Sheik Hassan Nasrallah is Secretary General of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah. A key ally of Damascus, Nasrallah said in his recent speech that his group will keep its military presence in Syria until further notice. Nasrallah quoted that Hezbollah's presence is linked to "the needs and approval" of the Syrian government. He further added that "no one can force us to leave Syria”. His statement clearly shows that Hezbollah is all set to make Syria its second home after Lebanon. Hezbollah has fielded thousands of its fighters alongside Syrian government forces since the early days of civil war that erupted in 2011. Lebanese militia entered in the Syrian war on the side of President Assad well before any other ally of the Assad regime. Moreover, Hezbollah fought some intense battles for Damascus, like East Aleppo, Zabadani and Homs. During the seven years of war more than 1,600 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. After investing so deeply in the Syrian war, Hezbollah has found it nearly impossible to extricate itself from Syrian arena even after war ends. The organisation has started concentrating greater efforts on post-war plans to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.
Hezbollah’s own political objectives in Syria include ensuring the survival of Assad regime, protecting and expanding its political power and influence, balancing against Israel and the United States by having multiple fronts against Jewish state, stemming the spread of “takfiri” groups and defending Shia communities. All these objectives can only be effectively achieved by maintaining permanent presence in Syria. Strategically Hezbollah’s mentor and sponsor Iran also does not want to see Hezbollah leave Syria. The party is now not only the Islamic Republic's most dependable ally in the Middle East but is rather considered as an extension of Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Iran and Hezbollah have also helped create local pro-Iran groups, consisting of Syrian fighters who primarily report to the Iranian Quds Force, and not to the Syrian regime. Iran wants to make sure that its presence in Syria is permanent, and if their own foreign fighters were forced to leave, they would leave behind a strong residual local force only loyal to Tehran. Iran will continue to strengthen its foothold in Syria and the Levant, among Shia communities specifically, by creating parallel entities with the objective of making them stronger than state institution. This is already being done successfully by Iranians in Iraq and Lebanon. These entities will be monitored and supervised by Hezbollah on behalf of Iran.
Hezbollah has started making preparations for its long stay in Syria. Some reports suggest that the group will maintain permanent presence of 3,000 fighters in Syria, even after active fighting stops. The number of bases could vary but will end up hosting a significant portion of the pro-Iranian fighters. At the same time, the bases will provide a location for Iranian advisors as well to secretly operate under cover. Most notably is the Hezbollah base in Qusayr. The party has turned Qusayr, a Syrian town near the Lebanese border that it seized in June 2013, into a major military base. Its Sunni population fled during the battle and is not expected to return. Sources close to the group have said there are long-range missiles at the base. Although satellite imagery does not confirm this, the sources have referred specifically to the presence of different types of Iranian ballistic missiles, including the Shabab-1, Shahab-2 and Fateh-110. Any of these missiles could be used to strike Israel, and Hezbollah has previously been suspected of having them in its arsenal. By having permanent bases in Syria Hezbollah can achieve an important military objective which includes preserving and potentially expanding the use of Syrian territory as a logistical route for transporting and storing Iranian missile parts and other military hardware. Hezbollah aspires to become a vanguard of Shia population and for that it has to become a multinational organisation with bases spread across various countries in the region, and to start with its transnational expansion Syria is the best option.
By their permanent presence in Syria, the message that Hezbollah wants to convey is that borders have collapsed and that there are new rules of engagement, to the detriment of Israel and other Arab states. Moreover, Hezbollah wants to convey that it has expanded its operations and is no longer merely a Lebanese militia it has become an important power in the Middle East. More importantly, it has become one of the key instruments of Iran in building a powerful Shia corridor from Iran to the Mediterranean.