A recently leaked video showing Hezbollah militiamen disguised as Syrian Arab Army (SAA) soldiers has caused an uproar across various Arab news outlets and social media platforms.
In the two-minute video, which was first published on YouTube by Syrian journalist Mousa Al-Omar, a Syrian state-media boom operator can be seen giving stage directions to Lebanese Hezbollah fighters dressed in the SAA’s military garb.
The disguised Hezbollah militiamen participate in a fabricated plan of action to ambush enemy positions, and exchange rehearsed radio communications with a nearby platoon leader, while cameras and microphones record the entire incident. When one of the Hezbollah soldiers accidentally communicates his scripted line in Lebanese dialect, he is interrupted by the boom operator (who yells out “cut” in English) and is asked to repeat the same sentence using a Syrian accent.
The video comes amid widespread speculation in recent years that, because Assad’s troops have either largely defected or been killed, the SAA is now made up of large numbers of foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Chechnya.
Though badly botched, the choreographed video was likely an attempt to dispel suspicions and televise an aggrandized display of the SAA’s prowess and competency to regime supporters. These sort of regime propaganda ploys go back as far as 2011, even before Hezbollah and other foreign fighters became deeply involved in the war. In one of the earliest and most well-known examples of regime attempts to delegitimize the Syrian uprising (and justify attacks against peaceful protestors), Syrian state-media produced footage from 2008 of clashes in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon, claiming it was from demonstrations in Syria in November 2011. Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Al-Muallem, described this doctored footage as evidence of “terrorists…killing Syrian troops in various towns across the country,” according to Naharnet.
In an attempt to confer legitimacy on his “War on Terror,” and justify scorched-earth tactics as necessary to protecting Syria’s sovereignty, President Bashar Al-Assad frequently relies on claims that the opposition is predominantly made up of foreign, sectarian proxies. This is precisely why the involvement of foreign fighters in the SAA is so damning.
Considering that Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has referred to his group’s pro-regime interference in Syria as a “religious duty,” it is clear that many of the forces currently among the SAA are exactly what Assad proclaims to fight: foreign, sectarian proxies.