Nasrallah: Iran is not pulling back from Syria
By Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira
In a speech marking the fourth anniversary of the death of Mustafa Badreddine, who was commander of the Hizbullah forces in Syria, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah devoted a large part of his talk to the Syrian arena. Nasrallah asserted that Israel’s outgoing defense minister, Naftali Bennett, whom he called an “idiot,” was lying to the Israeli public and portraying a false picture in which Israel is scoring military victories in Syria – victories that, Bennett promised, would lead to the withdrawal of Iran’s military forces from Syria by the end of the year. Nasrallah repeated the claim that Iran does not have military forces in Syria, but only military advisers and trainers who assist the Syrian army and the forces that have come to help the Assad regime, while coordinating between them, and he emphasized that these advisers and trainers are not leaving Syria.
Nasrallah also stated that a reduction in Hizbullah’s military presence in Syria had come after the achievement of Hizbullah’s goals in Aleppo and the removal of the threat to Damascus, in coordination with the Syrian army, and not because of the casualties the organization had absorbed, as Israel claims.
Nasrallah noted that Israel is operating in Syria against facilities involved in missile production and warned that if it continues its attacks, Israel could commit an error in Syria that would lead to a regional eruption. It is worth mentioning in this context that on April 17, 2020, in response to an Israeli airstrike on a Hizbullah vehicle in Syria, special Hizbullah forces simultaneously damaged three sites along Lebanon’s border fence with Israel. That was intended to make clear that Hizbullah will respond from Lebanon to an Israeli strike on it in Syria.
Nasrallah hinted about disagreements between Iran and Russia in Syria but denied that there is a conflict between them. He described the claims about a conflict as part of a psychological war being waged against Iran in Syria.
Nasrallah lauded Mustafa Badreddine’s successes as Hizbullah’s military commander during the 1990s, and particularly his performance during Israel’s Operation Grapes of Wrath in April 1996, which imposed the “April understandings” on Israel and thereby diminished its ability to attack Hizbullah, leading eventually to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Badreddine recorded his great achievements, Nasrallah said, while he was commander of the Hizbullah forces in Syria, where he fought “shoulder to shoulder” with the commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani. Nasrallah thereby sought to invalidate the information that Soleimani was responsible for Badreddine’s assassination near Damascus.
In recent days, media commentary and Hizbullah’s social network were full of information and videos about the close ties between Sayyed Zulfiqar (the name of Imam Ali’s double-bladed sword), which was Badreddine’s operational nickname, and Hajj Bozork (the Great Hajj), which was the honorific name that Badreddine used for Soleimani. Special attention was given to a rare picture in which the leader of Iran, Khamenei, gave his expensive stone ring to Ali, Badreddine’s son, after Badreddine’s death. Immediately after the speech, however, the IDF spokesman tweeted in Arabic that “Nasrallah kills the victim and goes to his funeral” – thereby reiterating the information that Nasrallah gave his consent to Badreddine’s assassination by Soleimani. It must, though, be noted that there are question marks about the veracity of the information linking Soleimani and Nasrallah to Mustafa Badreddine’s killing.
In a heavily attended ceremony in May 2016, Mustafa Badreddine was buried beside the grave of Hizbullah Chief of Staff Imad Mughniyeh and his son Jihad, and he was commemorated in the pantheon of the generation of Hizbullah’s founders.
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Military Secretary to the Prime Minister and as chief of staff to the Foreign Minister. He edited the Jerusalem Center eBook Iran: From Regional Challenge to Global Threat. He is the author of Hizbullah: Between Iran and Lebanon, Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, 2000, four editions.