Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, appeared to cross a Rubicon last week. In a defiant speech on May 25, he emphasized the Lebanese Shia militant group’s unbridled support for the Assad regime in Syria. In doing so, he lifted the veil of secrecy that had surrounded Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Syria. Of course, Hezbollah’s backing of Syria had never been in question. Yet the organization had worked assiduously to cover its tracks, even as the number of funerals for those “martyred” in Syria mounted.
Beyond publicly confirming what everyone already assumed, the speech, which was staunchly sectarian, signals a critical turning point for Hezbollah. It could mark the group’s transformation from resistance movement to sectarian militia. Nasrallah delivered an unprecedented and stinging criticism of Sunni hard-liners in Syria. He heralded a “new stage” in Lebanon’s struggle against external threats, adding a jihadist-controlled Syria to a list of enemies that already includes Israel and the United States.
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This op-ed first appeared in Foreign Affairs on June 2, 2013.
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