Michael J Totten interviews Jonathan Spyer, an Israeli journalist and author who's been covering events in Syria with the Free Syrian Army. There's plenty of good stuff there - why the US should be supporting the rebels; the dangers of Israel acting alone against Iran; the feeling among Israelis that President Obama doesn't really get the Middle East - but I thought this in particular was interesting:
MJT: You and I have both spent some quality time in Lebanon, me as a journalist and you as a journalist and as an Israeli soldier. So let me ask you this: what do you think about the Free Syrian Army’s threat to take the fight to Hezbollah in its stronghold south of Beirut?
Jonathan Spyer: I would take this quite seriously. From the FSA point of view, Hezbollah is a combat arm of the Syrian regime. Hezbollah has been advising and apparently participating in combat alongside the Syrian army and in cooperation with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps since the start of the Syrian uprising. The FSA has noted this.
The death of senior Hezbollah commander Ali Hussein Nassif earlier this month was only the latest evidence of Hezbollah’s deep involvement with the Assad regime. The Syrian civil war has already begun to spill across the borders of Lebanon and Turkey. Hezbollah has been engaged for many months in the harassment of Syrian oppositionists who found refuge in Lebanon. The FSA understands itself to be in a fight not only with Assad’s army but also with the regional alliance standing behind him, of which Hezbollah forms a part.
So it is quite possible that the Syrian insurgents may choose to strike back at Hezbollah in Lebanon itself at some stage. In many ways, the killing of Nassif (and reportedly other Hezbollah fighters) in fighting in Syria suggests that they have already begun to do so. The decision as to where to strike is ultimately tactical. But Hezbollah and the FSA are already at war.
Let me add a bit of anecdotal evidence regarding this from my own time in Syria. The hatred felt by FSA and other Syrian insurgent fighters toward Hezbollah is very intense. It of course also has a sectarian element. I have seen Hezbollah flags burned at opposition demonstrations in Idlib Province. In Aleppo last month, I interviewed a Tawhid Brigade fighter who referred constantly to the party as ‘Hizb a Shaytan’ (party of Satan.) It created a weird dynamic in our conversation because I would keep asking about ‘Hezbollah’ (party of God) and he would keep replying by referring to ‘Hizb a Shaytan’ until in the end I started feeling like I was acting as some kind of apologist for Hezbollah. Which I’m not. As you know.
In general, I think Hezbollah knows it has a great deal to fear from the rise of the Sunnis in Syria. If Assad falls and the rebels win, this will almost certainly mean a ‘renegotiation’ of the sectarian balance of power in Lebanon, too, to Hezbollah’s severe disadvantage. At that point, the organization will have to decide whether to accommodate itself to a new balance of power, or to fight to retain its dominance against a new, Sunni-dominated Syria and its Lebanese allies. Neither prospect is attractive to Hezbollah, so it is doing its utmost to preserve the rule of the Assad dictatorship.