Ali Hashisho / REUTERS Hezbollah members at the funeral of a fighter killed in Syria’s Qalamoun region, May 2015. 

Waking Up the Neighbors

How Regional Intervention Is Transforming Hezbollah

The war in Syria has dramatically changed Hezbollah. Once limited to jockeying for political power in Lebanon and fighting Israel, the group is now a regional player engaged in conflicts far beyond its historical area of operations, often in cooperation with Iran. Underscoring this strategic shift, Hezbollah has transferred key personnel previously stationed near the Israel–Lebanon border to a newly established Syrian command and to outposts even further abroad, in Iraq and Yemen.

Initially, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah resisted dispatching his fighters to Syria to back President Bashar al-Assad, despite repeated requests from Iranian leaders, in particular Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. Like some other Hezbollah leaders, Nasrallah feared that engaging in Syria would undermine the group’s position in Lebanon by associating Hezbollah—Lebanon’s primary Shiite party—with a repressive Iranian-allied government butchering a Sunni-majority population. But Nasrallah reportedly acquiesced after receiving an appeal from the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran, Khamenei made clear, expected Hezbollah to support Assad’s grip on power. As a result, Hezbollah’s operational shift to Syria and beyond has transformed the group from a Lebanese party focused on domestic politics into a regional sectarian force acting at Iran’s behest across the Middle East.

AN ORGANIZATIONAL SHIFT

The strongest indicators of Hezbollah’s transformation are structural. Since 2013, the group has added two new commands—the first on the Lebanese–Syrian border, the second within Syria itself—to its existing bases in southern and eastern Lebanon. This startling reorganization points to a serious commitment to civil conflicts well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

By the first half of 2015, Hezbollah was suffering between 60 and 80 weekly casualties in Syria’s Qalamoun region alone.
Mohamed Azakir / REUTERS A Hezbollah fighter in Syria’s Qalamoun region, May 2015. 

In establishing its new presence in Syria, Hezbollah has transferred key personnel from its traditionally paramount Southern Command, along Lebanon’s border with Israel. Mustafa Badreddine, the head of Hezbollah’s foreign terrorist operations, began coordinating Hezbollah military activities

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