AP Interview: Druse Head Scorns Hezbollah On Syria
A leading Lebanese politician has said that the decision by Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group to join the civil war in neighboring Syria and fight along President Bashar Assad’s forces was a historic and moral “mistake” toward the Syrian people. The harsh criticism by Walid Jumblatt, who leads Lebanon’s minority Druse sect, reflects his increasing pessimism about the bloody conflict next door, now in its fourth year. Although he leads a minority sect, Jumblatt is a pillar and a mainstay in Lebanese politics and is often referred to as the country’s “kingmaker” because of his small bloc’s track record of tipping the balance during key votes in parliament.??
They joined to fight Israel in Lebanon, but after multiple combat tours in the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, and around Damascus, Hezbollah reservists tell The Daily Beast that they are no longer willing to die in Syria’s unending, bloody civil war.
As a result of their refusal to continue volunteering to prop up the embattled government of Bashar al-Assad, they say that the Shia Party of God has cut off the money they were accustomed to receiving: reservist paychecks and permanent family benefits packages. What other consequences there may be remain to be seen.
Imad, as we’ll call him, crouched over a heating stove in a small Bekaa Valley farmhouse surrounded by the barren fields where his recently harvested crop of marijuana grew. He declined to give his real name because of his illegal trade and fear of reprisal for speaking out, but he said he decided to stop fighting after losing faith in the Syrian war six months ago.
When we talked to Imad in April, he was committed to supporting Assad’s forces and fueled by a desire to exact revenge on jihadists who beheaded a relative in Lebanon’s army after the soldier was captured in the Lebanese town of Arsal. Now, although he still wants to exact revenge, he has grown weary of the war and frustrated with Syrian government forces.
“I refuse to go back because when we take over a village and hand it to the Syrian army, it gets retaken [by rebel forces],” he says while fiddling with the stove that heats the small room. His decision, made in June, has cost him dearly and since then the school funding for his kids has been cut, his family medical benefits have been taken away, and heating subsidies evaporated.
The last of his six deployments to Syria was in Aleppo, and while he is still willing to fight Israel or serve on the border with Syria, he says, his reservist salary has also stopped.
He says Hezbollah is under increasing pressure since the summer, when casualties increased alongside the needs of the Syrian regime. The organization, whose militia is in fact a powerful parallel army in Lebanon, doesn’t make casualty statistics public, but funerals in its support base in Beirut’s southern suburbs are increasingly common, as is discontent from the families of its fighters in Syria.
The three reservists that The Daily Beast spoke to painted a scene of bloody back and forth combat where casualties mount but little is achieved.
Imad’s loss of benefits, especially for his kids’ schooling, has hit his family hard, but he says at least he is able to rely on the stability of the hashish trade. He thanks God for a good harvest, and while he says sales to Syria were slightly down this fall, ISIS and the Nusra Front are still loyal customers, using smugglers in Arsal so they can get baked on Lebanese blonde.
Imad says he knows of at least 60 other reservists who have decided not to go back to Syria and also had their family benefits cut. “I also know of people who have gone back to fight [in Syria] because of the financial pressure. Only the guys with an alternative say. ‘Enough!’”
In a small village in the Lebanon mountains overlooking the Bekaa Valley, Jaffar hobbled to the door of a modest second floor apartment in his extended family’s triplex. He suffered a severe hip injury when a wall fell on him after a rebel’s rocket struck the Damascus-area house he was holed up in during his final tour in July. Three of the seven fighters he was with were killed and the other four wounded.
Jaffar, who also declines to use his real name because of fear of reprisal, notified his commanders of his desire to no longer serve in Syria, but was required to do a last tour while replacements were organized. “If I refused to continue before my replacement had arrived I would have been investigated and it would have created a hostile relationship,” he says ominously. He sits awkwardly on a chair as the leg connected to his injured hip juts out into the center of the cluttered kitchen.