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Opinion: Could Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah get rid of each other? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Opposition forces from the Al-Ikhlas brigade fire a home-made rocket, next to an Islamist flag bearing the name of their brigade in Syria’s northeastern city of Deir Ezzor on October 9, 2013. (AFP/Ahmad Aboud)

Commenting on the war in Syria, which has now gone on for more than two and half years, an American said it’s better for the fighting to continue until Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda destroy each other so the US can get rid of two fierce enemies in one go.

I previously discussed this when I said that Syria is a fly trap, meaning it is bait that lures jihadist groups from across the world and makes them perish. The problem with these arguments is that they will not succeed. The result may be the complete opposite of the desired aim, as it may just strengthen these two groups’ ability to engage in larger regional wars later.

There is a huge difference between ideological wars—religiously motivated, in the Syrian case—and gang wars that occur in South America or even in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Al-Qaeda is a religious, ideologically-orientated organization, and so is Hezbollah. Both organizations, whose mentality and actions are similar, grew and developed through different conflicts and confrontations. Al-Qaeda has lost most of its top-ranking members, most of whom had been with the organization since the 1990s. Despite this pursuit and elimination of its members, the organization has expanded. It did not expand because it was winning militarily, but because it used both its defeats and victories to market extremist ideas.

The biggest mistake we could possibly make is to leave Syria an open battlefield. That would simply facilitate the growth of extremist groups. The Iranian and Syrian regimes have realized the value of these groups in intimidating the West. As a result, they used Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Before that, they also used Hezbollah to carry out proxy wars, suicide operations and hijacking operations.

The tragedy in Syria has increased the number of recruits to the huge number we see today. It is what enabled Al-Qaeda to return to the Islamic street while saying it was defending the persecuted Syrian people.

The Syrian regime does not mind the presence of Al-Qaeda in Syria, whether that presence makes itself felt through the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Al-Nusra Front. The regime is aware that Al-Qaeda fighters will commit the most hideous of crimes and will thus grant the regime the opportunity to improve its own standing before the world. It’s either Al-Qaeda or the Assad regime, they will say. But we know that both are equally bad, and both are rejected by most Syrians.

Hezbollah has also gained a new military and political role in Syria, for which it is being financially rewarded. Hezbollah knows that it can compensate its victims even if it loses thousands of its fighters. It recruits thousands in the name of religion. Therefore, he who draws the comparison between drug cartels and extremist religious organizations and builds his conclusion that these organizations will eliminate one another is actually wrong. Extremists such as ISIS and Hezbollah can fight or co-exist within the Syrian struggle for another decade.