In a move that seems to be stolen from the book of Quentin Tarantino's character Lt. Aldo Raine (played by Brad Pitt) in Inglourious Basterds, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanon's Shi'a Islamic political and militant group Hezbollah asserted that he is ready to go and fight in Syria himself if that's what it takes to assure victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.
In a video-feed address directed towards Hezbollah supporters in Aita al-Shaab, a town bordering Israel in southern Lebanon and a theater for some the fighting that took place in the 2006 Lebanon War, Nasrallah denounced a recent car-bombing in Dahiya, a neighborhood in south Beirut. The bombing resulted in at least 18 deaths and 300 injuries and rocked the capital city. While no group claimed responsibility for this attack — the deadliest in years — there is little doubt that the bombing was tied to the civil war in neighboring Syria. Hezbollah's presence in the Syrian war has numbered in the thousands of fighters, and along with Iran, has been successfully pushing the momentum of the conflict in al-Assad's favor. On a regional dimension, Hezbollah, its sponsor Iran, and Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have formed a Shi'ite axis of a sort with the majority Alawite (an off-shoot sect of Shi'ism) al-Assad regime. This has all come as a result of the killing that has mainly targeted a majority Sunni population in Syria, along with the polarizing rhetoric of Sunni and Shi'ite leadership in the region. The presence of Sunni Salafist extremist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) (Al-Qaeda subsidiaries) fighting with/within the Syrian armed opposition has not helped. Accordingly, the Sunni-Shi'ite divide could not be more pronounced and dominant in the discourse surrounding the Levant and the Syrian conflict.
As the attack targeted a majority Shi'aa neighborhood and Hezbollah stronghold, the growing fear in Lebanon is that Lebanon's fragile post-civil-war society could come apart altogether if it is sucked into the Syrian civil war. While Nasrallah insisted that those who instigated the car bombing (Syrian Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups) are a menace to Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Christians, and that he is not just fighting to defend Shi'ites, his actions in Syria would say otherwise. The al-Assad regime, with the help of Hezbollah and Iran, has been systematically targeting and cleansing Sunni-dominant villages in the area stemming from northern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. This ethnic cleansing has been spreading across the strategic central city of Homs (Syria's third largest city, second largest governate, and coined the "Capital of the Syrian Revolution"), and ending in the Alawite strongholds in mountainous northwest and the coastal city of Lattakia.
As the noted Syrian activist known on Twitter as "The 47th" writes, Nasrallah is not just about cheap talk. Sure, he somehow figures out how to tie in Arab/Muslim resistance against Israel as a springboard for Hezbollah's legitimacy in everything it does. But when Nasrallah pledged to double down on Hezbollah's support for al-Assad, the momentum on the ground shifted as Hezbollah fighters increased in numbers, helping al-Assad's forces pry most of Homs from rebel control.
This is not really about whether or not Nasrallah is going to be entering Syria. If he decides to stay where he is, his supporters will not be discouraged, nor will al-Assad have any less of an upper hand, nor will extremists on both sides be any less emboldened. No one will give Nasrallah a Derrick Rose-treatment if he decides to remain put — Hezbollah fans will be ever faithful and dedicated to fighting
the Miami Heat Israel, Nasrallah will probably have the same explosiveness (pun), and Iran will continue in its endorsements and sponsorships for Hezbollah.
What this is really about is the fact that in almost every sense, Bashar al-Assad's supporters are dedicated to keeping their man in power, while the "Friends of Syria" are not willing to do what is necessary to stop the killing, depose al-Assad, and bring about the next step in Syria's history. At this point, there are no pretty options, but the fact remains that for as long as President Obama allows for this to go on, the bad guys in the Syrian opposition will continue to grow stronger and stronger, and people like Nasrallah will have their way in making sure that Sunnis and Shi'ites will never coexist for a long time. What our inaction does is allow for Nasrallah and equally dangerous actors in Syria to hijack the future of the Middle East. For all the emphasis we have placed on counterterrorism/counter-extremism in the past decade, we seem to be giving extremism all the oxygen and fuel it needs to grow.