Written by E. B. Picali
The rivalry between Hizbullah and the Al-Mustaqbal faction in Lebanon is reflected, inter alia, in their differing stances on Syria: While Hizbullah supports the Assad regime, Al-Mustaqbal wants to see it toppled. Moreover, numerous reports in the Arab and Western media indicate that both groups are involved in the Syrian crisis, whether by assisting and arming the warring sides or by sending their own men to participate in the fighting. Also, both are concealing their involvement, such that apart from a small number of official admissions, most of the information about each comes from accusations by the other.
Hizbullah and Iran famously support the Assad regime as an important part of the resistance axis and also as a major ally of the March 8 Forces in Lebanon, as it assists the Forces politically and militarily. Beyond Hizbullah's and Iran's interest in seeing Assad regain control of all the Syrian territories, Hizbullah is specifically interested in preventing the rebels from taking over western Syria, along the border with Lebanon, which would create territorial continuity between the Syrian and Lebanese Sunnis, threatening Hizbullah's control of the Beqa' Valley in eastern Lebanon, and threatening the group's position in Lebanon.
Conversely, Al-Mustaqbal, as well as many Sunni Islamist forces in Lebanon, support the rebels, motivated by a desire to end the Syrian regime's political and military involvement in Lebanon – involvement that they allege includes initiating and assisting with assassinations of their members. In fact, there has been a deep rivalry between the Al-Mustaqbal faction and the Syrian regime since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri. The Sunni Islamists' support for the rebels is also anchored in sectarian sympathies; most of the Syrian rebels are Sunni. In addition, both Al-Mustaqbal and the Islamists have ties with Saudi Arabia, which is supporting, arming, and funding the Syrian rebels.
The struggle between the pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian Lebanese forces is also being waged in the Arab and Iranian media. While both Syria's state media and the Lebanese media affiliated with the March 8 Forces accuse Al-Mustaqbal of funding and arming the Syrian rebels and of sending fighters to assist them, the Syrian and Lebanese media that oppose Assad and Hizbullah, along with the Saudi and other anti-Iran media, accuse Hizbullah and Iran of sending fighters to aid the Syrian regime. In addition to these mutual accusations – the reliability of which is inherently questionable – officials within Hizbullah and Iran have made isolated statements confirming involvement in Syria. Iranian officials have acknowledged that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have a presence in Syria; however, their statements on this matter were removed immediately after being posted online. In addition, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah implied that Hizbullah has fighters in Syria. These statements are presented in this report.
This document will review the reports on the two sides' involvement in Syria, and the various Lebanese factions' reactions to these reports and allegations.
On September 30, 2012, Hizbullah's operations officer in Syria, 'Ali Hussein Nassif, aka Abu 'Abbas, and two other senior Hizbullah officials were killed by a roadside bomb while driving through the Al-Qasir-Homs region in Syria, where violent clashes are taking place between the regime's military forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Two days later, Hizbullah gave them an official burial in Lebanon, and announced that they had died while "performing a jihadi duty," without specifying location or circumstances. This incident confirmed the numerous reports that have been circulating for over a year regarding Hizbullah's involvement in fighting the Syrian rebels alongside the regime. Apparently, due to Abu Abbas's seniority in the movement, Hizbullah could no longer conceal this involvement, and, on October 11, 2012, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged, albeit implicitly, that Hizbullah operatives were indeed involved in fighting the FSA.
There are also increasing reports about military involvement of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Syria. According to the reports, IRGC fighters have been integrated into 'Assad's fighting forces and personal guard, and some have been killed or taken hostage by the rebels.
Hizbullah and Iran have several reasons to keep their military support of the Assad regime – their ally in the resistance axis – under wraps. For starters, they do not want to provide justification for internationalization of the crisis, as happened in Libya. Nor do they wish to be associated with the killing of Syrian civilians, or to appear to be Shi'ites killing Sunnis in Syria. Hizbullah also wishes to avoid openly violating the directives of the Lebanese government (in which it is a major partner) and of the National Dialogue Committee (in which most of Lebanon's political forces are represented) to refrain from interfering in the Syrian crisis. Lastly, Hizbullah does not want to be seen as deviating from the aims for which it was established and for which it claims to fight – primarily, opposing Israel – or as a proxy of Syria and Iran.
