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Hezbollah's Heavy Losses

After a week's worth of fighting in Syria, the Islamic resistance licks its wounds.

3:16 PM, May 24, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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As Badran explains, it was Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani who ordered Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah to send fighters to defend Iran’s vital interests in Syria. However, Hezbollah’s performance to date suggests that the Iranians may be holding a much weaker hand than they let on. If the Party of God is trounced by the Syrian rebels, what does that say of Hezbollah’s ability to make war on Israel?

One issue of course is that Hezbollah is not accustomed to this kind of combat. Typically the party of God fights guerilla wars on its own terrain, where it not only knows every inch of the territory, but is also able to melt into the civilian population whose support it can count on. With Qusayr, Hezbollah finds itself on unfamiliar ground and having trouble mounting an offensive, as this sound recording of Hezbollah fighters at Qusayr in apparent disarray shows.

Hezbollah has come under heavy criticism throughout the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and even its own Shia community, for making war on Syrians and thereby showing that the banner of resistance against Israel was merely a ruse. With Qusayr, Hezbollah has dropped all pretense of “resistance” and is instead an occupying force—and one subject to the same sorts of tactics, including ambushes, it normally employs against Israel. Hezbollah’s failures as an expeditionary force are a significant problem, as Badran explains, because the organization has let on that in the next round with the IDF it will go on the offensive and infiltrate northern Israel. Qusayr may well give Iran second thoughts about taking the fight to the enemy.

Indeed, Tehran may need to reconsider its regional strategy in its entirety. How much of an asset is Hezbollah in protecting Iran’s nuclear program? If the United States or Israel were to strike its nuclear facilities now, it’s doubtful Hezbollah would be able to fight on two fronts at once. The other issue is the quality and number of Hezbollah fighters. The July 2006 war with Israel cost Hezbollah between 500-600 dead, Badran writes, leaving them with a depleted force of experienced fighters. Pictures of the Hezbollah members killed in Qusayr show that most of the dead are too young to have been of fighting age in 2006. Rather, they’re recruits, “elite” by Hezbollah standards, but effectively cannon fodder. Sources explain that families of the dead are starting to grumble, wondering why their boys are being sent off to die in Syria. After all, if the purpose of Hezbollah is to defend Lebanon from Israel, wouldn’t sending fighters to Syria make the home-front more vulnerable to the depredations of the Zionists? That’s perhaps why Hezbollah is reluctant to send more experienced fighters to Syria—though there have already been some older members, perhaps commanders, killed—since it means risking losing battle-hardened units for the next round with Israel.

Hezbollah just doesn’t have any good options right now, unless they’re able to turn things around on the battlefield. If they don’t, Iran is in a bind. All that money and time Tehran has invested in exporting Khomeini’s revolution may come to nothing in the end. After all, the point of the Islamic resistance was to jump the Sunni-Shia divide, as well as the Arab-Persian one. As long as Iran could herd the Muslim Middle East into one big fold of resistance against Israel and the West, it could dream of overturning a millennium of Middle East history dominated by the Sunnis. That’s coming to look more and more like a millennial fantasy.

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