ARAB AND WORLD

Mon 24 Jun 2024 10:11 am - Jerusalem Time

Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah

The Associated Press reported that thousands of fighters from Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join the armed group Hezbollah in its battle with Israel if the raging conflict escalates into an all-out war, according to what a number of faction officials said.


There are almost daily clashes along the Lebanese border with northern Israel since Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack on the Gaza envelope area on October 7, and the start of the bloody Israeli war on the besieged Strip, which has been going on for nearly nine months.


The agency says: “The situation in the north deteriorated this month after an Israeli air strike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching hundreds of missiles and explosive drones into northern Israel.”


Israeli officials threaten to launch a military attack on Lebanon if a negotiated end is not reached to remove Hezbollah from the border.


According to the agency, “Iranian-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have fought together in the 13-year-old Syrian conflict, helping tip the scales in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Officials from Iranian-backed groups say they may unite again against Israel.” .


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah noted in a speech on Wednesday that leaders of factions backed by Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries had previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but said the group already had more than 100,000 fighters.


Nasrallah said: “We told them thank you, but we are astonished by the numbers we have,” and that the battle in its current form uses only a portion of Hezbollah’s manpower, in a clear reference to the specialized fighters who launch missiles and drones.


“But this may change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at this possibility in a 2017 speech in which he said that fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “would be partners” in such a war,” according to the agency.


Officials from Iranian-backed Lebanese and Iraqi groups say Iranian-backed fighters from across the region will join if war breaks out on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Thousands of these fighters are already deployed in Syria and can easily infiltrate across the porous and ill-defined border.


Some groups have already launched attacks on Israel and its allies since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7. The groups belonging to the so-called "Axis of Resistance" say they are using the "strategy of unity of arenas" and will do so, and they will not stop fighting until Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against its ally, Hamas.


The agency quotes an official in an Iranian-backed group in Iraq as saying: “We will fight side by side with Hezbollah” if an all-out war breaks out, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters, and refusing to give further details.


The official, along with another official from Iraq, said that some Iraqi advisors are already in Lebanon.


An official with another Iranian-backed Lebanese group, who also insisted on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan's Fatemiyoun, Pakistan's Zainabiyoun, and the Iran-backed rebel group in Yemen known as the Houthis could come to Lebanon to participate. In the war".


Qasim Kassir, an expert on Hezbollah affairs, agrees that the current fighting relies mostly on advanced technology such as launching missiles and does not require a large number of fighters. He added that if a war breaks out and continues for a long time, Hezbollah may need support from outside Lebanon, according to the agency.


He added: "Hinting on this matter may be a (message) that these are papers that can be used."


Israel is also aware of the potential influx of foreign fighters.


Eran Etzion, the former head of policy planning at Israel's Foreign Ministry, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Thursday that he sees a "high possibility" of a multi-front war.


He added that there could be interference by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and "the influx of large numbers of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan and Pakistan" into Lebanon and to the Syrian regions bordering Israel.


Daniel Hagari, an Israeli army spokesman, said in a televised statement last week that since Hezbollah began its attacks on Israel on October 8, it has launched more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank shells and drones towards Israel.


“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a broader escalation, which could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Hajri said. “Israel will continue to fight against the Iranian axis of evil on all fronts.”


Hezbollah officials said they do not want an all-out war with Israel, but are prepared if it happens.


The agency refers to Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Qassem, who said in a speech last week: “We have made a decision that any expansion, no matter how limited, will face an expansion that will deter such a step and inflict heavy losses on Israel.”


The agency attributes to the United Nations Special Coordinator in Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and to the Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed along the southern border of Lebanon, Lieutenant General Aroldo Lazaro, in a joint statement that “the risk of miscalculation leading to a sudden and broader collapse” "The struggle is very real."


The agency notes that the last large-scale confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two sides fought a war that lasted 34 days and resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 people in Israel.


Since the start of the latest round of clashes, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters, but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians were killed, and tens of thousands were displaced on both sides of the border.

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Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah

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