For several years, Hizballah forces have been deployed in Syria to defend the reign of Bashar al-Assad. The Iran-sponsored militia has thus become a de-facto ally of Russia in its fight against Syrian rebels. Jonathan Schanzer explains the implications for Israel:
Iran is . . . arming Hizballah in preparation [not just to fight in Syria but also] for the next conflict with Israel. In fall 2015, Israel’s military assessed that Hizballah had increased its rocket arsenal from an estimated 100,000 to roughly 150,000 since the Syrian war began. [In addition], Russia [has] established fusion centers so that it could coordinate its war effort with Iran, Hizballah, and the Assad regime. Hizballah has benefited from Russian air cover, and even fought alongside Russian forces against Syrian rebels.
Meanwhile Iran and its Lebanese proxy have tried to exploit both the Russian presence and the fog of war to move what Israelis have called “game-changing weapons” from the war zone to Lebanon. Israeli officials say the weapons they are attempting to acquire include long-range and high-payload rockets, lethal anti-ship missiles, and perhaps even sophisticated anti-aircraft systems. . . .
The longer Iran and Hizballah have to perfect their weapons-smuggling infrastructure, the higher the likelihood of a successful transfer of “game-changing weapons.” Hizballah already has tens of thousands of rockets, but a successful transfer of more advanced weapons would be a red line for Israel, prompting a pre-emptive strike before those weapons can be deployed.
The Israelis have warned repeatedly that the next war with Hizballah could be one in which Israel will seek nothing less than total defeat and ousting of Hizballah from Lebanon. Vladimir Putin’s foray into Syria has been described as an attempt to resurrect Russia’s past. But Soviet actions in the Middle East contributed inexorably to the Six-Day War and its own weakening in the region. Russia risks repeating the mistakes it made a half-century ago, mistakes that still have a profound impact on the region today.