Iran and Hezbollah warn against US strikes in Syria, threaten retaliation
In recent days, as the United States appears to be moving closer to carrying out strikes against the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah have unsurprisingly threatened to retaliate. The PFLP-GC, a pro-Assad Palestinian faction, has also suggested that it is prepared to respond to Western strikes. Of course, whether these are simply remarks or bluster remains to be seen.
On Aug. 28, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told members of the Iranian cabinet that US intervention in Syria would be "a disaster for the region," according to Iran's Fars News Agency, a semi-official news agency with close ties to the IRGC. "[I]f such an act is done, certainly, the Americans will sustain damage like when they interfered in Iraq and Afghanistan," Khamenei further warned.
Similarly, Fars News Agency today reported that Iran's Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan recently told Syria's Defense Minister that "[t]he real losers of any war in the region will be those who initiate it." Dehghan, according to a recent report, was behind the 1983 US Marine barracks bombing in Beirut.
In addition to these comments, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the IRGC, was quoted by Tasnim News Agency as saying that an attack on Syria "will mean the imminent destruction of Israel." Jafari also said that "Syria will turn into a more dangerous and deadly battlefield than the Vietnam War, and in fact, Syria will become the second Vietnam for the United States."
US officials recently told the Daily Beast that if Iran chooses to respond to strikes in Syria, it is more likely to do so within the region.
Thus far, Hezbollah, which is extensively supporting the Assad regime, has been relatively quiet regarding potential Western strikes in Syria. However, in comments to the Daily Star, an unidentified "senior source close to Hezbollah" recently declared: "A large-scale Western strike on Syria will plunge Lebanon virtually and immediately into the inferno of a war with Israel."
The source cautioned that the terror group would likely not intervene "if the Western attack is limited to certain targets in Syria."
Similarly, the Kuwaiti outlet Al Rai reported on Aug. 28 that Hezbollah was in "a high state of readiness." "[I]n the case that the United States and Britain decided on a military strike that would help one side achieve victory over the other in Syria, then Hezbollah cannot stand with its hands tied," one source told the outlet.
"In reaction to the report, members on Hezbollah's Qawem.org forum spoke about the possibility of retaliation," including strikes against European and American military assets as well as Israel, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
According to press reports, Hezbollah has mobilized a number of its forces in southern Lebanon in preparation for strikes on Syria.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC)
On Aug. 28, the London-based al Quds al Arabi reported that sources within the PFLP-GC had said they were part of an agreement with Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria to retaliate against Western strikes against the Assad regime. The sources, the paper reported, said Israel would likely be targeted if Syria was struck.
"We will not stand idly by while a country like Syria is slaughtered," PFLP-GC Hussam Arafat told the paper, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. "We believe that any Western attack on Syria serves Israel, and we will stand with Syria and enter the war with them," Arafat continued.
Arafat further stated: "Whoever wants to stand with Syria in this battle should do so, because standing with Syria is a stand against American-Zionist schemes for the region."
Whether or not this plays out as al Quds al Arabi suggests remains to be seen. Interestingly, a recent report that examined the PFLP-GC's efforts in the ongoing Syrian civil war argued that the war "has not allowed for the group to have a secure base." "[T]he PFLP-GC is fighting to survive against its existential foes. The group is also suffering from a number of internal splits and pitfalls, which have occurred due to leadership struggles, defections, and the age of its leaders," the report continued.
Phillip Smyth, the author of the report, told The Long War Journal that "the group's ability to act as an organization capable of a strong response has been harmed due to the group's extensive involvement in the Syrian Civil War."
Smyth cautioned, however, that "this does not mean they cannot carry out smaller scale raids, such as limited rocket attacks." At the same time, he said that PFLP-GC "fighters have done little to directly engage the Israelis in recent years" and that the likelihood of an attack from the group in response to strikes in Syria is "very small."
The Israeli Air Force recently carried out a raid on a "terror site" south of Beirut in response to rocket fire from Lebanon that was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brgiades. The PFLP-GC said the targeted site belonged to them and an official from the group warned that they would respond to the Israeli strike "in the right place and the right time."
Thus far, the group has not responded.