When Hezbollah first intervened on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Israeli defense analysts saw the foray as a blessing – better to have their Lebanese arch-enemy entangled in a war in Syria. But there is increasing concern that Hezbollah is getting valuable battlefield experience in Syria, especially when it comes to large-scale, coordinated offensive operations, something the Shi’ite militia had little knowledge of before.
That practical experience could be of use in any subsequent conflict with Israel. Hezbollah commanders acknowledge the benefits.
“In some ways, Syria is a dress rehearsal for our next war with Israel,” a special forces Hezbollah commander admitted to VOA recently.
Peacetime training is no substitute for wartime experience, says John Capello, a former U.S. air attaché in Tel Aviv and now an analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington foreign policy think tank.
“NATO makes a big effort to make training as realistic as possible but it is still scripted and doesn’t teach how to deal with the unexpected. It just isn’t the same as the real thing.”
Hezbollah has been in the vanguard of large assaults on Syrian rebels and not just along the border in Qalamoun and Quneitra but also further afield around Aleppo in northern Syria.
Anti-Assad rebel commanders estimate that 80 percent of the ground forces the Assad regime has deployed since the Russian bombing campaign was launched in September 2015 have not consisted of Syrians but are made up of Hezbollah and Iranian fighters along with Shi’ite volunteers from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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