By Wednesday, Sept. 6, day three of the big IDF exercise for war with Hizballah – after the Syrian army and two Hizballah brigades, with massive Russian air and missile support, had broken the three-year ISIS siege of Deir ez-Zour – it was evident that Hizballah was fighting a different war from the scenario tens of thousands of Israeli troops were practicing in the north.
debkafile’s military sources have no doubt that without this Russian support, the Syrians and Hizballah would have found it much harder to knock down ISIS defenses, before advancing into the long-beleaguered eastern town, free the wretched population and reunite with the force holding out in the trapped Syrian airbase.
Russian jets were there to hit any ISIS fighters emerging to refortify damaged lines and rebuild military positions and prevent manpower moving between points. The defense ministry in Moscow confirmed that a Russian warship in the Mediterranean had fired Kalibr cruise missiles to destroy an ISIS communications and command center, ammo depots and an armored vehicle repair shop. The ISIS occupiers of Deir ez-Zour had no air defense missiles for hampering Russian air strikes.
This Deir ez-Zour operation counts nonetheless as a major victory for the Syrian ruler, Bashar Assad, and his army, although there is still more fighting ahead in the east, as the defeated ISIS withdraws eastward towards another of its strongholds, the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Abu Kamal.
HIzballah certainly shares in this victory against ISIS in ten days of fighting.
It is not its first. Last week, the clash of arms against ISIS and other Islamist groups in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border ended in their virtual surrender and withdrawal.
Notwithstanding vehement denials, there was coordination between the Syrian, Lebanese and Hizballah forces battling ISIS enclaves on both sides of that border, with US and British special forces also taking part. It was this virtual coalition which tipped the balance and led to the operation’s successful conclusion.
We are therefore seeing Hizballah emeging as an army, which has gained valuable combat experience in five years of fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian army and foreign Shiite militias. This experience was enhanced in recent weeks by close military conjunction with two world powers, Russia and the United States.
The IDF drill which has another seven days to go is geared to fighting a war triggered by a Hizballah invasion of northern Israel from Lebanon. Is that scenario still realistic in the light of that experience and the latest events on two Syrian battles?
Most unlikely, say our military sources. They note that, building on its gains and experience in the Syrian war arena, Hizballah may well choose a quite different tactic, e.g, an attempt to draw Israeli forces into Lebanon and then Syria by opening a second front against the IDF from there. In Syria, Hizballah can count on the support of the Syrian army and pro-Iranian Shiite militias – an alliance which has proved itself in Syria – whereas an invasion of northern Israel would find Hizballah fighting alone and surrounded by Israeli forces.
In the remaining seven days of the exercise, the IDF still has a chance to update its scenario.