Nearly 1,500 Hezbollah fighters present “within the ranks of the Syrian regime’s army” have been withdrawn, local sources told Anadolu, the official Turkish news agency. The source added that the party, a loyal supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, re-summoned fighters from different parts of Syria over the past two weeks.
L’Orient-Le Jour could not directly confirm this information with Hezbollah.
The recall of Hezbollah fighters takes place amid theHamas-Israel war.
Following the attack, Israel unleashed a relentless bombing campaign on the Palestinian enclave, killing more than 10,800 people, the vast majority civilians according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Involved since day one of the war, Hezbollah carried out strikes against Israel from the south of Lebanon. Despite this, the party had maintained a degree of constraint which has (despite the gradual escalation) so far prevented a regional war.
“We are a support front,” affirmed Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah in his Nov. 3 speech.
Timing of the withdrawal
Nasrallah estimated that a third of the Israeli army is deployed in the north of the country to hold its front against Hezbollah. The party itself stated that it lost more than 60 men in Lebanon since Oct. 8, without specifying the conditions surrounding their deaths.
Fighting has gradually increased between the two sides and four civilians were killed on Sunday evening in southern Lebanon. In retaliation, Hezbollah killed one civilian in northern Israel.
The Iran-aligned party, which claims to have some 100,000 fighters, seems to be reinforcing its troops in Lebanon.
“What is happening in Gaza had an impact on the rules surrounding Hezbollah’s presence and influence in the region, despite its limited role,” said Navvar Şaban, military and security analyst at Omran Center for Strategic Studies.
While Hezbollah deployed over 8,000 men to Syria at the height of the Syrian Civil War, some 1,500 Hezbollah fighters were withdrawn from the Syrian Army’s 46th brigade in Aleppo’s western suburbs, and various localities in the Idlib province, including Saraqib and Qaratin in the east, Anadolu reported.
These troops were reportedly moved to Qusair, southwest of Homs province, then to Lebanon, Anadolu reported, quoting local sources.
“The Lebanese fighters in the north were not part of the elite, which was withdrawn a long time ago. Their withdrawal has no significant impact and would not even be linked to Gaza, given that it had been planned beforehand,” said Şaban.
Yet, timing plays its part and Nasrallah has not ruled out the possibility of an escalation in this war where psychological pressure is serving as a deterrent.
In addition to increasing its military capacity in Lebanon, Hezbollah's recall of troops can be seen through the prism of the Israeli-US threat to pro-Iran interests in Syria.
This could be because Israel struck Aleppo and Damascus’ airports on several occasions since the start of the war in Gaza. Israel also targeted military sites in the south of the country which are used by the Iran-affiliated groups, according to Israel.
On the other hand, Washington also retaliated attacks pro-Iran factions in Syria and Iraq carried out on US bases, which wounded 45 service members.
On Wednesday, the US targeted weapons warehouses belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the province of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, after a US MQ-9 reaper drone was shot down over international airspace off the coast of Yemen earlier that day.
The Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down the drone, but the Pentagon did not officially attribute the attack to them.
A few hours after the US struck warehouses, Israel carried out airstrikes in southern Syria, killing three pro-Iran fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which also reported that anti-aircraft defense sites were targeted.
No departure without replacements
Nasrallah’s Nov. 3 speech made it seem that the party wants to keep the Syrian regime out of the conflict. In his speech, Nasrallah praised only the axis of resistance factions in Yemen and Iraq for their support in the armed struggle against the “Zionist enemy,” in his discourse. He made no mention of Syria.
Since its start in 2011, Hezbollah and Iran have taken advantage of the Syrian Civil War get closer Assad and establish a strong presence in the country.
Israel rarely claims responsibility for the routine strikes (on truck convoys suspected of transporting weapons from neighboring Iraq, on ammunition warehouses or even on the country’s airports, where Iranian aircraft loaded with military equipment are supposed to land) that Damascus blames it for. Regardless, Israel has always made it clear that it would do everything in its power to prevent Iran and its supporters from establishing a lasting presence in Syria.
Quoting Syrian sources, Anadolu reported that the men Hezbollah withdrew from Syria have been replaced by members of other pro-Iran groups, including the Afghan Shiite Fatemiyoun militants and the Syrian loyalist Baqir brigades, which are linked to Hezbollah and other pro-Tehran armed factions.
“Hezbollah did not leave the north until it was sure it had local supporters capable of securing its positions and recent years gains,” Şaban concluded.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.