capacity, we will hold talks over some economic issues in our ministerial capacity, and we will return in our ministerial capacity to follow up on these matters,” Hassan told Hizbullah’s Al Manar TV.
Samir Geagea, a leading Lebanese Christian politician and longstanding opponent of Hizbullah and Syrian influence in Lebanon, has said the visit to Syria will “shake Lebanon’s political stability and put Lebanon in the Iranian camp.”
Meanwhile, the Lebanese army, a recipient of U.S. aid, has said it will lead the battle against Islamic State (ISIS) alone in Lebanese territory, and does not need to coordinate with other parties.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said the terror group and the Syrian army will mount a simultaneous assault against ISIS from the Syrian side of the border.
“Practically speaking, the dissociation policy is finished,” said Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist with the Lebanese newspaper Al Nahar.