Small Wars Journal

What is Hezbollah’s Role in the Syrian Crisis?

What is Hezbollah’s Role in the Syrian Crisis? By Nicholas A. Heras, Jamestown Foundation.

Recent reports of an increase in Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s civil war as combatants alongside the Syrian military represent a potentially sharp escalation in the regional impact of the ongoing conflict. Accusations concerning Hezbollah’s military support for the Assad government leveled by the party’s Lebanese political opponents, the Syrian opposition and pro-opposition states have been persistent since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011...


A number of Israeli generals have noted in articles that absent an attack by Hezbollah, Israel has no interest in conducting offensive operations into Lebanon -- as it is not Israel's concern which group or groups politically control or rule their neighbors. Israel is willing (even under their current government) to live alongside nations or geographical entities controlled by political groups seeking their destruction as they know these groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah will never possess the military strength to destroy Israel.

Hezbollah is not unaware of the above Israeli position and realizes it can assist its fellow Shiites in Syria without interference from Israel. While Israel understands that breaking the Shiite hold on Syria can / may disrupt the route through which Hezbollah receives its weapons from Iran, they do not necessarily look forward to the government which will replace Assad, should that occur. Israel and Syria (under the Assad's) have settled into a compatible relationship. Neither country likes the other, but they are not willing to enter into a conflict with the other as they see no possible advantage resulting from that conflict. As the saying goes, better the enemy you know than the one you do not know.

Israel would emerge militarily victorious from a military contest with Syria, but to what avail -- they would gain nothing of political value. Syria is not interested in a conflict with Israel as they know they will most certainly be defeated and, with an army in ruin, they will (or may) not be able to put down a Sunni revolt -- at least in this scenario.

The question, therefore, is to what extent is Hezbollah aiding Syria. An interesting aspect of this question not addressed, to my knowledge, is whether Hezbollah will provide and allow its tactical missiles to be used to support Syria in the event of a Turkish intervention -- which I believe unlikely as the Turkish (short term conscript manned) army's ability is vastly overrated and there is a large percentage of the Turkish population against sending their soldiers into an Arab country. Hezbollah missiles fired in significant numbers into Turkey would not only cause a major disruption of their economy (in the affected areas) and in all likelihood bring anti-war crowds into the streets and threaten Erdogan's rule.

Turkey's political leaders occasionally talk tough, but they never follow that speech up with truly forceful and effective action. Since the purging of many of their best military officers, their army has shown itself incapable of subduing the PKK -- which seems to ambush Turkish units whenever they attempt punishing operations in Kurdish territory and the dismal performance of that Turkish F-4 that was shot down don't bode well for Turkish army or their air force's capabilities.

One question among many, therefore, -- is the Turkish government concerned that in the event it was to significantly intervene in Syria Hezbollah would respond and assist the Assad government by moving its mobile missiles into positions in Syria, and possibly in Lebanon, and from those locations fire them into Turkey?