News / Middle East

    Hezbollah Expands Military Presence in Syrian War

    FILE - A Hezbollah fighter looks toward Syria while standing in the fields of the Lebanese border village of Brital, May 9, 2015.
    FILE - A Hezbollah fighter looks toward Syria while standing in the fields of the Lebanese border village of Brital, May 9, 2015.

    Hezbollah fighters have recently increased in numbers on the front lines in northern Syria, aiding the military of President Bashar al-Assad against rebel forces and Islamic State militants, analysts tell VOA.

    The presence of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah has grown noticeably in Syria since Russia began its air campaign in late September in support of the Assad government. Hezbollah casualty figures in October show a steady increase in battle deaths.

    “The national, ethical and humanitarian duty requires us to fight Daesh [IS] outside [Lebanon] borders, not inside them,” Nabil Qaouk, deputy head of Hezbollah’s executive council, told the official Lebanese National News Agency on Monday.

    In the ongoing battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, Tehran-backed Hezbollah fighters have reportedly taken a key role alongside Iranian forces in support of the Syrian regime.

    “Hezbollah is preoccupied in other battles as well, including [in] northern Hama and a smaller involvement in Quneitra,” said Nadav Pollak, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, Hezbollah has been not been very open about the scale of its involvement, but its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has occasionally referred to siding with the Syrian government as a strategic need and a religious duty.

    Syrian opposition groups say the Lebanese group uses the presence of IS militants as a pretext to continue involvement in Syria’s civil war.

    “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. They cannot be a legitimate force,” Colonel Riyad al-Asaad, founder of the rebel group Free Syrian Army, told VOA.

    Hezbollah and other Iraqi and Iranian Shi'ite militias under the direct command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in southern Aleppo and northern Hama are fighting opposition groups, he said. “The [Syrian] regime forces have no command role on these fronts,” he said.

    Experts estimate the number of Hezbollah fighters in Syria at 6,000, many of whom are concentrated in Damascus and Homs, with smaller numbers in Aleppo and Hama provinces.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Hezbollah has lost nearly 900 fighters during the war in Syria.

    Hezbollah rarely comments on its Syrian operations. Nawaf al-Moussawi, a pro-Hezbollah member of the Lebanese parliament, declined to talk to VOA, saying the group does not discuss details of its involvement in Syria’s war.

    Two views in Moscow

    The unofficial military alliance among Iran, Hezbollah and Russia has some sticking points.

    Moscow fears that Hezbollah’s extreme sectarian motives could endanger Russian strategy in propping up the Assad regime, analysts say, but Russia also believes that Hezbollah is one of the most effective forces fighting alongside Syrian government troops.

    Iran, Hezbollah’s primary backer, believes the group, along with other Shi'ite militias, is essential in gaining momentum in the fight against Sunni opposition rebels in Syria.

    The semiofficial Iranian Mehr News Agency reported that in a recent speech at Tehran University, General Mohammad Ali Jaafari, commander of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard, told students that “Russia is helping in Syria but is not happy with the Islamic resistance [Hezbollah]." Nonetheless, the general was quoted as saying, Russia "provides assistance based on mutual interest.”

    After nearly four years of direct combat in Syria, Hezbollah militants have shown signs of battle fatigue on many fronts, especially in areas of continuing confrontations with rebel groups in Homs and the Qalamoun region of Damascus.

    “Hezbollah fighters are somewhat exhausted after the long battle in al-Zabadani [in Damascus] and elsewhere." This shows that "they have their limitations in Syria,” analyst Pollak said.

    Hezbollah’s longtime adversary, Israel, has been cautiously monitoring developments in Syria. While the Israeli government has remained largely neutral to Syria’s civil war, experts believe Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria could go both ways for Israel.

    “On one hand, it is beneficial for Israel if Hezbollah risks and loses its best personnel fighting in an unrelated conflict,” said Israeli journalist Roei Eisenberg. “But on the other, the group has amassed a lot of experience [in fighting in a major war].”

    Since the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war, the two sides have occasionally exchanged attacks. In the wake of the Syrian uprising, Israel has also hit Hezbollah targets inside Syria. The latest one took place last week in the Qalamoun region.  

    “[Israel] strikes [against Hezbollah in Syria] are conducted to avert arms shipments.  The message [is]: Keep the post-2006 status quo,” Eisenberg said.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: TRM from: USA
    November 11, 2015 12:59 PM
    The 900 Hezbollah KIA is probably a very low estimate.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    November 11, 2015 12:15 PM
    The alliance of Russia, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah are a pathetic fighting force. The US military would have made short work of IS if it put forces on the ground in a determined effort to defeat it. IS is not a particularly powerful foe. It has no air power, no sea power, most are not trained fighters, it has no effective command and control, no radar, no nothin'. It's all low tech.

    In open attacks the US has a vast array of armaments that can easily find and destroy their tanks, artillery, an whatever else they have in the way of heavy weapons. In battle the US controls the air, the sea, the skies, space, cyberspace, and the night. The US in battle is constrained by the concern for inadvertent civilian casualties. Russia and its allies aren't. If the US weren't concerned, it could go through Syria like a bulldozer goes through a beaver dam. Short of using nuclear weapons, Russia is virtually defenseless, its so called high tech weapons no match for America's.

    by: Anonymous
    November 11, 2015 7:29 AM
    Lets all not forget, Hezbollah is a known terrorist group, and has been branded that several years ago. Hezbollah from Iran have been going to Syria for their own (Iranian) agenda. I think it would be great if the ICC (International Criminal Court) went after all of those responsible for the majority of unarmed civilian deaths.

