Iran, Hezballah have 50,000 troops in Syria

Iran and Hezbollah have built a 50,000-strong parallel force in Syria to help prolong the life of the Assad regime and to maintain their influence after his fall, Israel's military intelligence chief has claimed.

Major General Aviv Kochavi said Iran intended to double the size of this Syrian "people's army", which he claimed was being trained by Hezbollah fighters and funded by Tehran, to bolster a depleted and demoralised Syrian army.

Kochavi, the director of military intelligence in the Israel defence forces (IDF), also said Assad's troops had readied chemical weapons but so far had not been given the order for them to be used.

At the same time, he warned of the increasing sway of extremist groups in the opposition, particularly the al-Nusra Front, which he claimed was beginning to infiltrate Lebanon and was making connections with a Sinai-based militant organisation, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which is focused on attacks on Israel.

Israel opposes the western arming of Syrian rebels because of its fears that the weapons will end up in the hands of such groups.

Defence officials say they are focused on Assad's sizeable arsenal of chemical weapons and missiles and they are prepared to carry out more air strikes to stop such arms being transferred to Hezbollah, even at the risk of what a senior official predicted would be an ugly new war in Lebanon.

"The damages of the imminent fall of Syria are very high for both Iran and Hezbollah. Iran is losing a sole ally in the region surrounding Israel. It will lose the ability to transfer weaponry through Syria to Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad's regime.

"They support Assad operationally on the ground, with strategic consultation, intelligence, weapons," Kochavi told the Herzliya Conference, a meeting of security officials and analysts in Israel.

"Most recently, they are establishing a 'people's army' trained by Hezbollah and financed by Iran, currently consisting of 50,000 men, with plans to increase to 100,000. Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad's fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interests in Syria."

He said the Syrian regular army was crumbling, claiming that several successive recruitment drives had failed, realising only 20% of their targets as young men had fled rather than join up. The International Institute of Strategic Studies yesterday reported that from a notional strength of 220,000, the army had withered to a core of about 50,000 the regime could rely on. The Institute for the Study of War in Washington estimated the loyal core at 65,000.

A core of 65,000 or fewer troops is not an adequate force to space ratio to control much real estate.  It is probably enough to protect a couple of air fields and regime assets in Damascus and that is about it.  They can't stop the flow of people over the border and rebel forces are being trained in Jordan at this time.   Iran and Hezballah appear to be planning for their own insurgency after the fall of Assad.  However they will have a difficult time blending in with the people.  The rebels have shown good intelligence resources in hitting Iranian leadership targets as well as Hezballah.


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