Will Hezbollah Remain in Syria Forever?

By Mona Alami

Hezbollah plays a highly versatile role in Syria. The Lebanese organization initially provided expert support to Assad in its crackdown on protesters. In 2011, Lebanese media started publicizing the death of Hezbollah fighters in Syria. The role of Hezbollah evolved to encompass offensive strategy during battles and much needed training to militias shoring up the Syrian regime.

Interviews with Hezbollah and members of the opposition attest that in many cases Hezbollah was leading ground assault force in battles, and this first began during the 2013 battle of Qusayr. In an interview that same year, a Hezbollah fighter admitted: “Hezbollah is leading operations in Qusayr; the Syrian army is only playing a secondary role, deploying after an area is completely ‘cleaned’ and secured.”

According to a report by the Institute for the Study of War, the Syrian government used Hezbollah fighters as a reliable infantry force alongside its own heavy weapons and airpower.

In the battle of Qusayr, and on other war fronts in 2015 and 2016, military operations typically started with shelling followed by the infiltration of irregular units, and infantry attacks. Similar techniques were used as well in Zabadani and Aleppo. In Aleppo, Hezbollah played a threefold role according to interviews by the author with a Hezbollah commander who explained that the militant group headed the offense teams, which were followed by a demining team and a stabilization team.

In addition to its offensive strategy, Hezbollah has helped the regime in developing its irregular forces as well as financing and providing training to local militia groups as needed. According to researcher Aymen Jawad Tamimi, these local militias include Quwat Rhidha, the National Ideological Resistance, Liwaa al-Imam al-Mahdi, Junud Mahdi and the Mahdi scouts among many others.

Tamimi believes that Quwat al-Ridha is the core nucleus for Hezbollah in Syria and seems to be operating under the leadership and supervision of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Quwat al-Ridha includes Shia and Sunni hailing from countryside areas around cities such as Homs, Aleppo, Daraa and Damascus.

In an interview with Maan Talaa, researcher on pro-regime militias from the Turkey based think tank Omran Dirastat, Talaa adds that Quwat Ridha is estimated at 3,500 fighters and its military leadership is headed by Syrians, but the organization is financed and trained by Hezbollah.

According to Talaa, two other groups can be directly linked to Hezbollah, the Liwaa al-Imam al-Mehdi and Assad Allah Ghaleb. Talaa underlines that Liwaa al-Imam al-Mehdi is also estimated at 2,000 fighters and mostly Alawites. “Assad Allah Ghaleb played a role in Ghouta, but they appear to have been decimated in battles,” explains Talaa.

The Omran Dirasat researcher emphasizes that many other groups partner with Hezbollah and Iran. “In such cases, Iran generally bankrolls the groups while Hezbollah provides training,” he points out.

A Hezbollah trainer admitted in an interview that while thousands have been trained across Syria, some 10,000 were trained in Qusayr alone, the largest training facility for Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon.

Hezbollah appears well positioned in Syria for the next few years. The author interviewed Hezbollah fighters who were divided as to their long-term role in Syria, but most agreed that they would not be leaving strategic regions anytime soon. “We will retain control of areas with a military importance such as Qusayr. Other spots around Homs which were given up to the Syrian army and were later lost will also stay in our hands,” says one fighter in a recent interview.

Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has resulted in a high human cost, with 2,000 to 2,500 killed and some 7,000 injured over the last six years, according to an interview with anti-Hezbollah activist and researcher Lokman Slim. Numbers are difficult to verify with areas besieged by Hezbollah across Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, and Daraa.

Yet, such human losses do not appear to have reached a tipping point for Hezbollah. The party has successfully convinced its popular base that its involvement in Syria and its fight on “terror” has shielded Lebanon from radical groups. The efficient crackdown post-2015 on terror networks by Lebanese security services has quieted criticism by Hezbollah constituents, after terror attacks dropped from a monthly occurrence to a near-zero incidence rate.

Recent gains have also played in favor of the organization. The fall of Aleppo dovetailed by internal clashes within the Syrian opposition, have improved the credibility of Hezbollah with its constituents in Lebanon.
Through battle and local diplomacy, Hezbollah appears to have consolidated its position as long as there is no grand bargain in Syria.

NEWSWEEK

  • Danny Farah

    They will they will. Iran is bringing Shiites from all over the globe and taking over many areas in Syria. this will create a buffer zone of Militias across the country to fight off anyone it stands in its way to conquer Syria and Lebanon. That’s why in part several Syrian Generals were killed cause they were resisting what was taking place in their country. but these Generals were evil anyway to what they done to their people and to Lebanon in Particular and they deserve what they got anyway.Now Hezbollah wants to control the government the Legal way on top of already thru the gunpoint and intimidations and thuggery. Do it our way or be killed. Nassrallah is more than willing to sacrifice the Shiite blood for the sake of Iran. Assad is a puppet of Iran now. Even Kuds brigade General said Syria is more valuable than any Oil fields they have. what does that tell you.. so the bottom line is that there are always going to be feuds between the Arabs and Iran and it will be met in Syria forever..

  • vs

    Lebanon, better export Hezbollah to Iran

    • William Petro

      You got that bassackwards!
      Iran is right next door in Syria, and they are going after Israel, AND YOU!