- Overt Operator
- Hezbollah's Catalyzing Role in the Brutal Decline of Levant Stability
Hezbollah's Catalyzing Role in the Brutal Decline of Levant Stability
Explaining Hezbollah's Role in the Israel-Hamas Conflict
Hezbollah has had a role to play in the war between Israel and the Hamas terror organization.
Hamas has received help from Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups, including influence from Israel’s north neighbor of Lebanon and militants associated with the government in Iran, following a brutal and barbaric attack against Israel on October 7, 2023. The war is being conducted primarily in Gaza. It is also playing out on the news and social media. To Israel’s north is Lebanon. Lebanon hosts another violent and dangerous terror group known as Hezbollah.
There have been reports that Hezbollah had been planning an attack on Israel itself before Hamas undertook its violent rampage on Israel. According to the research group Alma:
“ For the past two years, it seems that Hezbollah has been preparing for a confrontation in the north”. Hamas units allegedly possess the capability to invade the Galilee region in the north of Israel.
Hezbollah’s Involvement in the Israel-Hamas War: Known Factors and Unknown Status
Hezbollah operatives have already conducted cross-border raids and attacked Israeli positions. Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah was shown via media broadcasts stating that they are not afraid of any US warning to stay out of the conflict and was boastful that Hezbollah could enter the conflict at any time.
It is unknown as to whether a “postponement” of a larger Hezbollah attack was coordinated with Hamas or not
Hezbollah has immense military capabilities and a force that the Council on Foreign Relations explains holds "significant power"over Shiite Islamic political factions. Coupled with the enormity of its influence is its overshadowing hatred of Israel and the Jewish state. The threat of a mass attack against Israel continues to pose an existential threat for the Jewish state, the region, and intervening Western mediators whom Hezbollah views with increasing hostility.
Hezbollah’s Contributions To Regional Terror
In the light of its recent involvement influencing the current conflict status, Hezbollah has had a significant role to play in political escalations within the Levant for decades.
Founding and Leadership
Hezbollah, meaning "Party of God," was founded in the early 1980s in Lebanon as a Shiite militant group,and, Geneva Academy observed, emerged as a non-state actor with heavy influence over regional conflict at the the time of its inception. It emerged in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Its founding leaders include Sheikh Ragheb Harb and later, Hassan Nasrallah, who has been the Secretary-General since 1992.
Hezbollah's primary mission is rooted in a blend of Islamist ideology and resistance against perceived foreign aggression. Initially formed to resist Israeli occupation in Lebanon, its mission has evolved to include broader regional objectives aligned with Iran's interests.
The Hezbollah flag is a distinct and symbolic representation of the organization's ideology, goals, and aspirations. Its design consists of several elements, each carrying specific meanings and significance, the context of which has significant influence as Hezbollah maintains its position of adhesive influence over the regional conflict.
The basic symbolism of the flag’s design is as follows:
The flag predominantly features the colors yellow and green.
Yellow symbolizes the golden dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an important Islamic site, representing aspirations for the liberation of Jerusalem.
Green is a significant color in Islam, representing paradise, growth, and the Islamic faith.
The text above the logo reads فإن حزب الله هم الغالبون (fāʾinna ḥizbu llāh hum al-ġālibūn) and means "Then surely the party of God are they that shall be triumphant" (Quran 5:56).
Underneath the logo are the words المقاومة الإسلامية في لبنان (al-muqāwamah al-islāmīyah fī lubnān), meaning "The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon".
Meaning of the Upturned Assault Rifle
Positioned at an angle on the right-hand side of the flag, an image of an AK-47 assault rifle is depicted. Most terror groups in the Middle East have used Russian and other Eastern bloc versions of the Kalashnikov, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found.
Symbolizes the organization's armed resistance against its perceived enemies, particularly Israel and Western influence in the region.
Represents the militant aspect of Hezbollah's activities and its commitment to armed struggle.
Symbolism of the Raised Hand
Adjacent to the assault rifle, a raised hand is featured, commonly interpreted as a gesture of resistance and defiance. This hand represents the following:
Signifies the strength, determination, and readiness to defend against adversaries.
Represents the organization's commitment to resistance and struggle against oppression.
The combination of these elements on the Hezbollah flag conveys a message of Islamic faith, resistance against perceived aggressors, particularly Israel and the West, and the aspiration for the liberation of Muslim lands, particularly Jerusalem. It represents the organization's amalgamation of religious fervor, armed resistance, and commitment to its cause, embodying its core principles and objectives.
Hezbollah’s Connection to Iran
Hezbollah maintains a close alliance with Iran, both ideologically and logistically. Iran has provided substantial financial, military, and political support to Hezbollah, viewing it as a crucial proxy force in the region. The relationship is primarily based on shared Shiite religious beliefs and common geopolitical interests.
