Hezbollah’s large-scale involvement in Syria is eroding its military resources,
though the extent of the damage it is incurring remains a closely guarded
The Lebanese terrorist organization’s Shi’ite fighters, who were
deployed to Syria to fight on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad at Iran’s
orders, tipped the balance in favor of Assad at the battle of Qusair in recent
weeks. But Israeli security analysts said on Sunday the victory came at a heavy
price for Hezbollah that is set to rise the longer the organization remains
engaged in Syria.
Additionally, as Sunni- Shi’ite sectarian tensions
spread to neighboring Lebanon, Hezbollah could find itself dealing with unrest
on its home turf too.
Any benefits Hezbollah is gaining from its Syrian
intervention, in the form of battlefield experience gained by its fighters, is
being outweighed by the high price of the involvement, according to Yoram
Schweitzer, the director of the Terrorism and Low Intensity Warfare Project at
the Institute for National Security in Tel Aviv.
“For Nasrallah, there is
some good news from his involvement in Syria. Hezbollah is gaining battle
experience. But this is smaller in significance than the price Nasrallah
is paying, politically and operationally,” Schweitzer said.
“There is an
erosion of Hezbollah’s fighting forces and its resources. The organization is
suffering a loss of personnel. And of course, politically, this is increasingly
chipping away at Hezbollah’s image as the resistance party that fights the
common enemy [Israel],” he added.
“Hezbollah is entangled. It is seen as
a foreign army and a sectarian religious entity operating against the will of
the majority in Syria.”
It is likely that Hezbollah sent some of its
quality units based in south Lebanon, originally designated for combat with the
IDF, to the battlefields of Syria, Schweitzer said. “They’re suffering
casualties as they fight irregular bands of rebels.”
In Syria, Hezbollah
is struggling to deal with the same tactics it itself employed in the past
against the IDF. A report in The Lebanese Daily Star published last month quoted
one Hezbollah fighter as saying that the tactics of the jihadi Jabhat Al-Nusra
Front in Syria had “a kind of irritating familiarity.”
gone from being a terrorist militia to a military in every way,” Schweitzer
said. “They have the weapons and training from Iran and Syria, and [high] combat
quality. Now, it’s fighting against disorganized rebels who are inferior in
their scope of operations and quality of personnel, but nevertheless, Hezbollah
is facing erosion. It’s encountering difficulties.”
With Sunni Salafi
jihadis becoming one of Hezbollah’s foremost enemies in Syria, it is likely that
the Salafis will seek to assist their counterparts in Lebanon to fight
Hezbollah, the security expert said, although he stressed that Hezbollah is far
better equipped than any of its Lebanese rivals.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a
Middle East expert at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic
Studies, said Hezbollah’s full casualty count remains “a big
“They’re not talking about it. Every report about this is
suspiciously one-sided,” Kedar, who served for 25 years in IDF Military
Intelligence, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The rebels wish to exaggerate
Hezbollah’s casualty count, and Hezbollah seeks to lower it. We don’t have the
real numbers,” he added.
Kedar estimated that the number of dead and
injured Hezbollah fighters is “in the hundreds,” adding that Syrian rebels were
also snatching weapons from killed Hezbollah fighters.
“I can’t say how
this precisely affects their operational capabilities. This kind of intelligence
is only available to the military,” Kedar said. “But they are losing legitimacy,
even among their own Shi’ite sect.”
“If the Syrian regime survives,
Hezbollah will come out very big. They’ll earn a lot, because the regime will
owe them its survival. If the regime falls, Hezbollah will fall with it,” he
Addressing Sunday’s intense battles in Sidon, the scene of
explosive tensions between a Lebanese Salafi militia and pro-Hezbollah elements,
Kedar said. “Sidon is a majority Sunni city. Hezbollah is more based in the
villages and mountains.”