Europeans fear Middle East on brink after “unacceptable” Hezbollah threats

Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters are offering to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

BEIRUT: Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are poised to come to Lebanon to join militant group Hezbollah in its battle with Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into full-scale war, according to officials from the Iran-backed factions. and say the analysts.
There have been almost daily exchanges of fire along Lebanon’s border with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody attack on southern Israel in early October that sparked a war in Gaza.
The situation in the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to removing Hezbollah from the border.
Over the past decade, Iranian-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have fought together in Syria’s 13-year conflict, helping to tip the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials from Iran-backed groups say they may unite again against Israel.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech on Wednesday that militant leaders in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries had previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but said the group already had over 100,000 fighters.
“We told them, thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the battle in its current form uses only a fraction of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to specialized fighters that fire missiles and drones.
But that could change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at the possibility in a 2017 speech in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “will be partners” in such a war.
Officials from Iran-backed Lebanese and Iraqi groups say Iran-backed fighters from across the region will join if war breaks out on the Lebanon-Israel border. Thousands of such fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily cross the porous and unmarked border.
Some of the groups have already staged attacks on Israel and its allies since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7. Groups in the so-called “axis of resistance” say they are using an “arena unity strategy” and will only stop fighting when Israel ends its Gaza offensive against its ally Hamas.
“We will fight shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah” if all-out war breaks out, an official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military matters. He declined to give further details.
The official, along with another from Iraq, said some Iraqi advisers are already in Lebanon.
An official with an Iranian-backed Lebanese group, who also insisted on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan’s Fatimiyoun, Pakistan’s Zeinabiyoun and Yemen’s Iran-backed rebel group known as the Houthis. they might come to Lebanon to take part in a war. .

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march during Al-Quds or Jerusalem Day in Baghdad, Iraq, June 8, 2019. (AP/File Photo)

Qassim Qassir, a Hezbollah expert, agreed that the current fighting relies mostly on high technology, such as rocket fire, and does not require large numbers of fighters. But if a war broke out and lasted for a long time, Hezbollah might need support from outside Lebanon, he said.
“The allusion to this problem could be (a message) that these are cards that could be used,” he said.
Israel is also aware of the possible influx of foreign fighters.
Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a panel discussion organized by the Middle East Institute in Washington on Thursday that he sees “a high probability” of “war on multiple fronts.”
He said there could be an intervention by Houthi and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan, Pakistan” into Lebanon and the Syrian areas bordering Israel.
Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, said in a televised statement last week that since Hezbollah began attacks on Israel on October 8, it had fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones at Israel.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression brings us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Hagari said. “Israel will continue to fight Iran’s axis of evil on all fronts.”
Hezbollah officials have said they do not want an all-out war with Israel, but if it happens, they are ready.

Houthi fighters march during a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against US attacks on Yemen outside Sanaa on January 22, 2024. (AP/File Photo)

“We have made the decision that any expansion, however limited, will be met with an expansion that deters such a move and causes heavy losses to the Israelis,” Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Kassem said in a speech last week .
The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said in a joint statement that “the danger of miscalculation leads to a sudden and larger situation. the conflict is very real.”
The last large-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two fought a 34-day war that killed an estimated 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 in Israel.
Since the latest spate of clashes began, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters, but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians were killed. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the border.
Qassir, the analyst, said if foreign fighters joined, it would help that they had fought together in Syria in the past.
“There is a common military language between the resistance axis forces and this is very important in the joint fight,” he said.

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