Elite Hezbollah fighters are spearheading battle in Syria, IDF commander warns

"Shi’ite group fighting in the most dangerous places," says Maj.-Gen. Noam Tibon, commander of the IDF Northern Corps.

Maj.-Gen. Noam Tibon 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Maj.-Gen. Noam Tibon 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Elite Hezbollah fighters are leading the Syrian government’s battle against rebels in the country’s most violent regions, a senior IDF commander said on Thursday.
“We must understand that this is not a war in Syria where Syrians are fighting against Syrians anymore,” Maj.-Gen. Noam Tibon, commander of the IDF Northern Corps, said at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya. Hezbollah, he said, is the “elite force today fighting against the rebels in Syria.”
Tibon’s speech expanded upon comments Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made on Sunday, when he told NBC’s Meet the Press that Syria is essentially a protectorate of Iran.
The general appeared to challenge reports that Hezbollah’s role may be declining in Syria. The Times of London reported earlier this month that Hezbollah had reduced its presence in Syria from 10,000 fighters to about 3,500. Tibon did not address the reported numerical decline in Hezbollah forces, instead saying that the Shi’ite group is “fighting in the most dangerous and tough areas in Syria and actually leading the struggle.”
Tibon reiterated that Israel “is not involved in the war” and is not taking a side. But he said the IDF would not allow the presence of armed Islamic groups on the border of the Golan Heights or the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah.
“On these two points, we will do whatever we can to prevent it,” he said. He did not discuss a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida this week that Israel bombed an arms shipment allegedly bound for Hezbollah.
Tibon said Hezbollah is also fighting a sectarian war in Lebanon and preparing for a possible conflict with Israel. Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel, which represents a new kind of terrorism facing the Jewish state, he said.
“All those 100,000 rockets are only for one purpose: to shut down the country,” he said. “People will be afraid to go to work, people will not go to school, tourists will not come,” he added, explaining Hezbollah’s goal.
Tibon’s assessment of Hezbollah and the war in Syria was part of a wider briefing he provided about threats facing Israel, and the state of the Middle East.
While the revolutions of the Arab Spring have yielded mixed results across the Middle East, Tibon argued that the ability of a popular uprising to bring down a government sent a powerful message.
“I think that all the leaders in the Arab countries today are very, very sensitive to the voice of the people,” he said. “It’s not a democracy. But the people in all the Arab countries today have much more power [over] what’s going on in their states, from Iran to Egypt.”