Numerous reports from different sources suggest that Hizbullah is actively involved in fighting the Syrian rebels. These sources include Lebanese dailies and websites affiliated with the March 14 Forces; websites and sources affiliated with the Syrian opposition inside and outside Syria; announcements issued by the FSA; statements by defected Syrian officials, as well as Nasrallah's implied admission. The reports indicate that Hizbullah soldiers are fighting alongside the Syrian troops in many parts of the country, that many of them have been wounded or killed in action and were secretly returned to Lebanon for medical treatment or burial, that some have been taken hostage by the Syrian rebel forces.
Reports Of Hizbullah Troops Fighting Alongside Syrian Regime Forces
The reports speak of Hizbullah soldiers fighting in many parts of Syria, including in the Damascus and Aleppo regions, the north, and the western border regions. For example, on January 16, 2012, the Syrian opposition website zaman-alwsl.net reported, citing FSA soldiers, that Hizbullah troops were fighting in various parts of Syria, mainly in Homs and Idlib. On the same day, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that Hizbullah had fired a katyusha rocket at Al-Zabdani in the Rif Dimashq governorate, causing civilian casualties. Hizbullah denied the report. Later that month, Al-Arabiya TV cited an IRGC official as saying that Hizbullah fighters had taken part in repelling a rebel attack on an IRGC base in Rif Dimashq. In October, the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reported that a large Hizbullah unit was involved in the fighting on the Zeita-Al-Nazariyya road (close to the Lebanese border), and the FSA assessed that over 1,000 Hizbullah troops were taking place in the fighting in Syria. The Al-Arabiya network exposed a Syrian document from May 2011 indicating that 250 Hizbullah members had arrived in the Aleppo area to help the regime put down the uprising. In late November 2012, Al-Mustaqbal reported that the Syrian army had withdrawn from Qasir and villages on the Lebanese border, leaving the fighting there to Hizbullah troops. On December 23, 2012, the FSA claimed that Hizbullah was firing mortars and rockets from its bases in Lebanon at villages in Syria near the Lebanese border, and that this was a response to an FSA attack on Hizbullah bulldozers that had been building earth barriers around these villages in an attempt to isolate them from the rest of Syria and annex them to parts of Lebanon under Hizbullah's control.
Reports Of Secret Burials Of Hizbullah Fighters Killed In Syria
Reports on Hizbullah fighters killed in Syria and later buried in secret by Hizbullah have mostly appeared on the media associated with the March 14 Forces. These reports began appearing in the second half of 2011 and increased in the second half of 2012. In August 2011, Hizbullah announced the funeral of Hassan 'Ali Samaha, "who died while performing a jihadi duty," and the March 14 Forces-affiliated daily Al-Nahar claimed that the funeral had been a military one. On September 2, 2011, the website of the Lebanese Forces party, which is close to the March 14 Forces, claimed that seven Hizbullah fighters killed in Syria had been buried secretly in Lebanon, and that Hizbullah had forbidden their families from performing mourning rituals. In June 2012, Al-Mustaqbal reported that five Hizbullah fighters had been killed in the Al-Zabdani area in Syria, and in July 2012, Al-Nahar reported on the funerals of three more fighters apparently killed there. According to a report on the daily Al-Jumhouriyya, a Shi'ite Lebanese woman complained to a Hizbullah official that her son had been sent to Syria and had been killed there, and the official replied that her son had died defending Shi'ites and was therefore a martyr. In early November 2012, Al-Mustaqbal reported that Hizbullah had held a funeral for one of its operatives, Haydar Mahmoud Zayn Al-Din, in the town of Al-Nabatiyya,  and about two weeks later it reported on another such funeral in the Akroum region, citing locals. Yet another funeral was reported in late November on the news edition of Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV.
Reports Of Hizbullah Fighters Captured By FSA
A further indication of Hizbullah's military presence in Syria is announcements by the FSA about Hizbullah fighters captured by its forces. On May 22, 2012, an FSA force captured 11 Lebanese Shi'ites, allegedly Hizbullah officials, who were traveling back to Lebanon from Iran. On October 14, 2012, the Saudi government daily Al-Watan cited Lebanese sources as saying that Hizbullah might exchange prisoners with the FSA, which has captured dozens of its fighters.
