BEIRUT: Syria’s regime is no longer in danger of being toppled and the risk of the country being divided has passed, the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said in remarks published Monday.
Hassan Nasrallah’s comments to the Al-Safir daily come as his Shiite movement is increasingly involved in the conflict in neighboring Syria, where they are fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Nasrallah denied Hezbollah’s role in Syria was unpopular in Lebanon, and said the group’s recent battle in Syria’s Qalamun had lessened the risks of bomb blasts back home.
“In my opinion, the phase of bringing down the regime or bringing down the state is over,” he told the newspaper in an interview.
“I think we have passed the danger of division” of the country, he added.
“They cannot overthrow the regime, but they can wage a war of attrition,” the Hezbollah chief said.
Nasrallah also said he believed supporters of the uprising were tempering their expectations for an opposition defeat of the regime.
“The regional and international situation has changed,” he said.
“In my view, the pressure on the regime in the coming phase will be less than in the past three years, in terms of political pressure, media pressure and pressure on the ground.”
He dismissed recent rebel operations in Latakia province, where the opposition has gained ground, and said talk of a major offensive by rebels was simply “exaggeration.”
The Latakia front “is a limited operation … but it created a big fuss in the media,” Nasrallah said.
“For all the talk about the big battle to come, we’ve seen nothing of it so far,” he added.
Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s conflict has raised tension in Lebanon, where many Sunnis support the uprising and others fear the group’s role will bring the fighting into their country.
‘Protecting Lebanon from terror’
Lebanon’s opposition March 14 movement has been particularly vocal in calling for Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from the fight.
But Nasrallah denied that public sentiment was opposed to the group fighting in Syria.
“There is a large public feeling that supports the step of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria,” he said.
“Many Lebanese, even inside March 14, believe and accept that the intervention in Syria protects Lebanon from the terrorist groups whose behavior and actions we see on a daily basis.”
“So we do not feel alienated,” he said, adding that many political and religious forces in the country had expressed their support “behind closed doors, which increases our confidence in this position.”
The Shiite group and its supporters have paid a heavy price for their involvement, with radical Sunni groups targeting parts of Lebanon where the movement holds sway with multiple deadly bombings.
But Nasrallah said a recent victory by the Syrian regime in the Qalamun region adjacent to Lebanon, in which Hezbollah played a key role, had helped decrease the threat of such attacks.
“We can say that the risk of explosions has dropped significantly because of the developments in Qalamun, which led to the closure of car bomb factories and centers,” he said.
Nasrallah said Lebanese security forces had also stepped up their efforts to arrest militants behind the attacks.
“In general we can talk about a significant decline in this risk, but we can’t say it has been completely eliminated.”