After invading Syria, does Hezbollah threaten Israel or Turkish-Saudi interests?
When the Shiite group’s fighters first poured into Syria to fight the mostly Sunni rebels, many observers expected Hezbollah to be worn down and its reputation as the pre-eminent anti-Israel force to be tarnished as it was dragged into a sectarian conflict.
Instead, Hezbollah, closely allied to Iran, looks set to emerge more powerful than before — one of the big winners of Syria’s war, according to a Financial Times report.
“They set an unpopular policy in Syria, even for their own constituents, and steamrollered it through; they set off on military expeditions far outside their borders and were successful,” says an Israeli security consultant who asked not to be named. “They did a 180-degree shift from a guerrilla force to an invading force.”
The report added that The threat Hezbollah poses to US interests could stretch beyond Israel. Growing ties between Hezbollah and Iranian-backed paramilitaries in Iraq, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), has in effect created a roving force that may seek to continue wielding power in the region. That could have ramifications for Sunni states and US allies, such as Saudi Arabia, seeking to curb Iran’s influence.
“Will they continue to operate outside of Lebanon in tandem with pro-Iranian forces that may be used to pressure other governments in the region? Whether it is Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Jordan,” Wael Alzayat, a former adviser to Samantha Power when she was US ambassador to the UN says. “Because that’s where I think we’re heading: the PMF, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime continue to try to work with the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard] to maintain their influence, all the way from really the Iranian border to Lebanon.”
IDF officials said in December that research they conducted on Hezbollah indicated the group had a 30,000-strong force but had lost more than 1,700 fighters in Syria — more than twice the number it lost in the 2006 war with Israel. But the bigger issue for Israel is the lessons Hezbollah picked up on Syria’s battlefields, an IDF official said. “They are learning,” the official said. “I don’t know how relevant it is for a war with Israel, but experience is important.”