What did Syria’s war do to Hezbollah?

What is the most visible impact of Syrian conflict on Hezbollah and how would you shortly assess a position of Hezbollah after 6 years of Syrian conflict, is Hezbollah stronger, weaker or basically the same, and why? Read few comments.

Aurélie Daher, Visiting Scholar, University of Oxford, Author of the book: Hezbollah: Mobilization and Power

Since the beginning of Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian conflict on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s army in May 2013, many observers have predicted Hezbollah’s decline — if not its mere disappearance. Fact is that four years after this first entry into the eastern neighbor’s civil war, Hezbollah seems stronger than ever. Its men, already well trained for the largest part of them, have undoubtedly benefitted from the last four years battling on the ground, reinforcing their military skills. It is no wonder that a Pasdaran official admitted that “after years spent by the Pasdaran training Hezbollah fighters, it is now Hezbollah’s officers who teach the young Pasdaran in Iran’s military schools”. No wonder either that when the Russians interfered in the Syrian conflict in late 2015, they insisted, on their first meeting with the military staff of all the allies on the ground, on Hezbollah being present and talking for themselves, instead of being represented by Syrian officers.

A lot has also been said about Hezbollah’s mobilisation at home, and a possible dissatisfaction of its main community — the Shiites — with the toll taken by the Syrian war amongst the young people of the community. But again, four years after Hezbollah’s choice to join the Syrian war, the Shiites of Lebanon, as well as most of the Christians, remain in reality too scared of a possible radical, Sunni threat coming from Syria, to turn their back on Hezbollah.

Alexander CorbeilDirector, NATO Association of Canada

The most visible and enduring impact of the Syrian conflict on Hezbollah has been an increase in its military prowess. The nature of the war in Syria has forced Hezbollah to develop enhanced offensive capabilities and has transformed its armed wing from insurgent group to hybrid military, which now boasts an armored division. While not all of what the organization has learned will be applicable to the next round of conflict with Israel, new strategies, tactics and weapons transferred from the Syrian conflict space are sure to make an impactful appearance.

As for Hezbollah’s overall position, militarily and politically within Lebanon it has become much stronger due to its involvement in Syria. Not only is it by far the strongest military force at home, it also has an ally in Lebanon’s President and plays a strong role in the government.

As for its domestic standing with some elements of the Lebanese population, this has surely been negatively impacted by its involvement in Syria. It is also no longer seen by many in the region as a legitimate resistance force, but rather a sectarian tool of Iranian foreign policy. But as it has lost much of the Sunni street it has promoted itself as a protector of Shia in the region and beyond, helping to spread the Iranian ideology and influence.

Jonathan SchanzerVice President of Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

The Syria war has had a significant impact on Hezbollah from several perspectives.

First, the Iranians deployed Hezbollah to Syria to defend the Assad regime. This is significant in that it is now clear that Hezbollah is a subservient proxy of Iran. There is no denying it.

It is also noteworthy that an estimated 7,000 Hezbollah troops have been deployed to Syria, where they have gained valuable experience on the battlefield.

Of course, there have also been an estimated 1,500 Hezbollah deaths. This has been a source of controversy among the Shi’ites of Lebanon who don’t necessary agree with the deployment of their kin to fight against fellow Muslims, as opposed to fighting Israel.

In the end, when assessing the overall strength of the group, one must look at the weapons that it has amassed. Hezbollah now has an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets. Many of these are not terribly powerful or long-range. But some are. And some of them are described by the Israelis as “strategic,” meaning that they can change the shape of the battlefield.

Overall, the group is stronger. The Israelis see Hezbollah as a strategic threat, and one that will likely need to be faced sooner rather than later.

 

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