Analysis: Hezbollah willing to join fight for Golan

Expert: Syria has transformed from a junior partner of Iran, to become another militia in Iran's regional archipelago of influence."

June 3, 2013 21:33
4 minute read.
Lebanon's Hezbollah deputy Sheikh Naim Qassem

Hezbollah deputy Sheikh Naim Qassem. (photo credit: Reuters)

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Naim Qassem said on Lebanese TV at the end of May that the terror organization is ready to participate in fighting for the Golan. Speaking in an interview for the Lebanese Mayadeen TV, he referred to recent reports that Syria was considering opening up a front there.

“I believe that the Syrian leadership is serious about opening the Golan front. After all, it was President Bashar who declared the opening of the Golan front,” stated Qassem according to a text provided by MEMRI.

Qassem added, “When Syria decides to open the Golan front – if it requires anything from Hezbollah, we will be ready to help anyone conducting resistance against Israel.”

He said, however, that Hezbollah was not the party that could open up the fighting on the Syrian front, inferring that Syria would first have to make that decision, thus relieving the group from actually having to attack Israel.

He also referred to Hezbollah’s involvement in Lebanon, stating that its operations in Syria were “obligatory” and “part of protecting the resistance enterprise.”

Hezbollah has sought to link its involvement in the Syrian conflict with resistance against Israel to deflect criticism from the Sunni world that it is involved in a sectarian conflict.

The group’s strategy is based on the fact that without President Bashar Assad’s regime, the group will be cut off from rearmament by Iran and Syria. If Assad falls, the group would have to depend on smuggling arms by air into Lebanon or by sea, which makes them easier for Israel to intercept. And for this reason, the organization, along with Iran, is fully engaged in the conflict.

The terrorist group also fears that its internal Lebanese struggle with the other ethnic groups, mainly the Sunnis that have been supporting the Syrian rebels – and the Christians – would become more difficult if Assad falls.

A Lebanese Hezbollah MK, Nawaf Musawi, echoed this sentiment on Sunday saying that if the Islamists dominated, Syrian opposition would win, “there will be no more a Lebanon. Instead, it will be divided, sects will emigrate and massacres will take place,” according to a report in the Lebanese Daily Star.

Such massacres seem to have already begun, the latest report coming on Monday of six killed because of clashes between Sunnis and Alawites in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli.

Also on Monday, Hezbollah denounced an attack on an important Sunni leader, Sheikh Maher Hammoud, blaming the attempt on the “Zionist enemy,” according to the Daily Star.

In addition, without Syria’s support, Hezbollah would be more vulnerable to a Sunni jihad against it. Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, one of the most important Sunni clerics in the world, called for jihad against Hezbollah and Assad on Saturday.

Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told The Jerusalem Post that Hezbollah, along with Shi’ite fighters from around the region, are “spearheading the fight” for Assad’s regime, which has become dependent on these forces.

Badran says that the very nature of the regime should be questioned, as it has transformed from a junior partner of Iran, to become another militia in Iran's regional archipelago of influence."

The importance of the battles currently raging in Qusair, Syria, near the border with Lebanon and other towns in the region is that they are a linchpin, connecting the Alawite enclave of Syria to the Hezbollah areas of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon.

Asked about Hezbollah’s actual strength, Badran believes that its numbers are actually lower than what some are estimating. He believes that the total number of elite forces (with and without combat experience) is around 2,000 to 3,000 fighters.

The fighters without experience may have trained in Iran, but the organization has lost many fighters with combat experience, and this has hurt the quality of its forces, he said.

In regard to the possibility of Hezbollah attacking Israel through the Golan, Badran does not rule it out, but notes that the group is already stretched on many fronts. It is fighting in different parts of Syria while also trying to maintain its hold in Lebanon.

The possibility that Hezbollah will try to replicate its network of tunnels and fortifications on the Syrian side of the border with Israel seems remote at this point, but Badran thinks it could be more likely that the group could attack Israel using some kind of front organization, having it fire rockets into Israel for example. But he says, Israel has gained valuable intelligence on Hezbollah during this conflict, as it has been able to observe how it is behaving and take advantage of the stress the group is under.

It appears therefore that Israel has gained ground on Hezbollah as a result of the Syrian conflict – the organization has been weakened and distracted from focusing on Israel. Furthermore, it will probably not risk its potential victory in Syria at this point by opening up another front against Israel.

The same logic can be applied to the case of Syria, hence, the reluctance of Israel to change its policy.

The status quo is working in Israel’s favor at the moment.

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