A Hezbollah fighter salutes the flags of Hezbollah, Syria, and Lebanon during last year’s battles near Arsal, Lebanon.
Over the past two days, Hezbollah’s War Media Center has shared a statement and photos celebrating the anniversary of last year’s battles to clear the Islamic State and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham jihadists from Lebanon’s border with Syria. Hezbollah commemorated this as a joint operation between its forces and the militaries of Lebanon and Syria, despite Lebanon officially denying participation.
“Officially, on this day one year ago, the Lebanese Army and the Mujahideen of the Resistance ended the existence of ISIS in the eastern Lebanese barrens,” Hezbollah said in a statement released on Sunday. The statement said that the operations coincided with “the Syrian army clearing the western Qalamoun barrens of any terrorist presence.”
Hezbollah ended its remembrance by saying that “August 28, recorded as a new historical victory for the Resistance and the two armies of Syria and Lebanon, is within a new strategic equation [that] goes further than a battle of geography or borders.”
It also released several photos showing the Lebanese military (LAF) and its forces coordinating in the fighting last year. Several pictures showed Hezbollah’s flag flying alongside the Lebanese and Syrian flags.
At the time, the Lebanese military – which is funded largely in part by the US – denied any coordination or cooperation with Hezbollah. Moreover, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri also denied any coordination with the militant group or with the Syrian military. However, reporting on the ground painted a different picture.
Lebanese troops were positioned in the city of Arsal and its outskirts to protect the area from any potential flow of Sunni militants into the vicinity. Syrian airstrikes were also reported near the town. [See Threat Matrix report, Lebanese military coordinates with Hezbollah, Syrian military in border operation.]
Despite Lebanese claims to the contrary, Hezbollah also filmed its forces fighting on both sides of the Lebanese-Syrian border near Arsal. In many respects, the Shiite forces were responsible for the brunt of the operations.
Shortly after a ceasefire was announced, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah issued a statement to the Lebanese military thanking them for their support. “Despite the difficult battle, the town of Arsal remained safe thanks to the army,” Nasrallah said. He added the LAF’s role was “essential in the realization of this achievement.” He ended by offering to transfer the ground captured by Hezbollah in the region over to LAF. [See Threat Matrix report, Hezbollah announces ceasefire with Sunni jihadists near Arsal.]
Photos released by Hezbollah commemorating the joint operation between it and the Lebanese and Syrian militaries: