Turkey’s Operation “Spring Shield” delivers blow to Hezbollah

Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed fighters recently killed in Idlib

Turkey’s operation in northwest Syria has caused losses among the ranks of Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria. In particular, Hezbollah has incurred losses that have not been seen in years of fighting on behalf of the Syrian government.

Turkey launches Operation “Spring Shield”

Early in February, Turkey deployed tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and soldiers to the Syrian province of Idlib to bolster the rebels it has been backing. The decision to send Turkish troops was made in order to stave off a pro-Syrian government offensive planned to retake the last remaining opposition stronghold.

On Feb. 27, an airstrike killed 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. Some reports blamed the Russian Air Force, but the Russian government has officially denied the claim. Turkey then launched Operation “Spring Shield” immediately after the airstrike in Idlib.

The following day, Turkey’s Armed Forces attacked a compound near the city of Saraqeb in Idlib, where pro-Syrian forces were operating. The attack resulted in the death of nine Hezbollah members and injuries to other pro-Syrian forces.

The significant one-day loss of Hezbollah fighters is evidence of a strategy by the group and its Iranian-backer that it is willing to send its fighters and risk taking losses to defeat opposition rebel forces in northwest Syria.

The funeral procession for five of the fighters was held in the district of Ghobeiri, whose residents are predominantly Hezbollah supporters. As mourners carried the coffins of the fighters, some chanted “Our party is Hezbollah, and our leader is Nasrallah.”

Hezbollah is believed to have lost thousands of fighters since it unofficially entered Syria’s civil war in 2011. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that it publicly admitted its participation in the war and its deepening involvement in support of the Syrian government’s war against rebel and jihadi groups.

It was a little over a month ago evidence of Hezbollah’s participation in the current Syrian government’s offensive came to light as the bodies of its fighters were coming back to Lebanon to be buried.

Other Iranian-backed groups also the target of Turkey’s offensive

Liwa Zainebiyoun fighters before their burial in Qom, Iran several days ago

Turkey has also targeted Liwa Zainebiyoun fighters in its recent offensive. The IRGC-trained militia, which is made up of Pakistani Shiite fighters, reportedly lost a dozen fighters in recent days due to Turkish airstrikes in Idlib.

Liwa Zainebiyoun operations have been documented during the Syrian government’s recent offensive against opposition rebels. Fallen fighters have been returned to Iran for burial under the pretext that they were killed fighting to defend the Shrine of Zainab, located in Damascus, Syria.

A ceasefire agreement is reached

A meeting between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday produced a ceasefire agreement.

Among the terms of the ceasefire, both countries agreed to joint patrols and to establish a six-kilometer-wide security corridor along the M4 highway connecting Latakia with northern Syria.

The ceasefire offers hope that a permanent deal can be reached to end hostilities between the Syrian government, its allies, Turkish-backed groups, and Turkey’s Armed Forces in the northwest part of the country.

Joe Truzman is a senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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