Following the Moscow meeting between Lavrov and Kerry and the announcement of an international conference on Syria it was to be expected that all parties would scramble to be in the strongest possible position to bargain. Indeed, this is exactly what happened:
1) The Syrian government launched a successful assault on the strategic town of al Qusayr.
2) The US Senate passed a resolution allowing the arming of the anti-Syrian opposition.
3) Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah warning that "Syria had friends" and that these friends would not allow the US backed Takfiris to overthrow the government.
4) The EU lifted the (largely symbolic) arms embargo on Syria.
5) Russia for the first time officially confirmed that S-300 would be given to Syria to "deter foreign intervention".
First, let me say that the US/EU threat is largely a symbolic one. It makes the always clueless European leaders feel like they have some hair on their chest and it gives US Senators some brownie points with AIPAC. But that's about it. Since they beginning of the war, weapons have been flowing into Syria in large quantities and the official embargo was a farce since day 1.
In contrast, the liberation of al Qusayr, the semi-official involvement of Hezbollah, Nasrallah's pledge to stand by the Syrian government and Russia's determination not to allow a foreign intervention are all signs of a heightened determination not to surrender Syria to the US/NATO/Israel/al-Qaeda coalition. The most important development here is, I believe, Nasrallah's warning that Hezbollah will stand by the Syrian government.
The Russian S-300 are excellent air-defense systems indeed, but they are not some kind of magic weapon, in particular not in the absence of an integrated multi-layer air-defense system. In contrast, a "full throttle" Hezbollah intervention in the Syrian conflict would truly be a "game changer" to use Obama's favorite expression. Why?
The truth is that Hezbollah has been reluctant to enter into this conflict. Not only does this war violate Hezbollah's sacred principle of not shedding Arab blood, but it distracts the Resistance from its primary objective: resistance against Israel. Finally, while Hassan Nasrallah and the Syrian government are trying their utmost to prevent this conflict of becoming a sectarian one, the conflict is taking on a gradually nasty sectarian nature which is a real threat to Lebanon. To put it simply, Hezbollah does not want the war in Syria to turn Lebanon into another Iraq (where only yesterday 66 Shia were murdered in a bomb attack in Bagdad). For all these reasons Hezbollah *as an organization* did not enter into this war even though several hundred Lebanese Shia, including some affiliated with Hezbollah, did intervene to protect their relatives and fellow Shia across the border. Still, and this is crucial, even the recent Hezbollah intervention in support of government forces around al-Qusayr are nothing compared to what Hezbollah could bring into the fight if the Resistance decided to use its real power to strike hard.
This is a classical "weapons vs soldiers" issue which civilians typically fail to understand. So let me clarify what we know about this so far:
1) Weapons: the Syrian military is equipped with largely outdated Soviet equipment. While it has tanks, helicopters and military aircraft, these are of limited utility in urban warfare in particular in the absence of advanced communications and networking equipment. The few modern systems (such as the Tochka tactical missiles) Syria has are not sufficient to make a real difference against the insurgency (besides they are mostly targeted as Israel anyway).
2) Soldiers: after some definite difficulties at the beginning of the war, the government forces are now largely composed of very skilled soldiers with extensive urban warfare experience, finely honed tactical skills, excellent morale and popular support.
1) Weapons: the insurgency is equipped with much more modern small arms, communication gear, anti-tank weapons, etc. It has few tanks, no military aircraft and, crucially, appears to have only a few MANPADS (portable surface to air missiles).
2) Soldiers: the vast majority of insurgents are minimally trained and they lack the complex skills needed in urban warfare. The main exception to this rule is the al-Nura group which while not the most numerous is by far the most effective combat force being composed of international jihadists with very real combat experience. Still, the bulk of the so-called "Syrian" insurgency is composed of foreign nationals who get killed by the government forces as fast as they are shipped in by the "Friends of Syria" network which is attempting to topple the Syrian government.
Here is the West's dilemma: while the US/NATO cannot ship tanks, APCs or artillery systems into Syria in significant numbers, it could provide the insurgency with enough MANPADS to make a real difference for the Syrian Air Force. However, giving MANPADS to crazy jihadis is something which makes a lot of people very nervous. Also, SU-24s, SU-22s and MiG-23s are not all that easy to shoot down with MANPADS, in particular over mostly open, flat or hilly, terrain. So giving many MANPADS to al-Qaeda types in Syria might not be worth the risk. Finally, the truth is that the insurgency already has MANPADs, but that they did not yield much of an advantage.
Now let's look at what can Hezbollah offer the Syrian government:
At least several thundered highly trained combatants with extensive urban warfare experience and top level morale. These soldiers could be supported by advanced electronic warfare capabilities and equipped with top of the line infantry weapons. Finally, should the tide change in favor of the insurgency, Hezbollah could provide an outstanding cadre to organize the defense of Syrian towns and villages from the insurgency. If the situation became really critical, it is a safe bet to say that both Iran and Russia, and even China, would open wide the spigots of financial and military aid to provide all the pro-government forces with whatever is needed to avoid a NATO/al-Qaeda occupation of Syria. In other words, Hezbollah can provide exactly that which Russia and China cannot: "boots on the ground". And very very skilled "boots" indeed, as capable as anything the Russians our Chinese could send in themselves.
For centuries the Shia have resisted oppression and persecution, often
by formidable enemies, by repeating the dramatic words of words of Imam
Husayn Kullu Yamin Ashura wa Kullu Arzin Karbala (Every day is
the Ashura and every place is Kerbala) which can be interpreted to mean
oppression and evil must be opposed at any cost, everywhere and at all times. You can be absolutely sure that Hezbollah will fight, and fight hard, to resist the combined oppression of the West, the Zionists and the Takfiris whose only "values" are greed (for the West), racism and self-worship (for the Zionists) and hatred (for the Takfiris).
Furthermore, a major war involving US, NATO, al-Qaeda, Israel on one side and Hezbollah, Russia, China and Iran on the other side could easily spill over into not only Lebanon, but also Turkey, Iraq and even the Gulf monarchies (via Iran) and CENTCOM.
Finally, it is pretty clear that Iran will never allow Hezbollah to be over-run, not by NATO, not by somebody else. As for Russia and China, they appear to be determined not to allow an overthrow of the Assad government and, even more so, not to allow a direct attack on Iran.
My conclusion is therefore simple: what the West is doing right now is posturing, waving an angry fist, promising fire and brimstone on anybody who would dare resist it. The Syrians, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia and China are simply preparing to fight.
There is a great American expression:" it is not the size of the dog in the fight which matters, it is the size of the fight in the dog". Now let me ask you this: which dog would you fear most? The one that
loudly barks and runs in circles, or the one which lowers his head,
bears his fangs and takes a combat posture?