FSA Threats Against Hizbullah
After the death of Abu 'Abbas, which provided compelling evidence of Hizbullah's involvement in the fighting in Syria, the FSA began leveling accusations and threats against the group. Three days after the assassination, on October 2, 2012, FSA commander Riyadh Al-As'ad warned Hizbullah and Iran that the FSA would step up its war against their fighters in Syria. In one of its communiqués, the FSA promised Nasrallah "surprises that would keep him awake at night," and in another, it stated that it could "teach Hizbullah a serious lesson." On October 16, FSA spokesman Fahd Al-Masri told the Lebanese LBC channel, which is close to the Lebanese Forces party: "We are capable of threatening the criminal and murderer Nasrallah." The FSA also called on the Shi'ites in Lebanon to reject Hizbullah and not to permit their sons to become cannon fodder in a war not their own.
IRGC Military Involvement In Syria
As for the IRGC's military involvement in Syria, it was initially shrouded in obscurity, and reports about it came only from elements opposed to the Syrian regime in Syria itself, in Lebanon, and in Saudi Arabia – including the FSA, Syrian officials who had defected, March 14 Forces-affiliated websites, and the Saudi press. Later on came admissions by Iranian officials; these statements appeared on official Iranian websites and then were immediately removed. As in the case of Hizbullah, the reports indicate that IRGC operatives are involved in the fighting, that some have been incorporated into Assad's personal guard, and that some have been killed or captured.
Two of these quickly removed IRGC officials' statements were especially noteworthy. On May 27, 2012, the Iranian website Baztab Emrooz quoted excerpts from an interview with Esmail Qaani, deputy commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, which had originally been posted on the Iranian news agency ISNA and then immediately removed. Qaani acknowledged in the interview that the IRGC had a "physical and non-physical" presence in Syria. Then, on August 26, 2012, an Iranian oppositionist website reported that the IRGC commander for the city of Qazvin said in a speech to students there: "We are engaged in a military struggle in Syria." The report cited the official website snn.ir, which removed the statements shortly after they were posted.
In a January 2012 interview with the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Muhammad Suleiman Al-Hajj Ahmad, a Syrian Defense Ministry official who had defected, stated that Hizbullah and Iranian snipers were deployed throughout Syria, and that Iran was also supplying Syria with weapons to suppress the uprising. On October 1, 2012, the March 14 Forces website reported that several weeks previously, Iranian pilots had secretly arrived in Syria via Beirut, to participate in Syrian air strikes on rebel strongholds in Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and regions along the Lebanese border. Al-Arabiya also reported that month that Assad, fearing for his life, had replaced his bodyguards, most of whom had been Alawite Syrians, with IRGC soldiers, and that the IRGC was keeping an eye on other senior Syrian officials whose assassination or defection could harm the regime. Later that month, the daily Al-Mustaqbal reported, citing sources in Baghdad, that IRGC commander Muhammad Ali Jafari was planning to visit Baghdad and Beirut to coordinate actions to support the Syrian regime. In late November, Al-Mustaqbal reported, citing Syrian oppositionist sources, that more than 10 high-ranking Iranian pilots had arrived in Damascus, due to 'Assad's fear of many defections among his own pilots.
According to a December 9, 2012 report in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a video circulated on Syrian oppositionist websites shows an IRGC military base in Al-Ghouta Al-Sharqiyya, near the Damascus airport road, which has been captured by the FSA. In the base were found Iranian flags, military maps, and a long list of Hizbullah operatives who had trained in Damascus prior to their arrival at this base.
Reports Of IRGC Fighters Captured Or Killed In Syria
There have also been reports of Iranian fighters captured or killed in Syria, and the armed Syrian opposition has specifically reported capturing IRGC operatives. In an October 2012 interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, Abu Muhammad, the FSA operations officer in the ancient Aleppo area, said that his organization was holding several Hizbullah and IRGC members. In November, a Syrian opposition website reported, citing opposition sources, that the FSA had captured five IRGC operatives in the Al-Saida Zainab area in Rif Dimashq. Also, a group of 48 Iranians abducted by the rebels in August 2012 are alleged to be IRGC operatives, though Iran insists that they are pilgrims.
Several days after the assassination of Hizbullah official Abu 'Abbas, FSA commander Riyadh Al-As'ad stated that over 300 Hizbullah and Iranian fighters had been killed in the Al-Qasir area. A special report about the IRGC's activity in Syria, posted on the FSA website, features photos of the grave of an IRGC major, whose headstone says he died January 19, 2012 in Damascus.
