As the Israel Defense Forces continue to battle Hamas in the Gaza Strip, skirmishes along Israel’s northern border indicate the potential for a greater conflict. Hezbollah is exploiting the Israel-Hamas war, increasing the frequency of its attacks. The IDF said it foiled multiple attempts by its northern neighbors to strike at Israel from Lebanon.
According to reports, Israel carried out a drone strike against a terrorist attempting to launch rockets toward the Jewish state, near the community of Bar’am. Shortly after this incident, the IDF struck two other terror cells who were trying to launch anti-tank guided missiles and mortars toward the border. As tensions increase along Israel’s northern front, analysts wonder if and when Hezbollah might officially join the war.
A Heinous Attack
On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists breached Israeli security points and carried out a heinous, large-scale surprise attack that resulted in the deaths of at least 1,400 people. Israeli officials immediately declared war against the Gaza-based group and began a full siege of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, experts began to warn that Hezbollah and other Iran-linked groups could use this geopolitical crisis to ignite a wider war in the region. The Biden administration deployed two carrier strike groups to the Eastern Mediterranean in an attempt to deter Hezbollah and other malign actors from launching attacks toward Israel. While Hezbollah has shown some restraint, the group has not been quiet.
Over the last 18 days, at least six Israeli soldiers, 35 Hezbollah gunmen, and six Palestinian gunmen have been killed in exchanges between Israel and Lebanon.
The Lebanese government has indicated that it will not start a full-out war with the Jewish state. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati reaffirmed as much this week. But Hezbollah has intentions of its own.
Widely considered to be one of the most powerful paramilitary forces in the Middle East, Iran-backed Hezbollah has grown to hold considerable sway over the Lebanese state.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, sectarian tensions rose in Lebanon. By 1982, a Western peacekeeping coalition entered the picture — the U.S., Italy, France, and the UK endeavored to oversee the peaceful withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon. The coalition soon dissipated. In 1983, Islamist terrorists used truck bombs to kill 307 people in Beirut, including 241 American servicemen at a Marine barracks. A predecessor to Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, was responsible for the attack.
The emergence of terror organizations, exacerbated by international failures and sectarian violence, created a vacuum that the recently installed Islamic Republic of Iran could exploit. Following the First Lebanon War with Israel, Iran infiltrated Lebanon’s polity under the guise of fighting the “Zionist occupation.” Over the years, Hezbollah evolved from being a shadowy paramilitary group to playing a leading role in Lebanon’s politics. In 1992, eight Hezbollah members were elected to Lebanon’s parliament. By 2022, it held 13 seats. The group’s grasp on Lebanon extends to a shadow economy it controls and social service entities it dominates.
Iran fully supports its Lebanese-based proxy group. Tehran provides funding, training, and supplies that Hezbollah uses to launch attacks targeting Israel. The terror-designated group has deep ties to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other regional groups affiliated with Tehran. On Oct. 7, Hezbollah officials claimed to be in “direct contact with the leadership of the Palestinian resistance.” The group is considered more organized than Hamas, with weapons including precision rockets and drones. Analysts estimate that Hezbollah can field at least 100,000 fighters.
Israel has fought two wars with Lebanon over the last 40 years. Now, Israeli and American officials worry that Hamas’ attacks have emboldened Hezbollah. This week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN that the U.S. would act if Iran or its proxies strike at U.S. personnel.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen,” Blinken said. “But if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security — swiftly and decisively.”
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
From the Vault