Hezbollah has committed itself to not only defend Lebanon but to conduct offensive campaigns against rebel groups in Syria. In doing so they may have overplayed their hand, giving the Lebanese Armed Forces a real opportunity to establish itself as a legitimate defender of all Lebanon. As Basem Shabb writes for the Middle East Institute:
Quietly over the past few years, the LAF has been developing a credible force, with U.S. assistance. The training and materials geared toward counterterrorism, internal security, and border control were not seen by Hezbollah as a threat to its military arsenal of rockets and long range missiles. As it turns out, the LAF was better prepared for the Syrian crisis and its spillover into Lebanon. The elite units of the LAF, notably the rangers, commandos, and navy seals, were specifically trained in urban warfare and in confronting irregular forces and counterinsurgency. U.S. military equipment, while not relevant in a context of confrontation with Israel, is well suited to countering irregular forces and border control. A modest but credible helicopter force provides mobility. More importantly, the delivery of Cessna aircraft gave the LAF advanced surveillance and reconnaissance abilities as well as pinpoint firepower with Hellfire missiles. More conventional weapons such as M198 Howitzers as well as M-60A3 and M48A5 tanks offer accurate and continuous firepower.On the other hand, Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria exposed its lack of direct firepower as well as its inadequate surveillance for guerilla-style warfare in which it is on the receiving end. The conflict now involved jihadis with light weapons and mobile anti-tank missiles facing Hezbollah fighters with similar weapons. In a sense, Hezbollah had prepared for the wrong war. Long range missiles and short range Katyusha rockets designed for a war against Israel were now of little use. Chinese anti-ship missiles as well as concealed anti-tank and short range missiles in south Lebanon facing Israel seemed of little military value when the real threat to Hezbollah came from across the long and ragged border with Syria. Hezbollah did not anticipate this and was ill prepared for irregular warfare and border control. It has resorted to erecting fixed positions not unlike what the Israelis erected in south Lebanon.
The whole article, which runs contrary to much of the received wisdom on Lebanon, is well worth reading. Hezbollah, a terrorist organization second only to Al Qaeda in the number of Americans it has killed, is nonetheless viewed in heroic terms throughout much of Lebanon by Christians and Muslims—Sunni and Shia alike—for standing against Israel and acting as a vanguard in the fight against the Islamic State. Until the start of the Syrian Civil War, however, Hezbollah, with at least one notable exception, showed little desire for the kind of international operations carried out by Al Qaeda or Iran’s Quds Force. Since the fighting has broken out, however, Hezbollah has deployed some 5000 fighters to Syria, nearly a third of its total fighting strength, with as many as 1000 of its men killed. That would mean that Hezbollah, which has traditionally made up in sheer numbers what the Lebanese Army has lacked in effective strength, could be significantly overstretched.That analysis is also lent credence by the recent news that Hezbollah has sent non-combat advisers to Iraq. As ironic as it may be that U.S. non-combat advisers can now count an out-and-out terrorist organization as brothers-in-arms in the fight against the Islamic State, this is a new venture for a group whose raison d’etre for the past decade has been shooting rockets at Israel. As such, and given the Lebanese military’s success at pacifying the restive pro-ISIS city of Tripoli, and a recent gift of $3 billion for military aid from Saudi Arabia, it’s entirely possible that Mr. Shabb’s analysis of the situation is correct. If so, that’s excellent news for Lebanon, whose military could certainly use a boost of legitimacy, esprit de corps, as well as domestic and international support.