    Starting with assad, he scores the most for killing the most unarmed men, women, and children. Then comes ISIS, then comes Russia. Also it should be noted that most of the weapons used in Syria comes from Moscow. Anyone that aides someone with weapons to conduct crimes against humanity (Just plain, cold murder of many innocent people) should be held fully accountable, and just as liable as the killers pulling the triggers. It is time the world holds those guilty of murder 100% liable for their actions, whether or not they are a leader of a country. Murder is murder.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    November 11, 2015 9:50 AM
    Hey Anonymous _ IF Hezbollah joined the US and NATO in their (proxy war) against Assad and Syria, then the US would have them called Free Syrian army fighters, or at the least, "moderate" Free Syrian army fighters, wouldn't they? .. Hypocritical, isn't it?

    by: PaulS from: USA
    November 11, 2015 3:46 AM
    "Free Syrian Army" is an AQ group.
    Please stop promoting AQ groups under different names.

    The Kurds, the Syrian army, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are actually fighting ISIS and AQ.

    That is a good thing.

    We must be on their side, not on ISIS and AQ's side.

    Saudi Arabia and Turkey can't tell us what to think or see, we all know the truth.

    We just need the government and the military realize that the people of the US know the truth and side with the parties that are fighting ISIS and AQ, and leave the side of Saudis and Turkey that funds and supports ISIS and AQ.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    November 11, 2015 7:42 AM
    Paul you failed to mention that Assad's army has killed more innocent civilians than anyone in Syria. His daddy did the exact same thing and history can not be changed. If he couldn't pinpoint those he was going after he would wipe out entire areas of cities populated with unarmed innocent civilians. Assad broke his daddy's record for killing the most unarmed civilians with the Syrian army, For example the barrel bombing runs dropping bombs in civilian populated neighborhoods.

    Assad has also done more collateral damage in Syria than anyone, plunging the country backwards 75 years. If Assad can't own the people, he figures nobody can, at the cost of Syrian lives. Yes of course there is terror groups there too, but none of them have killed as many unarmed civilians as assad has. A good majority of Syrian people who are fed up with assad have had to bare arms and fight the Syrian government. Many of these Syrian civilians that have been fighting assads army have ancestors who were indiscriminately killed by assads dad, back when he went on a rampage years ago, history can't be changed.

    Assad has labelled anyone against himself as a terrorist, so he can indiscriminately kill any opposers within Syria and use it as an excuse to drop bombs anywhere in Syria whether populated with innocent people or not. He has not compensated ONE innocent civilians family or even said sorry for killing any civilians. Murder of the highest level. Destroying the culture of majority of Syria. The world feels bad for Syrians people. The world should go after those in Syria that have the most blood on their hands first.
    In Response

    by: Gene from: Texas USA
    November 11, 2015 6:43 AM
    PaulS from USA: ,,,"the people of the US know the truth and side with the parties that are fighting ISIS and AQ." Most of us do know the truth but you apparently don't know all of the truth. The Free Syrian Army is not an AQ group. It is a moderate Islamic group revolting against Assad. The US supports this group with training and ammunition.

    Who knows which side Turkey is supporting, They attack the Kurds who are fighting AQ while they occasionally bomb AQ. I doubt that Turkey "funds" either ISIS and AQ. ISIS at one time held 40 Turkey nationals hostage that staffed their diplomatic office at Mosul. I doubt Turkey is going to fund ISIS after doing that.

    Russia is entering the Syrian civil war to fight the Free Syrian Army and support Assad. If they should bomb ISIS or AQ, it is probably by mistake or accident. The only real truth known by us and the US is that its the Kurds that are fighting AQ and ISIS.

    by: John Macassey from: New Zealand
    November 11, 2015 1:58 AM
    I am surprised that Israel is so unconcerned about ISIS considering that the declared focus of ISIS is to rid the world of Jews as well as Christians and Allowites/Shiites.
    In Response

    by: Gene from: Texas USA
    November 11, 2015 7:02 AM
    Israel is not worried because it has by far the strongest armed forces in the area. ISIS is only able to survive because of the ineptitude and weakness of the armed forces being thrown against it. Iraq's armed forces couldn't break up a bar fight on a Saturday night where as Israel has the fire power to destroy ISIS but doesn't because it would be choosing sides. It would risk Muslim countries declaring war against it. It won't attack ISIS unless ISIS attacks Israel.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    November 10, 2015 9:23 PM
    [A Wise Man said that a person should remember], that the Syrian army is really small without enough men for a major countrywide assault, and after all the deaths and desertions from it's conscripts over the last 41/2 years, the remaining loyal Syrian troops needed help desperately from Iran and Hezbollah to fight against the tens of thousands of foreign Sunni Muslim terrorists that the US had armed and trained in Turkey and Jordan to wage war on the Shia Muslim government of Assad and Syria, and replace it with a Sunni Muslim government?

    [A Wise Man has to wonder], how so many Syrians would continue to fight and die for Assad and his Shia Muslim government after 41/2 years, if Assad was so guilty of all the atrocities the US propaganda said he was guilty of? .. [The loyalty of the Syrian army and the Syrian people to Assad after 41/2 years, debunks the US anti-Assad propaganda that they continuously spread, don't you think?] .. [nobody fights and dies for tyrants?]
    In Response

    by: Gene from: Texas USSA
    November 11, 2015 6:54 AM
    meanbill from USA: The flaw in your analysis of the Syrian civil war is that the people loyal to Assad know he is a tyrant but he is the better choice. Should any of the opposition parties succeed in over throwing Assad, they are likely to either wind up in prison or in front of a firing squad. The Christians for example. The people who comprise his branch of Islam, the Alawites are another example who stand to lose if Assad is over thrown.

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