The Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah has emerged as the “one clear winner” from the destruction of the Syrian civil war, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
“Hezbollah,” the Journal observed, “is today stronger, more independent and in command of a new Syrian militia that its officials say is ready to be deployed to other conflicts in the region.”
The Lebanon-based group’s militants now fight alongside Russian troops in Syria, “its first alliance with a global power,” the Journal explained. Hezbollah is also credited with devising the plans for Iran, Russia, and Syria to retake the eastern section of Aleppo from rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
“Thanks to money and arms from Tehran, Hezbollah now stands almost on a par with Iran as a protector of President Bashar al-Assad’s government,” the Journal assessed, “and as a sponsor of Shiite fighting forces in Syria.”
Andrew Exum, a former Defense Department official, told the Journal, “It’s hard to see people rising through Syrian intelligence or military ranks without the blessing of Hezbollah or the Iranians.”
In addition to having already achieved a degree of power within Syria, Hezbollah is poised to see its importance increase in the coming years. Leveraging the experience it gained in rebuilding Lebanon after its 2006 war with Israel, “Hezbollah is well-positioned to make a lot of money” from rebuilding Syria, former Treasury and State Department official Matthew Levitt said. The civil war in Syria has caused $180 billion worth of damage, according to a World Bank estimate.
The creation of the “Brigade for the Liberation of the Golan” under the authority of Hezbollah is an indication that the terror group is gearing to attack Israel, according to a senior official from an alliance of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. The source also noted that Hezbollah “has now developed traditional and nontraditional means of war. It fights like a guerrilla army but also like a conventional one.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned President Donald Trump in February that Hezbollah now has the ability to threaten American warships in the region, diplomats familiar with the meeting between the leaders reported. A State Department official said that the United States is concerned with Hezbollah’s growing power and considers disruption of its military capabilities a major priority.
Hezbollah’s growing power and influence has also affected regional dynamics. Sunni Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fear the extension of Iranian power and are quietly working with Israel.
Whereas Hezbollah was previously being armed and supported by Iran, now it not only fights alongside Russian troops, but appears to have access to Russian weaponry.
In Syria, Hezbollah has, in some ways, eclipsed the Assad regime as the main power. The Journal noted that in November, Hezbollah conducted a military parade displaying armored vehicles, including American tanks, and anti-aircraft systems.
“To host a military parade commending yourselves in another country is as bold as you can get,” a former State Department official said. “It’s telling your masters ‘We’re here now.'”
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