Hezbollah's funding comes from a variety of sources, including Iran, charitable donations, and alleged involvement in illicit activities such as drug trafficking and money laundering. Its financial network is sophisticated, making it challenging to disrupt.
Hezbollah has participated in many conflicts against Israel. Hezbollah possesses a formidable arsenal of rockets, missiles, and conventional weaponry, largely supplied by Iran. It has gained military experience through conflicts with Israel and has developed a network of tunnels and bunkers for strategic purposes.
Hezbollah possessed a diverse and significant arsenal, including rockets, missiles, and conventional weaponry. The group received substantial support from Iran, allowing it to acquire advanced weaponry and enhance its military capabilities over the years.
Number of Missiles
Estimates suggested that Hezbollah has approximately 100,000 rockets and missiles, including short-range and medium-range systems capable of reaching various parts of Israel. The exact numbers and types could vary due to the group's ongoing efforts to procure and upgrade its arsenal.
Number of Fighters
While the United States intelligence service has an estimated figure in mind, Hezbollah's precise number of fighters is not publicly disclosed. The organization has maintained a sizable force, combining both full-time fighters and reservists. The group's recruitment efforts were bolstered by its social services and political activities, contributing to a steady pool of supporters and potential fighters.
Hezbollah fighters received training from both Iranian advisors and Hezbollah's own experienced cadre. Training camps were reportedly located in Lebanon and possibly in Iran. The training encompassed guerrilla warfare, insurgency tactics, and the use of advanced weaponry. The group benefited from its experiences in conflicts, particularly the 2006 Lebanon War against Israel.
Proficiency and Effectiveness
Hezbollah demonstrated a high level of proficiency and effectiveness in asymmetric warfare. The group's fighters were skilled in guerrilla tactics, utilizing terrain to their advantage, and had experience in tunnel warfare. Their effectiveness was evident in conflicts with Israel, including the ability to launch rocket attacks and engage in ground operations.
Hezbollah, being a complex organization with a significant military structure, has several specialized units, each with its own functions and expertise. Here are some of the main units and elements within Hezbollah.
Basic facts about the Radwan Force include the following:
Islamic Resistance Support Organization (IRSO):
The IRSO’s basic operations are as follows:
Responsible for logistics, procurement, and supply chain management.
Manages the acquisition and distribution of weapons, ammunition, and other essential supplies for Hezbollah's military operations.
The Jihad council has these basic functions:
Strategic decision-making body responsible for setting military and operational policies.
Composed of high-ranking Hezbollah leaders overseeing military strategies, planning, and coordination
External Security Organization
A coverage support group, the ESO provides Hezbollah the following contributions:
Focuses on intelligence gathering, espionage, and external operations outside Lebanon's borders.
Engages in clandestine activities, including intelligence gathering, counterintelligence, and potential covert operations.
Not all members of Hezbollah are direct recruits. Al-Mahdi Scouts is an example. Basic facts about Al-Mahdi:
A youth organization affiliated with Hezbollah, focusing on ideological and military training for young members.
Provides basic military education and indoctrination into Hezbollah's ideology.
The Mujahideen Unit plays a specialist faction role, as it does the following:
Specializes in guerrilla warfare tactics and asymmetric warfare strategies
Operates in smaller, highly mobile groups and engages in hit-and-run attacks against adversaries.
Each of these units plays a specific role within Hezbollah's military structure, contributing to the organization's overall capabilities and operations. The divisions of labor and expertise among these units allow Hezbollah to operate effectively across various domains, including conventional and unconventional warfare, intelligence gathering, logistics, and border security.
Location, Strongholds, and Headquarters
Hezbollah operates primarily in Lebanon, with strongholds in the southern part of the country, the Bekaa Valley, and parts of Beirut's southern suburbs. Its headquarters are believed to be in the southern suburbs of Beirut, in areas that are often densely populated.
Role in Lebanon and Local Populace
In Lebanon, Hezbollah plays a multifaceted role, serving as both a political party and a paramilitary force. It has gained support by providing social services, including education and healthcare, which has helped it establish a grassroots presence and ingratiated it with the local population. Western political analysts have described the social influence of the organization as an acting “power broker."
Stanford University in the United States described Hezbollah’s influence in the social space:
“Over the last thirty years, Hezbollah has evolved into a hybrid organization woven into the structure of Lebanese society. It provides social services and actively participates in politics, while also engaging in international terrorist attacks and regional military operations,” Stanford’s Mapping Militants project wrote.
The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization and views its close ties to Iran as a threat to regional stability. The U.S. is concerned about Hezbollah's support for the Assad regime in Syria, its influence in Lebanon, and its potential to act against U.S. interests. The group's designation as a terrorist organization reflects the perceived danger it poses to American citizens and interests in the Middle East.
