Thousands of Hezbollah troops fighting, hundreds killed in Syria, study confirms
The Lebanese Shi'ite group is also training a 'popular army' with as many as 150,000 members in the event the Assad regime falls.
Thousands of Hezbollah fighters are taking part in the Syrian civil war and several hundred have been killed, according to a report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center released this week.
The Israeli research center also reports that Hezbollah helps train regime forces in guerrilla warfare, urban warfare, explosives and sniping. The Shi'ite group also carries out intelligence and border security, and operates against members of the Syrian opposition living in Lebanon.
The report mentions two main regions where Hezbollah is fighting; one is south of Homs, where the Syrian army said Wednesday it had taken over the city of Al-Qusayr. At the time of writing early this week, the Meir Amit center said more than 60 Hezbollah fighters had been killed at Al-Qusayr.
The other area of fighting is near the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque in southern Damascus, which is sacred to Shi'ites. At the time of writing, the center estimated that 22 Hezbollah fighters had been killed defending the complex, which contains the grave of Zaynab, granddaughter of the prophet Mohammed. It said a total of 96 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the general area.
In addition, Hezbollah is training militias in the event the Assad regime is overthrown. The Israel Defense Forces' intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, told the Herzliya Conference in March that these militias numbered 50,000 people.
The Meir Amit center says this “popular army” may have as many as 150,000 fighters who could "give Iran and Hezbollah a foothold in the areas populated by Shi'ites and Alawites,making them important factors in the internal Syrian arena in the post-Bashar Assad era."
The report also discusses Hezbollah's benefits from fighting in Syria. First, it has an opportunity to get its hands on advanced weaponry like the Iranian-made Fateh-100 missiles that Israel bombed last month, according to foreign media organizations.
By fighting in Syria, Hezbollah also opens another front against Israel – the border in the Golan Heights. In a speech last month, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah mentioned “opening the Golan Heights front,” saying Hezbollah would work with the Assad regime “for the liberation of the Syrian Golan Heights.”
The Meir Amit center also describes Hezbollah's risks; for example, the civil war could seep into Lebanon, while Hezbollah’s reputation could suffer in the Arab world for supporting the Assad regime.
The center also describes how Iran is propping up the Syrian regime, providing military consulting, arms and funding. According to the report, the man managing Iranian aid to the Assad regime is Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force.
Citing American media reports, the center says Iranian transport planes carry arms to Syria, mainly through Iraqi airspace. Some planes allegedly land at the Beirut airport before being transferred to the Assad regime.
In late April, Syrian central bank governor Adib Mayaleh told Reuters that Iran had extended a $1 billion credit line to Syria, and that Damascus was near agreement with Russia and Iran on more funding. According to the Meir Amit center, the Revolutionary Guards' presence in Syria is small and the group is rarely involved in the fighting.