By Avi Issacharoff, TOI
It’s too early to be certain, but it seems the battles waged by Hezbollah, along with thousands of Syrian army troops and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, against the anti-Syrian opposition militias on the Syrian Golan Heights, are only getting started.
But for now at least, the momentum is on the side of the Shiite axis, which has managed to capture several villages and towns from the Syrian Southern Front group and the Nusra Front, the organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, considered to be the dominant military power in the southern Daraa province.
Still, the outcome on the Golan has not been decided. After a few days of progress, the snow and the rain slowed down Hezbollah. But even now that the weather is improving, the task is not proving easy for the organization, which has been driven to the edge of its military capabilities. The region’s south, i.e. the triangle between Quneitra, Daraa and the southern suburbs of Damascus, is still considered a stronghold of Hezbollah’s opponents not affiliated with the Islamic State. While the rebels’ weapons and military abilities are limited, their motivation is high as the area is considered to be nearly the “last bastion” of non-IS opposition forces in Syria.
But even if Hezbollah’s operation in Syria succeeds and the group is able to occupy the Golan Heights, that won’t mean the battle has been won. The organization has made visible strategic gains, defeating opposition forces in the mountains along the Lebanese border, only to see the combat renewed a few short months later. In the Syrian Golan Heights, this is also a likely scenario, as, just as before, opposition fighters will most likely try to regain control of the area, which they too consider critical for their military purposes.
But regardless of the outcome of the week-old operation, the very fact that Hezbollah set out on a ground campaign inside Syrian territory is an extraordinary statement. The placement of thousands of the group’s soldiers near the Syrian-Israeli border, with the organization not even trying to conceal its involvement in the battles, signifies much more than just another operation. This is a new strategy. First, on the geopolitical level, Hezbollah is trying to implement the vision only recently introduced by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, according to whom the Syrian Golan Heights and South Lebanon are a united front. To put it more bluntly, the old order and the old geographical distribution between Syria and Lebanon is now utterly irrelevant as far as the group is concerned.
In other words, no more separation between President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria and Nasrallah’s organization in Lebanon; they are now single entity that controls parts of Syria and most of Lebanon. In the past, the leaders of Syria, including Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, saw Lebanon as part of greater Syria. Now, the sliver of Syria controlled by Assad has become part of Hezbollah’s, or rather Iran’s, greater Lebanon. The old countries have died; long live the smaller Greater Syria — …read more