Headstone of IRGC major says that he died January 19, 2012 in Damascus
Hizbullah consistently denies being involved in the hostilities in Syria, but it was compelled to explain the presence of Abu 'Abbas and his fellow Hizbullah officials in this country. Addressing this matter in an October 11 speech, some two weeks after Abu 'Abbas's death, Nasrallah explained that some of the 30,000 Lebanese living in Syria, who reside in 23 towns and villages near the Lebanese border, are Hizbullah members and belong to the organization's military infrastructure in the Beqa' Valley. He added that they had to defend their lives against the FSA's aggression, and that Abu 'Abbas, as Hizbullah's military commander in the Beqa' region, had been in charge of them. Nasrallah added that the Syrian regime had not asked for military assistance, so Hizbullah had not decided to offer it, but promised: "If a day comes when our [sense of] responsibility obliges us to [extend military assistance], we will not hide it." He stated further that the FSA's threats had no effect on his organization.
With these statements, Nasrallah in effect acknowledged that members of his organization were fighting the FSA in Syria – though it should be noted that these statements are relevant only to Hizbullah activity in parts of Syria along the Lebanese border, west of Homs, where there is a Lebanese population, and not to the alleged Hizbullah activity in more eastern and northern regions, such as the Aleppo area.
In an October 8, 2012 interview with the Lebanese MTV channel, Marwan Fares, a Lebanese MP from the Syrian Pan-Arab Socialist Party, acknowledged that Hizbullah members, from his own party and from the Lebanese Ba'th party, were present in the Syrian villages where Lebanese reside. He added that these villages are Shi'ite, so Hizbullah had a right to defend its people there. Two days later, he retracted his statement.
Sheikh Muhammad Yazbek, head of Hizbullah's Shari'a Council, said on October 4, 2012 during the burial of one of the fighters killed alongside Abu 'Abbas: "Those who promise us 'surprises,' [namely the FSA, should know that] we too have surprises in store for the enemies of our Muslim ummah."
Article In 'Al-Safir': Hizbullah's Involvement In Syria Undermines Palestinian Resistance
An interesting reaction to Hizbullah's involvement in the Syria crisis appeared in the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, which is close to Hizbullah and its allies in Lebanon. In an October 10 article, Fawwaz Al-Trabulsi, who described himself as a long-time supporter of the resistance, wrote: "If the reports of Hizbullah's presence in Syria are true, it should withdraw its forces and refrain from taking part in the battles on the [Syrian-Lebanese] border... [It should do this] for the sake of Palestine: in order to preserve the integrity and role of Hizbullah and of the Islamic resistance in the Arab-Israeli struggle; in order to preserve the honor of the weapons of the resistance, so it can continue waging jihad against the Israeli enemy alone; and so that [Hizbullah] will not pay a heavy price in terms of its future relations with the Syrian people and Syrian ruling elites."
Since the beginning of the Syrian rebellion, and along with numerous reports on the military involvement of Hizbullah and the IRGC in Syria, there have also been many reports on the involvement of Salafis and Islamists from Lebanon, mostly from Tripoli – among them Salafis and Islamists of Palestinian origin – in the fighting against Assad's forces. These reports often pointed to the Al-Mustaqbal faction, led by Sa'd Al-Hariri, as the group that funds, arms, and dispatches some of these fighters to the Syrian battlefields. These reports mostly appeared in the official Syrian media and in the Lebanese media close to the March 8 Forces, and later in the foreign press as well. The Al-Mustaqbal stream has consistently denied these allegations, claiming its assistance to the rebels is confined to the media, political, and humanitarian domains.
Reports On Tripoli Becoming A Center Of Support For Syrian Rebels
Northern Lebanon, and the city of Tripoli in particular, have always been a stronghold of Sunnis and of Salafi and Islamist groups in Lebanon. Due to its sectarian and ideological character, and also to its proximity to the Syrian border, this region is a hotbed of activity against the Syrian regime. It has also been the most significant stronghold of support for the Sunni Al-Mustaqbal faction. Several MPs from Al-Mustaqbal are even directly tied to local Islamist groups. On the other hand, the city is also home to an armed 'Alawite population, which supports the Syrian regime and is considered by many Sunnis, and especially the Islamist groups in the city, to be a hostile element. And indeed, violent confrontations between the two sides often erupt, according to the March 14 forces, upon orders from Syria.
