They are sworn enemies who insist they will never work together, but in practice, Hezbollah and the United States are already working — separately — on a common goal: to stop the extremist Islamic State from moving into Lebanon, where Hezbollah is the most powerful military and political player and currently shares with Washington an interest in stability.
Weeks after Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group and political party, helped repel an Islamic State attack on the town of Arsal on the Syrian border, new American weapons are flowing to help the Lebanese Army — which coordinates with Hezbollah — to secure the frontier. American intelligence shared with the army, according to Lebanese experts on Hezbollah, has helped the organization stop suicide attacks on its domain in southern Beirut.
“The international community has an interest in isolating the Syria crisis,” Mohammad Afif, Hezbollah’s newly appointed head of public relations and a media adviser to its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said last week in a rare conversation. In the course of the informal hourlong meeting, he shed light on how the party views the often contradictory tangle of alliances and interests in Syria’s civil war, many of them in flux as President Obama contemplates expanding his military campaign against the Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.
“All have an interest to keep the peace” in Lebanon, Mr. Afif said, but added, “Everyone has their own ways.”
There are signs that Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization, may see the fight against the Islamic State as an opportunity to gain legitimacy by making the case that it is standing against terrorism.
“We need to open up a new page with the world media, with the Arabs and internationally,” declared Mr. Afif, a former director of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel. He seemed to be starting the process by becoming the first senior Hezbollah official in years to speak at length with The New York Times, in the party’s bright, airy, new external media relations office.
Even the premises suggested a new attention to outreach. The department’s previous cramped quarters had contrasted more sharply with the gleaming studios of the Hezbollah-owned news media that speaks directly to its followers.
For now, though, Hezbollah officials are paying close and wary attention to what the United States is doing to repel the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in the region.