Iran has formed “a second Hezbollah in Syria” according to a new report published by the Washington Institute, augmenting its sectarian support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
“Beginning in late 2012 … Iran’s Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite proxies helped transform various Syrian Twelver Shiite militias into copies of Lebanese Hezbollah, all espousing Iran’s ideology of absolute velayat-e faqih (the doctrine granting the Supreme Leader his authority). In many cases, preexisting National Defense Forces groups accepted assistance and guidance from the IRGC, Hezbollah, and Iranian-controlled Iraqi Shiite militias,” the report said.
The Washington Institute report was written by Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the blog “Hizballah Cavalcade,” warning of Iran’s sectarian policies in the region.
Dubbing the process “Hezbollahzation”, Smyth charts the rise of a number of groups claiming to be “Hezbollah fi Suriya” or Hezbollah in Syria, and their ties to other sectarian militia and pro-Assad groups operating in the country.
“The success of Lebanese Hezbollah has provided an organizational and aspirational model for Syrian Shiite armed organizations under Hezbollah fi Suriya. However, in actually building Hezbollah fi Suriya, Tehran has followed a model it used in Iraq, based on developing variously sized militias that, like their Lebanese and Iraqi cohorts, are multifaceted and carry out ideological as well as other regional power-projection goals,” the report said.
Acceptance of Iran’s radical absolute velayat-e faqih ideology, whereby political, social, and religious loyalties go to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has been trumpeted by many of Syria’s Shiite militias. Additionally, these militias have often carried out messaging efforts that dovetail in timing and narrative with Iran’s other proxies. A recent example is the consonant messaging by Quwat al-Ridha and LAFA with Iran’s Lebanese and Iraqi proxies on the Saudi execution of the Shiite sheikh Nimr al-Nimr,” he added.
Smyth warned of the consequences of Iran’s establishment of new Hezbollah proxies in Syria, not just for the country itself, but for the wider Middle East.
“As the war in Syria drags on, the country’s Shiite armed groups are here to stay. Through them, Iran is continuing to strengthen its foothold in the Levant and among a Shiite population,” the report concluded.