Will al-Assad back Hezbollah in an all-out war with Israel?

Syria—a crucial ally of Hezbollah with a shared border with Lebanon—could play a strategic role in influencing the outcome of such a confrontation

Will al-Assad back Hezbollah in an all-out war with Israel?

Despite heightened diplomatic efforts from Washington and Paris, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah continues to escalate. While the Israel-Lebanon border regions have been marred by near-daily hostilities since the inception of the Gaza war last October, recent attacks have intensified in scale and ferocity. In response, Israeli officials are increasingly signalling an imminent full-scale offensive along the northern border with Lebanon, sparking speculation that a major military operation could occur before summer's end.

As the world watches for the next moves, attention is turning towards Damascus to understand al-Assad’s position, which remains ambiguous. Syria—a crucial ally of Hezbollah with a shared border with Lebanon—could play a strategic role in influencing the outcome of such a confrontation. The pivotal question is: Will al-Assad replicate his support from the July 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict by providing military and logistical support and perhaps even opening a supportive front? Or will he maintain a more neutral stance, as observed during the Gaza war?

Surge in escalation

The alarming reports about a potential full-scale offensive along the Israel-Lebanon border are linked to a recent increase in military escalation. According to open-source data, May saw the highest number of Hezbollah attacks against Israel since 8 October 2023. During this period, Hezbollah carried out 325 attacks, averaging 10.8 attacks per day. In comparison, April witnessed 238 attacks, with an average of 7.8 per day.

Notably, the use of anti-tank missiles and drones by Hezbollah doubled compared to April 2024. The group maintained its intensified attacks into June, penetrating Israeli airspace, damaging military bases, injuring Israeli soldiers, and setting off massive wildfires. Likewise, Israel has intensified its air strikes in southern Lebanon, targeting Hezbollah-linked operatives, military capabilities, and structures using missiles, drones, and fighter jets.

Moreover, Israeli officials are increasingly signalling their readiness for a full-scale offensive along the northern border with Lebanon. On 4 June, the Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, Herzi Halevi, stated that Israel was poised for a military offensive along the northern border with Lebanon and that they were nearing a decision point after extensive training.

This comment is part of a series of recent remarks by Israeli officials hinting at military action in Lebanon. That includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also echoed this sentiment during a recent visit to the northern border following a significant Hezbollah attack on the town of Hurfeish in the Upper Galilee region, stating, "We are prepared for a very intense operation in the north."

Read more: An all-out Israel-Hezbollah war looks increasingly likely

Should direct war between Israel and Hezbollah break out, al-Assad would probably shy away from a frontline role.

Ambiguous position

Damascus has historically presented itself as the spearhead of the Axis of Resistance. However, despite increased Israeli threats of a full-scale offensive along the northern border with Lebanon, the regime has not clearly stated its course of action in such a scenario. Speculation arises that al-Assad may maintain a stance of non-involvement similar to the Gaza conflict, driven by factors such as depleted military capacity, an ailing economy, apprehension of Israeli reprisals, and strained relations with Hamas—a former ally now at odds with Syria due to its support for the Syrian uprising.

Conversely, al-Assad's relationship with Hezbollah is more strategic and robust. This was evident in Syria's pivotal support for Hezbollah during the 2006 war with Israel. The al-Assad regime provided extensive military and logistical aid, including weapons transfers, significantly bolstering Hezbollah's operational capabilities.

However, the regime's financial and military situation differs significantly from 2006. Al-Assad's military forces are thinly spread across territories and along conflicting lines with adversaries. The 12-year-long armed conflict has depleted military supplies to a minimum. The regime's economic condition is dire, marked by low revenues, high inflation, substantial budget deficits, and insufficient provision of state services.

In contrast to his strained relationship with Hamas, al-Assad's ties with Hezbollah have notably strengthened during the conflict. Hezbollah's military involvement in Syria, alongside other Iranian-backed groups, played a critical role in not only ensuring al-Assad's survival but also in aiding the restoration of government control across much of the country. Al-Assad now finds himself indebted not only to Hezbollah but also to Iran, which regards the party as a crucial strategic asset within its regional network.

If left to al-Assad, the decision would lean predictably towards prioritising his own survival above all else—a pattern evident throughout the Syrian conflict. Should direct war with Hezbollah break out, he would probably shy away from a frontline role, instead focusing on facilitating Iran's military support to the group.

Hence, the determining factor is likely to hinge on the pressure exerted by Iran on the regime and the envisioned role of Syrian territories. Despite al-Assad's inclination to steer clear of the Gaza conflict, Syrian territories have been utilised by Iranian-backed groups to launch intermittent, albeit limited, attacks on Israeli-held territories. This indicates that Damascus and Tehran may have reached a compromise, or al-Assad has reluctantly tolerated such activities.

After Hezbollah played a critical role in ensuring al-Assad's survival, he now seems indebted to the Lebanese group.

Reports of escalating tensions between the two allies in recent months, possibly triggered by these developments, among other factors, still suggest a resilient relationship. This could be attributed to Iran's understanding or acceptance of al-Assad's precarious position—applying just enough pressure to influence rather than mandate a complete shift. This tolerable approach is because Iran may not have considered Syria pivotal for a game-changing role, given the participation of other allies in the axis of resistance, such as Hezbollah, Iraqi factions, and the Houthis. Furthermore, Iran might have chosen to escalate tensions with al-Assad due to potential strategic implications.

Higher stakes

But Iran's stakes would be elevated in the event of a full-scale conflict involving Israel, primarily due to Hezbollah's critical significance for Tehran. Similarly, the potential impact of the Syrian regime and its territories in influencing the outcome of the anticipated war cannot be overstated. Opening a second front against Israel from Syria, regardless of the initiator, would divert Israel's attention and potentially diminish the military forces and capacity directed towards combating Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The objective of such a strategic move would not be centred on territorial gains or assisting Hezbollah in achieving a conventional military victory, as Israel's military superiority makes these goals highly improbable. Instead, the aim would be to support Hezbollah long enough until a permanent ceasefire is negotiated—a narrative that Hezbollah would likely portray as a victory, irrespective of the incurred costs.


In this context, Iran may not need to pressure the Syrian regime into direct engagement in the conflict with Israel as long as Tehran and its affiliates can leverage Syrian territories as a launchpad against Israel. The substantial presence of Iranian-backed fighters, both foreign and local, within Syria would suffice to establish another front against Israel from Syrian soil without al-Assad's active involvement.

This approach would enable the Syrian regime to maintain its current stance of disengagement without escalating tensions with Iran and Hezbollah. However, this position would not be without consequences. Israel has explicitly conveyed through various means that al-Assad would face severe repercussions not only for his own actions but also for the actions of allies operating within Syrian territories. In the event of active pro-Hezbollah involvement, Tel Aviv would probably intensify attacks on regime assets to exert pressure on al-Assad to alter his course of action and reduce hostile activities originating from Syria against Israel.

Therefore, the extent of Syria's involvement in such a scenario—which does not seem to be an option—is unlikely to remain static. It is expected to fluctuate based on evolving military dynamics on the ground, including the pressure on Hezbollah, the need for external support, and the intensity of Israeli retaliatory attacks inside Syria.

These shifting dynamics are expected to drive frequent and intense negotiations involving al-Assad, Iran, and Israel— many of which may transcend mere verbal communication. Meanwhile, Syria and its population will remain mere pawns in a geopolitical chess match beyond their influence.

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