Some 40% of the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hizbullah’s personnel and capabilities have been “directed outside of Lebanon” to fight wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot told a conference on 2 January.
Speaking at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Lt Gen Eisenkot said there were assessed to be about 8,000 Hizbullah fighters; 10,000 fighters from other Iranian-backed Shia groups, most of them Iraqis and Afghans; and 2,000 Iranian military experts currently in Syria.
He said Hezbollah had gained significant combat experience in the fighting, but had “paid a very heavy price” with 2,000 of its fighters killed and 10,000 wounded in the past four years. “It is facing very difficult internal questions in Lebanon about [its] role and why Shiite youths are shedding their blood [in Syria],” he said.
While Hizbullah claimed its military capabilities were needed to defend Lebanon, it had “found itself in the past four years mainly fighting as an Iranian proxy in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen”, the Israeli chief of staff said.
Iran’s objective in Syria is not just to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power, but build a presence in the country that threatens Israel, according to Lt Gen Eisenkot. “The Iranians wish to consolidate their presence in Syria on land, in the air, and at sea. They are building intelligence facilities. The threat to us is significant,” he said. “Our effort is directed at preventing this consolidation.”
He said it was possible that the relative quiet that had prevailed since Israeli’s 2006 conflict with Hezbollah could continue for many more years, but maintaining the status quo would not take priority over removing advanced Hezbollah capabilities and preventing the arrival of Iranian-[backed] Shia militias at the Golan Heights”.