Recently, the Lebanese press associated with the March 8 forces reported that the Al-Mustaqbal faction and Salafi and Islamist groups intend to transform Tripoli into a support hub for the Syrian rebels and to increase local support for Al-Mustaqbal itself. A November 13, 2012 article in the daily Al-Akhbar claimed that these groups are working to expel, or at least to substantially weaken, the supporters of the March 8 Forces and Syria in Tripoli, in order to transform the city into a logistical rear base for the rebels fighting in Homs. According to the article, Sa'd Al-Hariri plans to turn the city into his headquarters (instead of Beirut), and will come there from his current location abroad just before Assad's fall or immediately after it in order to continue waging his political struggle against Syria, Hizbullah, and the Iranian presence in Lebanon. On December 8, the daily published a similar article claiming that Salafi sheikhs in Tripoli have decided to drive Rif'at 'Eid from the city. 'Eid is the leader of the Arab Democratic party, which represents the city's 'Alawites, and one of the most prominent pro-Syrian figures in Tripoli.
Other reports indicate that some Tripoli Islamists even want to secede from Lebanon and to transform the city into an Arab Emirate that would fight Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran. On August 23, 2012, Al-Akhbar reported that Salafi sheikhs in Tripoli, including Sheikh Hussam Al-Sabbagh – whom the daily describes as the acting emir of the Al-Qaeda in North Lebanon – are pressuring other Salafi sheikhs in the region to end their alliance with Hizbullah and Syria and join their plan to establish an Islamic Emirate. In December 2012, the Facebook page Akhbar Bab Al-Tabbaneh reported on Al-Sabbagh's appointment as emir and on the oath of allegiance sworn to him by fighters in Tripoli, and also posted photos of the event (see below).
The question of the military involvement of the Al-Mustaqbal faction and of Islamist and Salafi elements in the fighting in Syria recently reemerged, following two incidents.
The first incident was in late November 2012, when the daily Al-Akhbar and the Lebanese OTV channel, owned by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel 'Aoun – a senior member of the March 8 Forces and a Hizbullah ally – published recordings of conversations held between Al-Mustaqbal MP 'Okab Sakr and elements in the FSA. These recordings indicate that Sakr is personally involved in arming and funding the armed resistance in Syria from his current location in Turkey. These accusations were also directed at Sa'd Al-Hariri, the head of the Al-Mustaqbal faction, since Sakr is Al-Hariri's representative in Turkey for media, political, and humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels.
In response to the accusations, Sakr told the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Yes, that is my voice [in the recordings] and those are my words." This statement was initially interpreted as an admission of guilt, but several days later, on December 6, 2012, Sakr held a press conference in Turkey, in which he again acknowledged that it was his voice, that he has ties with the FSA, and that he provides humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels as Al-Hariri's representative. However, he claimed that the recordings had been stolen from his personal computer seven months prior and had been heavily doctored to portray him as having provided weapons to the FSA. He also played excerpts from tapes which he claimed were the originals. He stated that a copy of these tapes had been sent to the Lebanese Attorney General, and said that he would sue the media outlets that had allegedly distorted his words. Sakr accused Syria, officials in Hizbullah and its allies, and their affiliated media of being behind the deception.
Referring to the affair, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said: "Sakr has the right to do what he wants. We do not impose any position [on anyone]. Sakr has a position and he is free [to express it]." This statement, which contradicts the government's stated position of non-intervention in Syria, is possibly meant to give retroactive approval to Hizbullah's military involvement in Syria as well.
In addition to Sakr, other Al-Mustaqbal officials were also accused of supporting the Syrian rebels. On October 19, 2012, Al-Akhbar cited sources in the Syrian opposition as saying that Sakr transfers money to them for weapons purchases and that Sa'd Al-Hariri is funding two fighter groups in the FSA – the Sa'd Al-Hariri Brigades and the Rafiq Al-Hariri Brigades. The daily also claimed that "the commander of the military wing of the Al-Mustaqbal stream," 'Amid Hamoud, along with North Lebanon Al-Mustaqbal MP Khaled Al-Dhaher and his brother Rabi', recruit and arm young men and send them to fight in Syria. According to the daily, all these figures, along with other sheikhs, spearhead Al-Mustaqbal's struggle against the Syrian regime. On November 13, 2012, Al-Akhbar reported that 'Amid Hamoud had listening devices planted in several locations along the Syrian border in order to eavesdrop on the Syrian army.
