Just as the Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah sent thousands of fighting men into Syria on the sly to fight for the Assad regime in the winter of 2012, so it is now pulling them back in the same furtive fashion in small, inconspicuous bands. debkafile’s Middle East sources report that 1,500 Hizballah fighters are home out of 3,500 still awaiting repatriation last month. By early November, they are all expected to be out of Syria.
Hizballah’s leaders and backers rate the operation a major success: It gave President Bashar Assad a valuable boost for his regime’s survival against a major uprising. Hizballah’s military involvement in the Syrian civil war went through unopposed by the US or any regional power, such as Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia or Qatar. And, finally, Tehran for the first time fielded a surrogate force for a winning role to determine the outcome of a conflict in one of its most important strategic arenas.
Hizballah’s rapid exit from Syria is the outcome of five developments in the region and beyond:
1. It signifies the close interdependence of the US-Russian understanding for Syria’s chemical disarmament and the deal unfolding between the US, Russia and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Progress in negotiations with Iran is clearly interlocked with progress on Syria.
2. Assad and his regime are now firm enough in the saddle to dispense with Hizballah’s military assistance.
3. Hizballah needs to whisk its militiamen out of Syria before the inspectors of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-OPCW, the first of whom arrived in Damascus Tuesday, Oct. 1, fan out across the country and get down to work. The Lebanese Shiite group is anxious to keep its expeditionary force in Syria out of sight so as to preserve the closely guarded secrets of its makeup and modes of operation.
4. The Hizballah militia comes out of the Syrian war toughened by combat experience and well-trained in the running of regular military units in battle conditions under combined Iranian-Syrian command.
In comparison, Israel’s armed forces, the IDF, have not faced combat conditions in the field since the Second Lebanon War of 2006, while Hizballah, which is dedicated to destroying Israel, despite its heavy war losses, has just survived the test of fire on the Syrian battlefield.
5. At Tehran’s behest, Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is turning his attention inward to Beirut. His assignment is to promote a political set-up that will support future accords on Syria between the US, Russia and Iran. He is therefore abandoning his strong opposition to a national unity government in Beirut and helping to get one installed.
In his latest speech Sunday, Oct. 6, at the Begin-Sadat Center of Bar Ilan University, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared: “The goal of Iran today is to control the Middle East and beyond, and to destroy the State of Israel. That is not speculation; that is the goal.”
But he had no word to offer on what Israel was going to do to stop Tehran achieving its goal or disarm Iran’s faithful operational arm to prevent it pursuing its master’s Middle East objectives.