With Syria’s accelerating and inevitable collapse, Iran’s growing role becomes more and more prominent as it tries to win on all the fronts and draw attention away from its internal problems. Conflicts within Iran are growing as the date of the presidential elections nears. The radical conservatives are divided. The faction protected by Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is “fighting” against what it fears will happen, namely, the interference of the faction supporting President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections and its attempts to influence the outcome. The immediate enemy in Iran is no longer the “Green Movement”; the leaders of this movement are in jail and their children were recently hunted down and imprisoned. Despite the “signs of strength” that the regime is showing in its reactions to world events, this challenge cannot conceal the weakness and degeneration of the regime’s structure itself as one side (the conservatives) confront one another. In addition to adherence to the nuclear program and the manipulation of the West’s reluctance to take a unified stand as it fears the Persian unknown – after it faced the “Arab unknown” and its shock – these are united regarding Syria’s fate whether President Bashar al-Assad stays or whether his regime falls turning Syria into warring entities. Dr Paul Salim, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center [in Beirut, Lebanon], says: “It will be hard to restore Syria as a united nation” as reported in The Washington Post of 10 February. That is why Iran is exploiting the Syrian collapse by trying to hit several birds with one stone. On one hand, it is backing the regime’s regular army and popular army and it is preparing to back an Alawite entity made up of the Syrian provinces adjacent to Lebanese borders. This region includes the big port in Latakia that continues to be used to provide supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
However, at the same time, Iran is working to place all of Lebanon under its control because if the Syrian regime stays, its position will not be healthy or secure, and if it fails and Iran is unable to help the Alawites establish their state, Iran will still have a vital foothold in the Mediterranean. That is why, according to reliable sources, Hezbollah began last month to propose to Alawite officers in the Syrian army to seek refuge in Lebanon. On one hand, the aim of this offer was to calm down the growing concern of many Alawite officers that they may be tried as war criminals or be the targets of bloody liquidation after they have become convinced that the regime will fall sooner or later. On the other hand, the offer aims at reinforcing the ranks of Hezbollah’s fighters with veteran Alawite officers with high combat experience. These moves are led from behind the scenes by one of the security aides of Hezbollah’s secretary general through party elements that support the regime’s confrontation of the armed opposition inside Syria. Last month, Hezbollah’s secretary general asked his security assistant to inform party elements working with and coordinating with Syrian officers and offer them a “package deal” from which the two sides would gain on the day that Assad falls. The offer was made following signals and messages that Hezbollah officials received from their military elements in the field in which they hint at the growing concern of the Alawite officers. The Hezbollah elements in Syria that are providing training and assistance to the forces loyal to Assad are in contact with the various military units, including the Republican Guard. The aim of the offer that is part of Hezbollah’s preparations for after Assad’s fall is to insure the continuity of Hezbollah’s military and political power in Lebanon. The reason is that in case the opposition in Lebanon becomes united with the help and support of the international community, it will try to undermine Hezbollah’s power after it had lost Syria’s strategic support.
According to the deal, the Syrian officers and their families will be given the right of asylum in Lebanon. In return, they will provide consultation services to Hezbollah units in the fields of engineering, ground war, missiles, and air defense. They will also help in training on the various weapons that were moved last year from Syria to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. In the past few weeks, a number of Syrian officers arrived secretly in Beirut and discussed this deal with Hezbollah’s coordination elements. The party informed them that it will use its own funds to house them in large apartments in the Lebanese capital and that it will pay them salaries equal to what they are currently making in Syria based on their ranks.
Hezbollah’s interests are concentrating on Syrian officers that are fully experienced in the use of modern weapons systems, particularly the Russian-made, such as long-range rockets and anti-aircraft missiles. The party is also focusing on officers from the special operations units. These moves by Hezbollah came following coordination with the “Al-Quds Corps” of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the corps in charge of training the forces of the party in Lebanon and Iran. Since the fighting erupted in Syria 23 months ago, more than 1,000 Syrian officers defected to either Turkey or Jordan. There are several reasons for this defection such as the sudden fall of the Assad regime or frustration with the ideology of the Baath Party or refusal to participate in the mass killing operations that are being perpetrated against thousands of Syrian civilians. This trend grew after the suicide attack on 19 July 2012 that led to the killing of the three senior leaders of the regime Dawud Rajihah, Asif Shawkat, and Hasan Turkumani. The joint interests of the Syrian Alawite officers and Hezbollah testify to the hardships they will suffer after Assad’s fall.
The fears of the Syrian officers stem from the emergence of a new regime seeking revenge. As for Hezbollah, it is worried that the opposition to it inside Lebanon will grow when this opposition realizes that Hezbollah is becoming isolated in the region. In the meantime, the party continues to use its resources in support of the forces loyal to Assad in Syria. In the past few months, Hezbollah raised the number of its fighters there whose activities are focused on Damascus, Aleppo, Al-Zabadani, Homs, and the Al-Qasir region close to the Lebanese border.
The aim of Hezbollah’s activities on both sides of the Syrian-Lebanese borders is to protect its basic and future interests, especially securing its military supplies lines. The moves, schemes, and preparations are founded on the basis of “an expected and inevitable future”. But which side can guarantee that the future will be like it has drawn in a region full of active volcanoes?