Once revered in the Middle East as a defiant force against Israel, the actions of the "Party of God" in Syria have caused many to change their mindsby Lizzie Porter / October 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
“I never really knew who he was as a Hezbollah soldier,” Jawad told me from a Beirut apartment block. A look of intense concentration knitted his features together. “I knew him as a brother, who once convinced me that eating my own toenail would make a foot grow in my stomach—he was the biggest jokester and prankster ever. He really was the soul of the house. A grey cloud has sat in our house ever since his…” He tailed off.
The death of his brother in Syria in 2014, during a combat mission with the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, still hurts Jawad (not his real name). It happened only months after he had himself decided against joining the Iranian-backed political party and militia. He clearly remembers his moment of refusal: “I talked to my martyred brother, who was alive at the time, and mentioned that this life might not suit me. He told me: ‘It’s OK, but I’m disappointed.’ After that conversation, we never really made amends. We never really talked about the subject again. The last thing he said to me was, ‘I’m disappointed,’ and it kinda still rings in your head.”
Jawad’s loss is one consequence of a complex web of personal grief, violence, geopolitics, regional rivalries and convenient alliances that has shaped—and been shaped by—Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria. Though it has faded from western television screens, the Syrian war will have raged for a decade by March next year. It has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions of people from their homes. It has destabilised the region and created enormous challenges for governments dealing with its refugees. With the militants of Islamic State (IS) and their extreme form of Sunni Islam often dominating the headlines, Hezbollah’s role in the conflict remains under-examined. But without its armed intervention in Syria—the exact timing is unclear, but fighters’ bodies were returning to Lebanon as early as 2012—it is unlikely the Assad regime would have survived. Hezbollah’s commanders have trained and led multiple Iran-backed forces from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, fighting across the Iraq-Syria border. The group’s violations of humanitarian law in the conflict may not have been as openly gruesome as those by…