Hezbollah’s Presence in Lebanon
Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon has both political and social implications, affecting Lebanese citizens in various ways, the Counter Extremism Project highlights. While the organization provides social services that may garner support among its Shiite base, it imposes limits and poses dangers, especially to those who do not align with its ideology or objectives.
Hezbollah's significant political representation in Lebanon gives it substantial influence over the government's decisions and policies. This influence can limit the political freedoms of Lebanese citizens who may not share the organization's Shiite-centric or Iranian-aligned perspectives. Non-aligned Lebanese may feel marginalized in the political landscape.
Militarization and Security Concerns
Hezbollah's military activities and possession of a formidable arsenal can create security challenges for Lebanese citizens. The organization's involvement in regional conflicts, such as the Syrian Civil War, has contributed to instability. Unaligned Lebanese may find themselves caught in the crossfire or at risk of becoming collateral damage in conflicts involving Hezbollah.
Social Services and Dependency
While Hezbollah's provision of social services, including education and healthcare, may seem beneficial, it also creates a level of dependency among certain communities. This can lead to a situation where individuals and communities feel compelled to align with Hezbollah due to reliance on its services, even if they may not fully support the organization's political or ideological goals.
Actions Toward Dissent
Hezbollah's influence has been associated with limitations on freedom of expression and dissent within Lebanon. Critics or individuals expressing views contrary to Hezbollah's positions may face social rejection or even physical threats. This can stifle open discourse and create an environment where individuals are hesitant to voice dissenting opinions.
Hezbollah's Shiite identity and close ties to Iran contribute to sectarian tensions within Lebanon, particularly with Sunni and Christian communities. Unaffiliated Lebanese, who do not identify strongly with any sectarian group, may find themselves caught in the crosscurrents of these tensions, potentially facing discrimination or marginalization.
Hezbollah's actions and its designation as a terrorist organization by several countries have led to Lebanon's international isolation in certain diplomatic circles. This isolation can limit opportunities for economic development and foreign investment, impacting the livelihoods of Lebanese citizens who may not share Hezbollah's vision.
In essence, while Hezbollah's activities may gain support from some segments of the population, they can simultaneously restrict the freedoms and opportunities of Lebanese citizens who do not align with the organization's political and ideological agenda. This dynamic poses challenges to the unity and stability of Lebanon as a whole.
Hezbollah and the Wider Jihad Context
Hezbollah is recognized as an international terror organization, after the United States designated the group as a terror organization in October 1997, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence CounterTerrorism Guide notes. The group is a known Iranian proxy that has been engaged in violence since its inception. Its foothold in Lebanon is strong but not without controversy.
Lebanon, once the Paris of the Middle East and a bastion for diverse democracy, was sent spiraling into civil war mostly due to Palestinian militants, members of the PLO, opposed to democracy, diversity and Lebanon’s neighbor to the south.
As the PLO radicalized Lebanese society, a report from The New York Times, published in 1976, made note of the fact that the country was “destroying itself” referring to the departure from democratic and civil views in favor of the regressive ideologies of the militant organization.
“The Lebanese, the Palestinians and those who arm them have given war a bad name,” The New York Times reporter James M. Markham wrote with regards to the state of mid-70s Lebanon, as he published in the 1976 The New York Times article detailing the decline of Lebanon’s social stability under militant influence. Markham reported on the 15th month of conflict, at that time, and how it had, at that point in history, rendered Beirut as the most “savage” place on earth.
In 1993, The Washington Post described how Palestinian Liberation Organization militants had escaped to Lebanon and fought for the survival of their ideologies there, following their exile from Israel by late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzakh Rabin.
Hezbollah poses a threat to the region and the world. More immediately it poses a threat to Israel and her very existence. With an estimated 40,000 fighters, at the time of the US DNI’s last survey, Hezbollah has a massive force in ratio to the small population of Israel.
A mustered incursion from Israel’s north, simultaneous with the turmoil to its south and west, creates apocalyptic warfront scenarios for the tiny Levant nation. As the region’s sole democracy, apocalyptic scenarios of conflict, actualized before observer’s eyes due to the bloody Hamas incursion that has driven present conflict, poses a powder keg of political devolution for the region.
Israel’s Defensive Posture
Israel has greatly fortified its position in the north. The hope is that she has learned from her mistakes leading up to the Hamas terror infiltration and atrocities that ensued as a result.
In speaking with intelligence sources on the ground, Israel is very concerned about this threat and the serious dangers it is facing as a result, every day. It is something the Israeli intelligence community has been following for many decades. Perhaps more than ever, these threats are observed on their doorstep, knocking loudly at their door, and will be met with eyes wide open.