Monday, June 17, 2013

Syria, al Jazeera and Hezbollah

Jeff Weintraub posts (Did Syria ruin the "Arab Spring"? ) Marc Lynch's remarks:  
 Syria has also profoundly affected the Arab media landscape. It has been particularly cruel to Al Jazeera, whose descent is probably the most important story in the Arab media landscape in the last decade. Whether loved or hated, the Qatari-funded station served as a crucial common public sphere for Arab politics since the late 1990s.  [....]  But Al Jazeera's one-sided coverage of Syria and perceived support of Qatari foreign policy has cost it that central position.
No, I don't agree with that. Of course there are things they don't tell you (such as Qatar's involvement in the conflict), but I don't detect any great bias in their reports. They have regular coverage (at least something every day), whereas the BBC World Service's, for example, is more patchy.  This conflict is so crucial (if very depressing and confusing) that you would think they would give it more priority ...

Secondly, they more frequently have reporters on the ground, rather than covering the conflict from Beirut (Al Jazeera's Syria blog). One recent example is Andrew Simmons' report from around Aleppo.  He says that, after the fall of al Qusayr, government (/Hezbollah/Iranian) forces seem to be preparing a major offensive on Aleppo and the highway to the Turkish border (other reports indicate that the attack will come first on the rebel-held areas of Homs) and that this may signal the beginning of the end of the war. Of course we all want to see the end of the war, but not in an Assad victory.

It seems that Hezbollah have had a critical part in reversing the tide of the war, but one wonders what the long term effect of this on its credibility will be. While they like to portray themselves throughout the Arab and Muslim world as the spearhead of "resistance" to Israel, here they are the foot-soldiers in the suppression of a revolt by a Sunni majority against a dictatorial regime. One is reminded of the mocking chants a few years ago in Hamas-controlled Gaza of  “Shia, Shia”.

As Jeff notes in another post, Hezbollah's leader has a contorted justification for their involvement. One fighter, questioned about what they were doing in Syria said, "No, we are fighting Israelis in Syria. Only they are wearing a dishdash and carrying the Koran." (The Times, 20 May)

It is unsurprising then that Hezbollah was reluctant to get openly involved and it may also be a sign of desperation on the part of the Assad regime: if what seems to be around 2000 Hezbollah fighters could make such a difference, it says something about the capacity of the government army.

The fall of  al Qusayr was seen as making it less likely for the West to intervene, for fear of playing into Hezbollah's hands (**).

* How Qatar seized control of the Syrian revolution By Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith; (18/5 21:40, BBC WS, Newshour)

** This turned out not to be correct. When the White House announced that it would be providing military aid to the opposition, 13 June, the  BBC correspondent in Washington, Paul Adams, said that the US administration had been pretty confident for some time that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons, but had held back and had acted in response to Hezbollah's involvement. Roula Khalaf says, "the unstated red line is perhaps the involvement of Hizbollah." (Financial Times, 15 June)
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18/5 deserted Alawi villages,  Hama province, occupied by rebels (
Al Jazeera).

 Syrian regime battles for key rebel stronghold - FT.com  Syrian forces backed by Lebanon militant group Hizbollah pushed on Monday into the strategic city of Qusair, a key supply route for the ... May 20, 2013 5:24 pm ...
Syria: no place for back-seat drivers - William Hague hints at veto of Syria arms ban - FT.com

 Last update: 19 Jun 2013

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