Syria: The fight for the strategic weapons

Myra Abdallah

Hezbollah is under pressure as the regime faces military setbacks and Israel has targeted its missiles.

Iranian missile. (AFP/Mehr News/Raouf Mohseni)

The Syrian regime has faced a series of dramatic military setbacks, starting from the loss of Idlib up to its most recent reverses in the rest of the province as well as in the South, where earlier this week the the Free Syrian Army announced that it had launched the “Battle of the Cutting of Joints” to cut the Damsacus-Quneitra highway. Bashar al-Assad’s grip on the country is once again in question, just as his regime’s grip over its sizeable and powerful arsenal of strategic weapons.


“The Syrian regime is currently suffering a lot especially after all the losses he encountered on the  ground,” said retired LAF general Wehbe Qatisha. “The Syrian regime attacked in February and March [2015] after the Houthis started wining the battles in Yemen; they hoped they would win too.But, when it turned out that the Houthis couldn’t really take over Yemen, the [Syrian] regime started to slow down the military activities, especially that they lost in Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur, and the cities they hold in Hama [province ]are now under attack.”


Despite the relatively calm situation in Qalamoun recently, Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets bombed Hezbollah and regime positions in the rugged mountain region along the Lebanese-Syrian border. A source close to Hezbollah said to Al-Hadath that Israel had “targeted an artillery and rocket [launch site] containing mid-range rockets used periodically to target the movements of armed groups in the [mountains].”


“The Israeli strikes targeted the military bases of the Syrian regime’s army and Hezbollah in Qalamoun,” said Paris-based Syrian activist Fahed al-Masri, coordinator of the Al-Inqaz Al-Watani opposition group. “In fact, the strikes targeted 65th and 155th Brigades specialized in strategic weapon in addition to few Hezbollah bases in Qalamoun, especially that the party is trying to move the regime’s weapon to Lebanese Beqaa.”


According to analyst Philip Smyth, Israel targeted shipments in Syria that were supposed to go to Hezbollah, a weapons channel that has been open for years. “Right now, in terms of the regime’s power, it’s not very good for them,” said Smyth.


“There are tons of reports coming out now that the fights between the NDF and the Syrian army are minor compared to the larger problems. The Iranians have been shipping in a lot newer foreign fighters and Hezbollah has been trying to take the lead. The bigger problem on the field is that Hezbollah, the Syrian army, NDF and the other Shia militias that are controlled by IRGC are not doing very well. The regime is being pushed back on multiple fronts and it is not a comfortable situation.”


It is obvious that Israel is trying to preserve the power dynamics in the region, especially if Hezbollah as trying to reinforce is military bases in Southern Lebanon. “Today, Assad’s Syria extends from Naqoura to Latakia. There was more than one Israeli strike: one of the strikes was against Hezbollah brigades and their long-range missiles; and the other was against the groups who were trying to target the borders of Golan. It is obvious that Israel does not want to transform its borders to a ‘mailbox,’ whether it was the Lebanese or the Golan borders. In addition to this, through the last strike, Israel wanted to make sure that the fights remain inside the Syrian borders and do not extend to Lebanon,” Lebanese political activist, Lokman Slim, told NOW.


According to an Al-Hayat report, the Israeli strikes were meant to warn that Israel is still ready to defend itself against Hezbollah. The Israel Defense Forces claim that Iran is still trying to empower Hezbollah and provide the party with developed weaponry. The report also said that Israel “will not allow the strengthening of military capacities or the transfer of dangerous strategic weapon” and that it will not allow the arming of Hezbollah.”


Smyth told NOW that Hezbollah “has invested interests in taking over the [regime’s] stocks and also incorporating them into their own ranks. Beyond that, after learning what happened in Iraq, ISIS got former advanced weapons after capturing them from the Iraqi army. I think Hezbollah will also try to prevent them from getting anything else especially that the Assad’s regime has the most advanced weapons systems.”


Regardless of Hezbollah and Syrian regime’s priorities, Iran might have its own plans in the region. “We should not forget the [role of] the Iranian ‘master’ in all this,” Slim said. “First of all, we should find out what is left from the regime’s strategic weapons caches that might be a threat to the regional security. Regardless, the Syrian regime is only a deposit for Iran’s weapons. Iran is directly interfering in the region and it is obvious that it considers Lebanon as a free zone, including the Lebanese borders and airport without giving any importance to the Lebanese sovereignty. The repositioning of any weapons should be seen from the point of view of Teheran regardless what other players may have planned.”


Although, analysts who NOW spoke to confirm that, even though the rebels are trying to stop Hezbollah from taking over the Syrian regime’s weapon, they might not have the capacity or the needed equipment to do so. “The FSA also wants to seize Syrian regime’s strategic weapon; but unlike Hezbollah, they are unable to do so in the current time. The FSA is too weak and does not have the capacity to do it. Despite, if the FSA felt they were able to, they wouldn’t miss a chance,” said Qatisha.


Although Hezbollah is aiming to save what is left from the regime’s strategic weapon and move it to Lebanon to reinforce its capacity on Lebanon’s southern border, the losses both Hezbollah and the Syrian regime suffered from lately will have a big effect on the party.


“Hezbollah is now under a lot of pressure. The Syrian regime has lost Idlib and is worried about the Alawi coast. This is a monumental pressure to put on Hezbollah with so many fighters doing so many rotations and Hezbollah have a lot of pressure on them to hold the line and the ground they have. They also want to make sure that there won’t be more attacks executed against them,” said Smyth.


Qatisha predicted that the Syrian regime’s crumbling military situation will have repercussions on its ally Hezbollah.


“The weakness of the Syrian regime will definitely weaken Hezbollah. Hezbollah will pay the price especially since the party invested all its capacity to defend the [Syrian] regime. Eventually, Hezbollah will lose and retreat.”