Iran, via Hezbollah, Comes to Bashar Assad's Rescue
No less importantly, Iran has -- with Hezbollah assistance -- spent the last months establishing a new instrument of military power to fight the rebellion against Assad. This new element is the “National Defense Force.” Trained by IRGC and Hezbollah personnel, this is a militia-type apparatus. It consists overwhelmingly of members of Assad’s own Alawi sect and other minority communities. So far, it shows a tendency toward committing massacres, but also a real commitment to the fight that has not been evident among much of Assad’s army over the last two years.
So Iran and Hezbollah together have played the key role in the reversal of the direction of events in the Syrian civil war -- from regime retreat to the current consolidation and counter-attack. Their commitment to the war is now visible, open, and total. It has been noticed also by the Sunni rebels, who now appear determined to show Hezbollah that cross-border interference is a two-way street.
The relative stability in Lebanon over the last half-decade is largely the result of the perception that Hezbollah was too strong to be challenged. The Syrian rebellion has upset that perception, making Hezbollah vulnerable in its backyard. We may be witnessing the first moves of an attempt by elements among the Syrian rebels, presumably in cooperation with Sunnis in Lebanon, to take advantage of this vulnerability.