Hezbollah has purportedly been reaching out to senior Alawite officers, including members of al Assad’s Praetorian Guard from the Fourth Armored Division (commanded by the Syrian president’s brother, Maher al Assad) and the Republican Guard. According to rumors, the Lebanese militant group has been offering housing in Beirut and employment within the organization should the Syrian regime face impending collapse, allowing such officers to avoid Sunni reprisal attacks, arrests and possible extradition to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
To support preparations for a Sunni challenge to its authority in Lebanon and possible Israeli strikes, the Shiite militant group is believed to be specifically targeting Alawite officers who would provide valuable expertise in operating advanced weaponry and communications systems, as well as lessons in fighting asymmetric conflicts. At this stage of the Syrian civil war, Syria’s remaining Alawite forces with the means to defect are each facing an existential choice: either stick with their fellow Alawites against growing odds in Syria or secure a personal exit strategy.
Hezbollah’s alleged poaching efforts suggest that individual interests may have begun to outweigh the collective interests of the Alawite and broader Shiite minority communities. Should specialized Alawite troops begin leaving for alternative careers in Lebanon, serious cracks in what is left of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime are likely to emerge, raising doubts about Alawite staying power in Damascus.