Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah’s fight against Israel

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah’s fight against Israel

Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join the Hezbollah militant group in its battle against Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into a full-fledged war, according to faction officials supported by Iran and analysts. say.

Almost daily exchanges of fire have taken place along the border between Lebanon and northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip launched a bloody attack on southern Israel in early October, which sparked a war in Gaza.

The situation in the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah responded by firing hundreds of explosive rockets and drones into northern Israel.

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Houthi fighters march during a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against U.S. strikes in Yemen near Sanaa in January (AP Photo, File)

Israeli officials have threatened to launch a military offensive in Lebanon if there is not a negotiated end to keeping 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 scales in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Leaders of Iran-backed groups say they could also unite again against Israel.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries had already offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already had more than 100,000 fighters.

“We told them thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Mr Nasrallah said.

Mr. Nasrallah said the battle in its current form uses only part of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to specialized fighters who fire missiles and drones.

But that could change in the event of all-out war. Mr. Nasrallah hinted at the possibility in a 2017 speech in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “would be partners” in such a war.

Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran say Iran-backed fighters from across the region will join them if war breaks out on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Thousands of these fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily cross the porous and unmarked border.

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Houses destroyed in Khiam, a town near the Lebanese-Israeli border, hit by Israeli airstrikes on Friday (Hussein Malla/AP)

Some groups have already launched attacks against Israel and its allies since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7. So-called ‘resistance axis’ groups say they are using a ‘arena unity strategy’ and will only stop fighting when Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against their ally, Hamas. .

“We will fight alongside Hezbollah” if all-out war breaks out, an official with an Iranian-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters. He declined to give further details.

The official, along with another Iraqi, said some Iraqi advisers were already in Lebanon.

Eran Etzion, a former head of policy planning at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told a panel discussion Thursday hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute that he saw “a high probability” of a ” war on several fronts.

He said there could be intervention by Houthi and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan and Pakistan” into Lebanon and into Syrian areas bordering Israel.

Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a televised statement last week that since Hezbollah began its attacks on Israel on October 8, it has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones toward Israel.

“Hezbollah’s growing aggression brings us to the brink of what could be a broader escalation, which could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Mr. Hagari said.

“Israel will continue to fight against the Iranian axis of evil on all fronts. »

Hezbollah officials have said they do not want all-out war with Israel, but if it happens they will be ready.