Has Russia asked Hezbollah to leave Syria?


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Damascus, by Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai

There has been a lot of media coverage claiming that Russia has requested the Lebanese Hezbollah to leave Syrian territory, speculation initiated following Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s announcement of the withdrawal of his men from the Lebanese border, with the exception of the outskirts of the city of Arsal. Nasrallah asked the Lebanese army to fill the vacuum from the Lebanese side (Hezbollah won’t pull out of the Syrian side) and that prompted some media and analysts to conclude that Moscow no longer wants Hezbollah to remain in the Levant. Is this theory close to reality?

The border area between Lebanon and Syria, controlled by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, is under the gaze of Israel because it represents Hezbollah’s new base:, it hosts Hezbollah “Al Ridwan” elite forces, and its strategic missile silos are dug into the mountains and fortified in the caves all along the 130 kilometre border area. The area was a heavy burden on the Hezbollah military apparatus, forcing it to create new roads, fortify dozens of sites and find adequate shelter for its strategic missiles – the M 600 and the new version of its Iran-made “Al-Fateh” missiles – inside the mountains. Moreover, Hezbollah has operated in the area for the last 3 years throughout the summer and the winter, even on peaks of up to 2,500 meters, a significant drain on its already significant monthly budget.

More than 500 al-Qaeda and rebel fighters were deployed in this same area, apart from the presence of ISIS (The “Islamic State” group). These forced Hezbollah to deploy at least 5,000 fighters just to that area. Additionally, Hezbollah used drones, set up dozens of ambushes and positioned IEDs to hunt down its enemies and tighten the control over a significantly difficult geographical area.

After many years of war, Hezbollah managed to control a large part of the region: this means al-Qaeda, ISIS and the rebels would have been left without any military gain had these decided to stay in the area.

When most Syrian areas along the borders with Lebanon -in the Qalamoun and Zabadani mainly- agreed a settlement with the Syrian leadership in Damascus; and (following the agreement of the parties in the war in Syria on the rebel side) agreed – under the auspices of Russia, Turkey and Iran – to “stop fighting and leave the area (only those willing to leave to Idlib, while many Syrians preferred to stay in their cities) it was no longer possible for rebels and jihadists to keep up the fight.

This coincides with the request of Moscow for the Hezbollah leadership to increase the number of “Ridwan” forces and to push these men towards the Syrian semi-desert steppe: that was possible for Hezbollah, following the end of the military operation in the border area.

Hezbollah’s military activity on the eastern chain was difficult and painful. Huge budgets were invested to allow men to operate and fight in the area. Today, however, the threat has almost ended. Most of the Hezbollah forces have moved to other areas inside Syria.

The “Ridwan” Hezbollah forces, along with hundreds of Russian special forces and the Syrian army and its proxies, are now fighting to recover the oil fields (exploited by Russia in Syria) and to stop the American-British-Jordanian project to create a “buffer zone” starting from the Suweida and Daraa governed territories and extending towards the Iraqi border, Deir al-Zour from Palmyra to Sukhna.

It is clear that the US – which supports the progress of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) made up of Kurds and of Arab tribes under the Kurdish leadership in the northeast of Syria – is not yet ready to guide its proxies towards the city of Deir Al-Zour, besieged as it is by ISIS. ISIS is indeed crumbling in Iraq and Syria but not yet that weak in Deir Al-Zour province, and especially not in the Syrian Badia (steppe).

Russia, Damascus and their allies are headed towards Deir Al-Zour, regardless of the US and their proxies rebels forces’ plan to control the Syrian steppe and the city of Deir Al-Zour (which host large numbers of Syrian Army officers and soldiers, along with Hezbollah Special Forces). Moreover, Damascus has sent a clear signal to Amman, a threat that it would consider the Jordanian forces as enemies if these set foot on Syrian soil in support of the US and its Syrian proxies. This clear and direct menace stopped the American-British-Jordanian progress and has put these forces in an awkward position with the Damascus authorities.

The Hezbollah “Ridwan” Special Forces were therefore pushed into the battles of Deir Al-Zour, al-Sukhna, al-Raqqah, and Daraa in order to recover the area around these cities and locations, but above all, to spoil the US plans to occupy the North- east of Syria.

As for Russia, its forces and Generals are closely watching the Syrian battles, especially those waged by the Lebanese Hezbollah. Russian officers draw military lessons and know-how from the performance of the “Ridwan” special forces and the quality and effectiveness of the weapons and the tactics used, specially after Hezbollah’s accumulated experience in the long war with Israel and its multi-level wars in Syria where they faced forces pursuing a variety of well-developed methods and ideologies.

Russia has never had a similar battle in its history, so there is a widespread interest expressed by a heavy presence of experts on all fronts. This is not only to seek air support and to participate in the fighting, but – indeed – also to watch the fights.

Hezbollah has succeeded in changing the equation in Syria in conjunction with the Russian and Syrian air forces and has carried out several major battles., the most important of which were the battles of Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and those on the Syrian-Lebanese borders (Al-Qalamoun and Zabadani), al-Quseyr, the various Lattakia axes, around Damascus at Qaboun, Barza, WadiBarada and Madaya.

Because the end of military operations on the Syrian-Lebanese border is nigh, Hezbollah has managed to direct more than 20,000 troops to other internal but strategic fronts. The fronts around Damascus and Zabadani also allowed more than 10,000 Syrian troops to be moved to “hotter” areas.

Sources connected with decision makers in Syria confirmed that Hezbollah is building up greater forces in Syria to reach an unprecedented level, supported by huge logistic supply lines to accompany the fighting force. Significant military plans are being prepared for after the forthcoming month of Ramadan to end the presence of al-Qaeda and ISIS militants around Arsal city. These militants will be offered the chance to leave and join Idlib or fight to the end on the Syrian-Lebanese border, an area excluded from the Astana-Kazakhstan negotiations.

If Hezbollah withdraws from the Lebanese border, it will not leave the Syrian side of the borders where it has established static positions, military training cities, and sites for its weapons involved in any forthcoming war with Israel. Syria has become directly involved in this particular Hezbollah-Israel conflict. Hezbollah has also introduced the concept of “the Syrian resistance” in the ideology,: this has become a reality that Israel will find difficult to ignore in the near future when the war in Syria ends.

The “Shiite Crescent,” which extends from Tehran – Baghdad -Damascus and continues to Beirut, is not related to a certain geographical line crossing through this or that capital, as some sources imagine. It is in fact a “project” that materialised with the US invasion to Iraq in 2003 and following the ISIS occupation of Mosul in 2014. These events strengthened this virtual link without weakening it at all. This indicates that only ending the Middle East conflicts will make long-term stability possible in the area. The presence of the US occupation forces in North and northeast Syria will only create more conflict, reminding everyone of the Iraqi insurgency memory regarding Mesopotamia. The United States is clearly unwilling or unable to learn from history.

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