Football teams have pep talks, armies have parades. The parade Hezbollah held in al-Qusayr in Syria this month revealed the Lebanese Shia militia now operates a number of armored vehicles that would equip a mechanized battalion.
Hezbollah may not be the largest non-state army in the world but it probably has the highest reputation for military efficiency. In 2006 this Lebanese Shia militia — tenacious, well-trained and relying on pre-prepared system of bunkers and tunnels — managed to fight off the mighty Israeli army to a standstill in southern Lebanon.
Since 2013 Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria’s civil war to prop up the secular government of Bashar al-Assad and protect Syria’s Shia minority against the viciously sectarian Sunni Islamist rebellion.
It has been rumoured before Hezbollah has acquired tanks but no concrete evidence — until photos from the assembly in al-Qusayr (the site of its earliest battles in Syria) hit Twitter.
— Elijah J. Magnier (@EjmAlrai) November 13, 2016
As the images show this isn’t exactly the most modern equipment. The BMP-1 armored taxis and T-55 tanks (dating back to 50s and 60s) are nothing you would want to face the Israeli army (or air force) with.
In the context of the Syrian war however, where Hezbollah is arrayed against rebels whom almost always fight on foot or from the back of pickup trucks getting its hands on what looks to be nearly fifty armored vehicles of various types is a huge “force multiplier” for the group.
Aside from T-55 tanks, T-62s and a few relatively more modern T-72s can be seen as well. Also visible are at least three Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers, along with numerous BMP-1 armored personnel carriers and some ZSU-57 anti-aircraft artillery — which is doubtlessly used for fire support rather than air defense.
Interestingly there are quite a few American-made M113 battle taxis in the mix as well. Interesting because they could not have been passed down to Hezbollah by Syria since Damascus never fielded any weapons of western make. Most likely these are “imports” that Hezbollah somehow acquired from Lebanese army stocks.
The rest of the equipment was likely passed down to the group from Syrian storages but Damascus never operated American weapons. These vehicles then are likely from the arsenal of the Lebanese army
Even more interesting is the small vehicle in the picture above. It’s actually an improvised weapon mounting a WWII-era Soviet KS-12 anti-aircraft gun onto the GM tracked vehicle chassis which Soviets tended to use carriage for self-propelled missile artillery.
Between the wide variety of weapons fielded and their old age Hezbollah’s new mechanized battalion sure looks like a colorful, makeshift formation, but one that if the group is still as professional as it was in 2006 is sure to pack a punch in Syria.