On September 9, 2012, the government Syrian daily Al-Watan claimed that Al-Mustaqbal MP Khaled Al-Dhaher has established a camp on farmland owned by him and his party, in which fighters are trained who later infiltrate Syria. Al-Dhaher vehemently denied these allegations. Furthermore, on December 3, 2012, Al-Akhbar reported that an MP from North Lebanon (alluding to a member of Al-Mustaqbal) has close ties to an officer of the Al-Wadi Brigade of the FSA, which is mostly comprised of Lebanese fighters, and that he funds it, coordinates with it, and receives its fighters before they are sent to Syria. According to a December 8, 2012 Al-Akhbar report, extremist Salafi sheikhs from Tripoli offered to attack Syrian areas near Lebanon's northern border and annex them to the city. On December 28, 2012, the daily reported that March 14 Forces activist Salah Al-Mahmoud visited parts of Aleppo controlled by the FSA and met with the commanders of the armed FSA groups there.
The second incident that rekindled the debate on Al-Mustaqbal's involvement in Syria: On November 30, 2012, some 25 young Islamists, mostly from North Lebanon, infiltrated Syria to join the rebels in the fight against the Syrian regime. The group was caught in a planned ambush by the Syrian army near the town of Talkalakh near the Lebanese border. The details of the incident are still unclear, but reports indicate that several were killed, some were captured, and others fled. This incident caused a stir in Lebanon and recriminations among political forces in the country regarding the responsibility for sending the fighters to Syria and for the incident itself. Rif'at 'Eid, the head of the Arab Democratic Party, which represents Tripoli's 'Alawites, accused Al-Hariri of sending them to Syria, while the Al-Mustaqbal party claimed that the Lebanese government, in which Hizbullah plays a central role, is neglecting border security, which enables fighters to infiltrate Syria.
It should be mentioned that on May 19, 2011, Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV aired a report in which residents of Talkalakh claimed that armed Al-Mustaqbal supporters from North Lebanon had harassed them, beaten them, and forced them to leave their homes.
Tripoli: Women attend the funeral of men killed in Talkalakh
The March 8 Forces' accusations against the Al-Mustaqbal faction significantly increased following the assassination of Hizbullah official Abu 'Abbas in Syria, which confirmed the claims regarding Hizbullah's military involvement there.
On October 13, 2012, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's deputy, Na'im Qassem, said: "Al-Hariri and the Al-Mustaqbal [faction's] adventure in Syria has thus far caused some 33,000 deaths." According to Qassem, the Al-Mustaqbal faction funds the Syrian opposition, arms it, manages armed groups from its seat in Turkey, smuggles weapons to Syria, and provides shelter for armed men. Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, the head of Hizbullah's Executive Committee, claimed that the Al-Mustaqbal faction secretly buries its casualties in Syria in the dead of night. In response, Al-Mustaqbal claimed that these accusations were meant to cover for Hizbullah's own military involvement in Syria and to divert public attention away from it. They also claimed that the youths who travel to Syria in order to fight do so of their own volition.
However, it is difficult to ignore the fact that even Western media has reports on Sakr's involvement in arming the rebels in Syria, and it seems that the Al-Mustaqbal action's denials stem from the same reasons that leads Hizbullah to deny its military involvement. Like Hizbullah, Al-Mustaqbal does not want to appear to violate the decision of the state and of the National Dialogue Committee, in which it is represented, requiring all sides to distance themselves from the events in Syria.
Furthermore, Al-Mustaqbal does not want to give Hizbullah justification for its own military involvement, just as Hizbullah does not want to provide a pretext for the involvement of rival elements. Additionally, Lebanese elements that support the Syrian rebels do not want to confirm the claims of the Syrian regime and its supporters in Lebanon that the Syrian uprising is not an authentic struggle by the Syrian people, but rather a rebellion fueled by external forces.
In addition, and in contrast to Hizbullah, Al-Mustaqbal fears additional assassinations of its officials and MPs who are accused of military involvement in Syria. Al-Akhbar columnist Maysam Rizq wrote: "[Since Sakr's] blood has been permitted, his life is just as threatened [today] as that of the head of the Al-Mustaqbal faction [Sa'd Al-Hariri], and perhaps even more... There are many indications that the threat is serious."
Al-Akhbar Board of Directors head Ibrahim Al-Amin also mentioned that these officials increasingly fear for their lives due to "their role in Syria, since their involvement in the struggle there has crossed every line."
* E. B. Picali is a research fellow at MEMRI.
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