US President Barack Obama's "Will Not" has come across as half-baked compared to the Hezbollah secretary general's retort with an arrogant "Will Not" of his own. Both men made threats, each at his own pace: the first with hesitation and fear of implicating his country directly in the war in Syria; and the second with a statement read on behalf of the "friends" of the Syrian regime, in which he pledged to drag his country into the war in Syria in order to prevent the fall of the regime there. The "red line" announced by Obama a year ago has returned, when he stated that the use of chemical weapons in the war in Syria would be a "game changer" and would drive the United States to reconsider "the options that are available to us." It has thus returned to the forefront, under the condition of "hard, effective evidence," as the US President said, having fallen into the trap of his chemical threats in Syria, just as he fell into the trap of his pledge not to allow Iran to become a nuclear state. The Islamic Republic of Iran has read between the lines of the two threats the possibility of Obama being forced to carry out one of them, and has thus decided to preempt this with a threat by Hezbollah, speaking in its name and in the language of "We will never allow." This represents major escalation which places the US President before a test and a challenge that may well drive him to surprise those wagering on his weakness and on his fear of getting dragged into confrontation. Otherwise, it may turn into a slogan chanted by Hezbollah, boasting of its success at forcing the US President to back down on his threats and promises. This is a very risky move for Tehran, which the secretary general of Hezbollah revealed it to be one of the main parties to his ultimatum, within the framework of making threats in the name of the friends of the regime in Damascus.
Russia may have signed with using a 'thin pen,' but it is nonetheless one of the signatories of the statement of threats read by Nasrallah in response to Obama's pledge. This important development places bilateral and regional relations at a new crossroads that may either drive towards major military escalation, or towards reaching major understandings that would rein in matters in Syria. The first stop is that of the BRICS countries, in whose name and with whose approval Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah gave the impression of speaking when he threatened that "we will never allow" Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel or Takfiri [extreme Jihadi] groups, "[and] I say this based on information rather than wishful thinking". Of course he primarily meant Tehran, and perhaps Russia to a lesser extent, especially as the Russian President's Special Envoy to the Middle East and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov sat down for an extensive meeting with him recently. Indeed, the main headline to have resulted from Nasrallah and Bogdanov's closed-door meeting is that of "we will never allow" the fall of Bashar al-Assad's regime, a headline which the secretary general of Hezbollah has brought out in the open.
China might be less enthusiastic about having its name linked to the threat of "we will never allow" the fall of the regime in Damascus, or for Syria to fall into the hands of the United States. Nevertheless, its silence provides a boost for those who promote the notion that it forms an essential part of the axis of defiance, which includes Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime. Perhaps China wishes to remain deliberately ambiguous on this issue, hiding behind its silence. Yet the battle of the "will not" and of threats has entered a new juncture which Beijing will not be able to elude if push comes to shove. Perhaps it is time for the US President to ask China to explain the truth of its stances at the threshold of the imminent battle. It is perhaps also time to ask for explanations from the other members of the BRICS, who may be hostile to America, but might also not be comfortable being part of the axis of defiance's battles. Indeed, there are limits for countries like India and Brazil, who understand the significance of such a major shift, as well as for South Africa, even if to a lesser extent. To be sure, they would not want to be part of the Hezbollah front in the battle for Syria.
The US President has bound his "game changer" threat to his insistence on "hard, effective evidence" of chemical weapons use in Syria. We do not know what emergency plans the US military has prepared after the president publicly pledged not to remain outside the game. What we do know is that proving chemical weapons were used is not easy. We also know that the language of "options" means taking military measures. Such military measures could be surgical, with the utmost care given to preventing any toxic substances from leaking. Yet the other question in case the decision is taken to intervene militarily is this: will the president seek to surgically remove chemical weapon facilities, or to surgically remove the core elements of the regime itself?
Russia will not allow a resolution to be issued by the Security Council, even if it were to be conclusively proven that the regime in Damascus has indeed made use of chemical weapons. Russia has vowed - through Hezbollah and others - that it would not allow the regime to fall. This is why Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is warning against using the chemical weapons issue as a pretext for military intervention. Moscow has crossed more than red lines in the Syrian issue and it is prepared to cross the chemical red line if it has to. It may urge the regime with insistence not to make use of chemical weapons because that would be a "game changer," but Russia will stand alongside it and support it if it does, because maintaining this regime has become its top priority. Russia's leadership may fear - as does the US administration and those who oppose it in Congress - for such chemical weapons to fall into the hands of the extremist wing of the Syrian opposition, which it refers to as Takfiri groups. This is why Russian President Vladimir Putin may offer his American counterpart a deal to work together to secure the chemical weapons, so as to prevent them from becoming the key to forced military intervention, which Barack Obama does not want in the first place. Putin would thereby clear himself of the charge of encouraging the regime in Damascus to use all means at its disposal to remain in power. Putin would also succeed at "saving" Obama from his own pledge and threats on the chemical issue, with regard to both the regime and the Syrian opposition. Indeed, they both are, along with Hezbollah, partners in a de facto alliance against Takfiri groups and their obtaining any chemical weapons. Here the chemical "will not" intersects with the one regarding the regime in Damascus. And in this the "will not" of confrontation may well turn into the "will not" of a gateway to trade-offs.
So far, the confessional battle between Sunnis and Shiites is being waged primarily in the war in Syria. Confessional battles are simmering on low heat in various parts of the Arab region, but are erupting primarily, and openly, in the Syrian arena. The speech given by the Secretary-General of Hezbollah this week has brought out the resolve of Iran and its ally Hezbollah to wage the battle in Syria against Islamist extremists, Takfiri groups or the Salafists - call them what you will. The important part is that the confessional battle has started in the war in Syria and is ongoing by a decision from the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The de facto allies are now US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, and they are at war with - call them what you will - al-Qaeda and similar groups.
The "Resistance" and its weapons have become an integral part of the war in Syria - the war against Takfiri groups in which Hezbollah and Iran are allied with Russia and the United States. It has thus become permissible to use the "Resistance" and its weapons in the war in Syria in order to keep the regime in power. This is one of the most important headlines of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah's speech: the weapons of the Lebanese Resistance to maintain the regime in Syria. He has stated it clearly and publicly by saying that "we will never allow" the regime to fall. Thus the "Resistance", which had always been said to have its weapons directed against Israel, and which had justified its existence and the presence of its weapons with the danger coming from Israel, has entered as party to the war in Syria to prevent the fall of the Assad regime there.
Hezbollah's Secretary-General has done all those concerned a favor by clarifying where the "Resistance" stands, what are its prerogatives, and how it uses its weapons. Those who have used the "Resistance" as a shield and a sword to prevent the Lebanese state and army from monopolizing authority and armament must therefore think deeply of what Hezbollah has clarified publicly this week. Indeed, regardless of justifications such as the claims of Syria being driven out of the axis of resistance and out of the equation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, what has become clear is that the Resistance has entered the battle to prevent the fall of the regime in Damascus - thereby introducing the Lebanese Resistance as a party to the civil war in Syria.
The destruction of Syria is a collective act no one side can accuse the other of being alone responsible for. The expression "the destruction of Syria" has become synonymous with "them", at varying rates of denial. Today's "will not" represents a temporary turning point in this catastrophe that has befallen Syria, for the mere fact that its people dared to demand reform. The only thing that is clear so far is that the regime in Syria "will not" return to what it had been before, having itself become an essential part of the "them" that are destroying Syria.