HEZBOLLAH MEMBERS carry the coffin of Adnan Siblini on Tuesday, who was killed in the Qalamoun region, during his funeral in al-Ghaziyeh..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Shi’ite Hezbollah’s war in Syria to prop up President Bashar Assad’s regime against Sunni rebels is leaving its leadership in the country exposed to assassinations, in what appears to be intelligence infiltrations into the organization’s activity there.
With no end to the civil war in sight and with Islamic State and other groups controlling what is in effect a partitioned Syria, Hezbollah should expect the liquidation of more senior commanders in the future.
The assassination last week in Syria of Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine is only the latest in a line of leaders killed in Syria.
Some of the other names include Jihad Mughniyeh, who also was killed in Damascus in January in what foreign media reported was an Israeli air strike. And his father, senior Hezbollah official Imad Mughniyeh, was reportedly taken out in a joint Mossad-CIA operation in Damascus in 2008.
Now the London-based Asharq al-Awsat is reporting that Mughniyeh’s son, Mustafa Mughniyeh, will take over from Badreddine. It may be only a question of time before the son suffers a similar fate.
In addition, there are growing casualties among Hezbollah fighters and Iranian forces deployed in the country, while the Syrian regime’s army is suffering from a manpower shortage and difficulty in recruiting.
However, these negative outcomes are probably not going to be enough to change Iran and its ally Hezbollah’s calculus in Syria, especially now that it has the support of Russian forces, which tipped the balance of the war in their favor.
The relatively low profile of the US-led coalition air strikes and training of rebels only reinforces the belief from the Iranian-Russian axis that the dragging out of constant, fruitless negotiations will buy it more time to slowly make progress on the ground.
If the tide turns against them at some point in the future, they can always decide to be more amenable to a political settlement with the opposition and their supporters. A political settlement would likely be temporary and would partition the country according to the current divisions on the ground, allowing Assad to hold on to his stronghold in the coastal region.
Ali Alfoneh, an independent Iran expert based in Washington, shared with The Jerusalem Post his latest tally of Hezbollah casualties in Syria, identifying a total of 904 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters killed in combat from September 2012 until this month.
According to Alfoneh’s survey of open-source data, 18 Hezbollah fighters were killed last month and so far only two this month.
Hezbollah does not provide statistics of combat fatalities in Syria, but Alfoneh systematically collects data from Hezbollah-affiliated websites, noting each time a funeral service is held for a “martyr” killed in Syria.
“I suspect the real number of Hezbollah combat fatalities in Syria is slightly higher than the names I have collected in my database,” he said.
Among the 904 death and funeral notices, 52 were presented by Hezbollah as “martyred commander” or “martyred field commander.”
During this same period, Alfoneh noted an increasing number of deaths among Iranian nationals in the country.
In a report he wrote for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this month, he noted that according to a survey of funeral services held in Iran for soldiers killed in Syria from January 2012 to this month, there were 400 fatalities.
The statistics of higher ranking Hezbollah officers or commanders who were killed reveals that the rebels are achieving some success against the group, but also that the terrorist organization is likely suffering from the elimination of so many experienced personnel.