As Aleppo fell, social media accounts began sharing an image that merged two historic battles with the Dome of the Rock. The intent was clear, the Shia would one day fight for Jerusalem as the Iranians had fought Iraq at Khorramshahr in 1980 and Hezbollah had in 2016 against Sunni militias in Syria’s second city.
Hezbollah wanted to remind its supporters that while it was currently embroiled in Bashar al-Assad’s campaign in Syria, it had not forgotten about the old enemy, Israel. Hezbollah’s wide support across the Middle East has been largely due to its willingness to fight the Israelis: it was born amid Israeli occupation in 1982 and fought a 2006 conflict in southern Lebanon that it is widely considered to have ‘won’.
“Hezbollah may say that the road to Jerusalem goes through Damascus, but that is just bad geography,” said Matthew Levitt, author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.
Hezbollah’s primary supporter has always been Iran, which in turn backs Assad in Syria.
Hezbollah may be a Lebanese movement that has members in the country’s parliament and governs swathes of the country, but it is aware who butters its bread. Without Iran, Hezbollah would have far less money – and far fewer guns.
“Hezbollah has gone from a place where it was seen as the vanguard of legitimate Arab opposition to being a tool of a repressive Assad government controlled by the Iranians,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Syria expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
On the one hand, Hezbollah has been distracted in Syria and not threatened Israel – on the other, it is gaining valuable experience fighting for Assad. “This experience in Syria has better qualified Hezbollah as a fighting force. Hezbollah is no more an organisation, it is an army. It used to exert guerrilla tactics and terror tactics, now it is fighting as an armed force,” said Yoram Schweitzer, head of the INSS Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict and a former anti-terrorism consultant at the Israeli Ministry of Defence.
The nightmare scenario for Israel is if Assad is triumphant in Syria and repays Hezbollah with money and weapons.
“The best thing that ever happened to Hezbollah was the rise of Daesh and the Salafi jihadi bogeyman.”
“The best thing that ever happened to Hezbollah was the rise of Daesh and the Salafi jihadi bogeyman. People don’t have the luxury of being angry at Hezbollah anymore because the fact is it is probably is the only entity that can partner with the and successfully defend regular Sunnis, Maronite and Druze from the Salafi jihadis at the gate,” said Levitt.