Hezbollah is dramatically increasing its involvement in Syria’s civil war, “raising alarm among U.S. officials,” the WSJ reports. Interviews with local residents reveal that for the second straight day, Hizbollah terrorists are fighting side-by-side with Syrian troops in attacking the opposition held town of Qusayr, ten miles inside Syria, the paper reports.
U.S. officials tell the Journal they believe 2,000 to 2,500 “trained and battle-hardened” Hezbollah fighters are now in Syria and could make their way to other jihadist battle fields in the future. Hezbollah fighters are particularly prevalent in the flashpoint Qusayr area along the Syria-Lebanon border:
Qusayr’s capture would mark the Assad regime’s first military victory with Hezbollah’s direct aid. It would eliminate a key rebel threat to a corridor that runs between Damascus and Syria’s Mediterranean coast, where the Assad regime enjoys its deepest support.
The battle also shows Iran’s lengthening shadow on Syria’s war: Hezbollah, after spending nearly two years on the sidelines of Syria’s conflict, has joined the battle at what appears to be Tehran’s urging.
Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is proof, say opponents in Lebanon, that it is placing its relationship with Tehran—and on resisting Israel and preserving its pivotal place in a Shiite axis of influence—above its domestic duties.
The Iranian-back terrorist group Hezbollah has been plotting with its paymasters in Tehran to enact a plan to militarily sieze control of Syria with a 150,000 man force should Assad fall. Late last month, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently traveled to Iran for secret meetings with Iran’s Supreme Leader and the head of the Revolutionary Guards to discuss the plan and other issues.
Alongside its heightened military activity, Hezbollah has also accelerated the worldwide criminal activity it uses as its main fundraising tool. Matthew Levitt, a counterterrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said last week:
Hezbollah is engaged in an amazingly broad array of illicit activities, from counterfeiting currencies, documents and goods to credit card fraud, money laundering, arms smuggling and narcotics trafficking. Hezbollah, one investigator quipped, is like the “Gambinos on steroids”…
Most of Hezbollah’s illicit operations take place in the loosely regulated triborder area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Ties between Hezbollah and drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border have also grown in recent years.
Levitt noted that Hezbollah’s criminal operations are likely to gain even more momentum as its Syrian government benefactor – second only to Iran in its largesse – finds itself weaker, distracted and ultimately, perhaps, overthrown.