Will Shiite Militia Operatives Come to Lebanon as Reinforcements for Hezbollah During a War?

Recently, there have been increasing numbers of reports regarding the scenario of thousands of Shiite militia operatives, operating under Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, preparing to physically arrive in Lebanon as reinforcements for Hezbollah if a full-scale war with Israel breaks out. Concrete statements have been made about the intention to fight alongside Hezbollah if war erupts, and that militia operatives from the Popular Mobilization Forces of Iraq (Hashd al-Shaabi), the Fatemiyoun Brigade, the Zainebiyoun Brigade, and the Yemenite Houthis could deploy to Lebanon to participate in the war.

In June 2017, Nasrallah stated, “Today, everyone should know that the axis of resistance is stronger. The Israeli enemy should know that if it starts a war against Syria or Lebanon, it is not a given that the fighting will remain Lebanese-Israeli or Syrian-Israeli. This does not mean that I am saying that countries will intervene directly. But it is possible that the skies will open up so that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of jihad fighters and fighters from all over the Arab and Islamic world will participate in this battle—from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan…”

On July 25, 2022, in a television interview marking the 40th anniversary of Hezbollah’s founding and amid tensions over maritime border arrangements with Israel and the Karish gas field, Nasrallah noted that it is very likely that if war breaks out, it will not remain limited to Lebanon and Israel and that other actors will join it.

What did Nasrallah mean? Will there be a physical reinforcement of militia operatives to assist Hezbollah in Lebanon?

We estimate that Nasrallah was referring to the strategy of unified fronts, meaning participation in the fighting from the other arenas where the Shiite axis operates. He did not mean the physical arrival of Shiite militia operatives to the geographical territory of Lebanon. This assessment is reinforced by his speech on June 19, commemorating the late Haj Abu Talib, the commander of the Nasr Unit. Nasrallah mentioned that militia leaders in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of operatives to assist Hezbollah, but added that Hezbollah already has more than 100,000 active combat terror operatives.

In our understanding, Hezbollah is not interested in foreign operatives arriving in Lebanon. Hezbollah understands that their arrival would cause more harm than good for it, in terms of military command and control, economic aspects, resource allocation, discipline, morale, demography, and the overall impact on Hezbollah’s DNA and the Lebanese – Shiite base in general.

We estimate that the only Shiite militia operatives who will physically come to Lebanon are the Lebanese operatives of the Imam Hussein militia operating in Syria. These are operatives who were essentially loaned from Hezbollah to the militia and are originally Hezbollah operatives. Some have already returned to Lebanon and joined the fighting against Israel in the southern front.

We assess that if a full-scale war breaks out between Hezbollah and Israel, the main arena from which Shiite militia operatives will operate will be Syria. Today, tens of thousands of Shiite militia operatives operate across Syria under the sponsorship of the IRGC. These operatives are deployed mainly in eastern Syria (the geographic strip between Al-Bukamal and Deir ez-Zor), Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus (Sayyida Zainab). An unknown number of Shiite militia operatives are also in southern Syria, primarily in the Khan Arnabeh and Daraa areas (estimates range from a few hundred to several thousand operatives).

It appears highly likely that, in addition to the war on the Lebanese front, Israel will also have to engage in significant combat on the Syrian front against those militia operatives, who will launch attacks against Israeli territory using all their available weapons (missiles, rockets, UAVs, etc.).

Another significant threat will likely manifest in close-range combat. Shiite militia operatives in Syria will attempt to conduct physical ground attacks against Israel, infiltrate the border, and possibly even seize territories and take over communities in the Golan Heights (it cannot be ruled out that such action will be carried out with the assistance of the Syrian army).

Hezbollah’s Southern Command Unit, responsible for operational coordination with the Syrian army on the Golan Heights front and coordinating military activities against Israel from this front, will oversee the attacks against Israel from southern Syria by integrating Shiite militias into the offensive effort. Local Syrian militias can also join them. The number of their operatives is estimated at a few thousand and they are mercenaries of the Shia axis.

Additionally, Hezbollah will intensively use the Golan File Unit from southern Syria to carry out targeted terror activities against Israel, including indirect fire, explosives, UAVs and drones, sniping, anti-tank missiles, and even targeted infiltrations into Israeli communities.

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Tal Beeri

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