Special Report: Hezbollah’s Mechanized Battalion in Syria
by Marko Marjanović (deputy editor and writer for Russia Insider. He has contributed to The Voluntaryist Reader, The Libertarian Liquidationist and published the Crappy Town blog. Check out his new project, Checkpoint Asia.)
World’s most powerful non-state military is no longer an infantry force only
On November 11th Hezbollah held a military parade in al-Qusayr — a Syrian town that is just across the border from the largely Shia northern Bekaa Valley and that was the scene of Hezbollah’s first major battle in the Syria, and its first major success.
Hezbollah holding a parade as part of its annual Marty’s Day celebrations, just outside its primary military base in Syria isn’t terribly shocking.
And yet plenty were shocked when days later photos from the parade showing dozens of armored vehicles started hitting Twitter.
The images are quite stunning indeed showing that Hezbollah now operates enough tanks, APCs and self-propelled guns to equip a credible mechanized battalion.
This is far more than anybody who isn’t on the ground would have estimated. For example four months ago the Israeli daily Haaretz ran a piece on how much better armed Hezbollah is in 2016 than it was in 2006. The piece even repeats the highly dubious claim the Shia militia now has Pantsir-1S air defense system but was nonetheless confident that “the terror organization doesn’t own planes and tanks”.
The tanks in the pictures are mainly T-54s and T-62s, but also a few T-72s with reactive armor.
The APCs are almost exclusively the BMP-1 model, along a few US-made M113s armed with a Soviet-made double 14.5mm machinegun.
It was the M113s that got the parade into The Washington Post. The paper asked if these machines might not be from Lebanese army stocks. In fact they are almost certainly vehicles Hezbollah gained in the collapse of the Israeli-aligned South Lebanon Army in 2000.
Pictures also show at least three 2S1 Gvozdika 122mm self-propelled howitzers and two ZSU-57mm self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. There are is also a smattering of Soviet anti-aircraft guns, mainly mounted on flatbed trucks but also two or three installed on a GM-578 tracked vehicle chassis which originally carried the 2K12 Kub anti-air missiles.
In sum this is a makeshift, improvised battalion. All of the equipment is venerable, some of it positively ancient. That said old doesn’t necessarily equal ineffective.
ZSU-57 with its 57mm autocannons for example is a hugely popular and sought-after fire support platform in Syria. This despite the fact it dates back to 1950 and had already been retired from service with the Syrian army. (The idea of using the anti-aircraft platform for direct fire support hadn’t been conceived of.)