- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Former head of the Syrian opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib directed a speech yesterday to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, urging him to withdraw Hezbollah’s fighters from Syria or risk dragging the Middle East into decades of Sunni-Shia violence.
"Is it satisfying to you that the Syrian regime shells its citizens with fighter planes and Scud missiles, mixing the blood and flesh of children with bread?" Khatib asked Nasrallah, who has been President Bashar al-Assad’s most prominent ally in the Arab world. "Is it pleasing to you that thousands of women have been raped?"
A little context sheds some light on why Khatib chose this moment to address Nasrallah. Syrian military units and Hezbollah cadres have launched a fresh offensive on the rebel-held town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border. The deepening involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian war has threatened to destabilize Lebanon — two prominent Salafist clerics, Ahmed al-Assir and Salem al-Rifai, responded by calling on Lebanese Sunnis to join a holy war against Hezbollah’s presence in Syria.
Furthermore, Khatib resigned his post as head of the Syrian opposition coalition on April 21 — but now seems to be having second thoughts about that decision. He released a statement on Facebook saying that he would remain as president, and published a legal opinion on his website that deems the opposition coalition’s selection of a replacement for him illegal. Khatib’s message to Nasrallah, in which he refers to himself as the opposition president, might therefore be a way to seize the spotlight away from his internal rivals.
Nevertheless, Khatib’s message to Nasrallah will no doubt serve as a milestone in the fraught relationship between the Syrian rebels and Hezbollah. Khatib warned that Hezbollah’s decision to fight on behalf of Assad would help "drag the whole world of Islam into a Sunni-Shia war … in which there will be no victor."
Khatib also addressed Nasrallah as a fellow religious leader, discussing how Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war would sabotage the Party of God’s social agenda. "Some of the stances of some members of your party has caused a tidal wave of atheism that has begun to invade generations," he said. "Those stances, in my opinion, cannot be affiliated in any way to the Prophet’s household."