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Intel Brief: What is Hezbollah?


 



Date: 24/10/2023

Where: the Middle East

Who’s involved:

Hezbollah, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Ba’athist groups, Hamas, Israel.



What happened:

  • On 07/10/2023, Hamas attacked villages in the south of Israel just outside of the Gaza strip and over time killed more than 1400 Israeli citizens.

  • On 08/10/2023, Israel started a war against Hamas by bombing Gaza and calling up 350.000 reservists to prepare for a ground invasion of the strip.

  • On 09/10/2023, the Iranian-backed but Lebanese-based terrorist organization, Hezbollah, stated that it will attack Israel from the north if it carries on its attack on Gaza.

  • From 09/10/2023 and the days and weeks after, Hezbollah militants have conducted small operations and attacks on the north of Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) responded to the attacks by shelling Hezbollah positions in the south of Lebanon.

  • Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has not yet declared war on Israel but has issued threats to the country and the United States. He stated that the two countries should stop the attacks on Gaza and cease to interfere with Hezbollah operations in Lebanon and Syria.

  • Iran, which has historically backed Hezbollah with money, weapons, and instructors from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), had meetings with the Hezbollah leadership and has openly stated that Hezbollah has the right to attack Israel in defense of the Palestinian cause.


Hezbollah soldier armed with an anti-drone gun
In the photo: Hezbollah soldier armed with an anti-drone gun

Historical context:

  • Hezbollah was founded by Shiite clerics in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and was directly supported by the Iranian government, then led by Shia cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini sent the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) instructors to help set up the military wing of Hezbollah.

  • The current leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has been in charge since 1992. His second in command is Naim Qassem. The third in command is Nasrallah’s cousin, Hashim Safi Al Din, who has been very vocal on the conflict between Hamas and Israel. His son is married to the daughter of the assassinated IRGC commander Soleimani.

  • Hezbollah has been supporting Baathist and Shia governments around the Middle-East since 1979. In that capacity, the group has fought alongside the Syrian Armed Forces against ISIS/L, Kurdish, and Sunni resistance fighters in the Syrian Civil War.

  • Hezbollah has the largest standing army in the world not directly tied to the country they reside. Its exact numbers, however, are unclear. Hezbollah is believed to have a weapon cache that far exceeds that of organizations such as Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including missiles that could reach all of Israel.

  • The organization is in control of large parts of Lebanon and holds political power in the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah is also reportedly letting Palestinian terrorist organizations operate in Lebanon to attack and infiltrate Israel.

  • Next to receiving weapons, funding and training from Iran, Hezbollah funds its military operations by smuggling drugs to the West and the Gulf region.

Hezbollah soldiers on motorbikes during an exercise earlier this year simulating an attack on Israel
Hezbollah soldiers on motorbikes during an exercise earlier this year simulating an attack on Israel

Analysis:

  • It is likely that Iran will continue to support Hezbollah with weapons, logistical support, and instructors. However, Israel has made it harder for Iran to deploy its cargo aircraft when it bombed the Aleppo and Damascus airports in Syria on 13/10/2023 and 22/10/2023. Beirut International Airport has not been targeted by Israel yet, but if Iran decides to supply Hezbollah through the airport then it may be attacked. Iran is, as of 24/10/2023, supplying Hezbollah with weapons through a Russian military airfield in Syria.

  • Hezbollah will likely continue with relatively small attacks on the northern part of Israel. These attacks seem to be used to test the Israeli defense system and response. The probability of Hezbollah carrying out a campaign against Israel in the short term is small, but if/when Israel starts a ground invasion of Gaza, the group may start a full scale attack from the north to divide the IDF’s attention on two fronts. While not an ideal scenario, Israel has been preparing for a similar event for years and has a large reservists pool.

  • The Israeli government said it will ‘destroy’ Hezbollah and threatened to attack Lebanon if Hezbollah openly joins the fight. This can lead to a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, as the country could not afford to sustain a war in the current economic conditions.

  • Despite US support to Israel, it is not likely that the large US military presence will deter Hezbollah from engaging in a conflict with Israel. The decision seems to rather depend on Iran and not Hezbollah itself.

 
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