What’s Hezbollah, the Terrorist Group Behind the Attacks in Northern Israel?

Hamas is not the only U.S.-designated terrorist group backed by Iran that’s threatening Israel.
What’s Hezbollah, the Terrorist Group Behind the Attacks in Northern Israel?
Fighters with the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah party march in a parade in a southern suburb of the capital Beirut, to mark the al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day, on May 31, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)
Jackson Richman
Updated:
0:00

Hamas isn’t the only U.S.-designated terrorist group behind the latest attacks on Israel.

Enter Hezbollah, which has been firing rockets from Lebanon into the Jewish state while Hamas has been launching rockets from Gaza. Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7, carrying out the largest single-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

While Hamas is a Sunni Muslim organization, Hezbollah is Shiite. It was founded in 1985 by Abbas al-Musawi and holds 15 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament.

Hezbollah’s Goals

The Hezbollah Program, published in 1985, is the terrorist group’s anti-Semitic manifesto, which states that the organization has “no alternative but to confront aggression by sacrifice” and calls for the Jewish state of Israel to be “obliterated.”

“We declare openly and loudly that we are an umma which fears God only and is by no means ready to tolerate injustice, aggression and humiliation. America, its Atlantic Pact allies, and the Zionist entity in the holy land of Palestine, attacked us and continue to do so without respite,” it reads.

“Their aim is to make us eat dust continually. This is why we are, more and more, in a state of permanent alert in order to repel aggression and defend our religion, our existence, our dignity.

“They do not cease to give support to these allies of Israel, and do not enable us to decide our future according to our own wishes.”

In addition to the United States, 21 countries—plus the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council—recognize Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist group, while the European Union, France, New Zealand, and Kosovo have designated only Hezbollah’s military wing.

Hezbollah has about 150,000 missiles ready to be launched at Israel.

Hezbollah, like Hamas, is backed by Iran. It also essentially controls Lebanon.

“Hezbollah has successfully embedded itself into every aspect of Lebanese society—politically, economically, socially, and militarily,” Josh Lipowsky, senior research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project, told The Epoch Times.

“Hezbollah is the strongest military force in the country and holds enough sway in the parliament that it can hold the country hostage by freezing government processes.”

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have come under fire for essentially being an extension of Hezbollah. However, almost 100 Republicans joined Democrats in September to reject an amendment to the House version of the U.S. Department of State/Foreign Operations appropriations bill that would have prohibited funding for the LAF.

Role in the Latest Conflict

Unsurprisingly, Hezbollah celebrated the latest round of Hamas attacks.

“It sends a message to the Arab and Islamic world, and the international community as a whole, especially those seeking normalization with this enemy, that the Palestinian cause is an everlasting one, alive until victory and liberation,” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a statement.

Israel Defense Forces troops have been stationed in northern Israel amid the Hezbollah threat. The United States has shifted its posture in the Middle East, sending two strike carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean, where they can launch missiles at Hezbollah and Hamas targets.

While Hezbollah hasn’t had an extensive role in the latest Hamas–Israel conflict, Israel can’t afford to take its eye off the north, experts told The Epoch Times.

The village of Dhayra in southern Lebanon after Israeli shelling, as seen from the Lebanese town of Marwahin on Oct. 11, 2023. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)
The village of Dhayra in southern Lebanon after Israeli shelling, as seen from the Lebanese town of Marwahin on Oct. 11, 2023. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

“Hezbollah’s leaders have openly dismissed the U.S. warnings, but Israeli reports indicate Hezbollah is in fact holding back as the attacks thus far have been relatively contained,” Mr. Lipowsky said.

Clifford Smith, Washington Project director at the Middle East Forum think tank, remarked that while Hezbollah has so far played a major part indirectly, its “role could spill over and get bigger at any time.”

Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, said that “officials in Jerusalem are extremely concerned that there may be an activation of the ‘northern front’ once the country’s planned offensive in Gaza begins,” as “Hezbollah is far more well-resourced and dangerous than Hamas, thanks to extensive Iranian support” monetarily and militarily.

“The result has been a formidable stockpile of missiles and rockets—what Israel refers to as precision-guided munitions, or PGMs—capable of striking virtually the entirety of Israeli territory,” he said. “As such, the Hezbollah threat is not one that Israel can afford to take lightly.”

Can Israel End the Threat?

Analysts are mixed as to whether Israel can annihilate Hezbollah, as it has pledged to do with Hamas. Mr. Smith said wiping out Hezbollah “would be bloody and difficult.”

“I don’t think Israel wants to fight a two-front war now, and Iran, at least at this moment, seems to be weary,” he said. “Of course, that could change.”

Mr. Lipowsky said, “Israel has the capabilities to devastate Hezbollah’s infrastructure, but it would come at great cost. Like Hamas, Hezbollah has embedded itself in a civilian population and the Israeli operation would result in mass casualties and destruction across Lebanon.”

He also said an Israeli mission to annihilate Hezbollah could cause Lebanon, including those who are against the terrorist group, to unite behind it “in defense of what is perceived as an attack on Lebanese sovereignty.”

The possibility of Israel eliminating Hezbollah is “practically impossible,” Mr. Berman said.

“However, eroding its military capabilities is possible—and may emerge as an Israeli strategic priority,” he said.

Palestinians flee northern Gaza to the south after the Israeli army issued an evacuation warning ahead of a possible Israeli ground operation on Oct. 13, 2023. (Hatem Moussa/AP)Mr. Berman said, “The key here is deterrence.”

“Israel’s plan currently is to harden the north by relocating vulnerable communities [such as Kiryat Shmona] and then to threaten direct action against Hezbollah in the event of escalation,” he said. “As we’re seeing, however, this isn’t necessarily a successful strategy—and will depend a lot on concrete shows of force to keep the militia out of the fight.”

Mr. Lipowsky said, “Israel has the capabilities to fight on multiple fronts, as it has in the past.

“Both Hamas and Hezbollah have grown stronger in recent years, but the regional wind has also shifted as Israel has made peace with multiple Arab neighbors and Iran has become more of a regional pariah.

“While the Arab world will publicly unite behind the Palestinians, Israel may not find itself completely ostracized at the end of the day by Arab governments.”

Will Israel Target Hezbollah Leaders?

Finally, don’t rule out Israel attempting to kill Mr. Nasrallah and other senior Hezbollah officials, the analysts said.

“I do not believe Israel will target Nasrallah as long as Hezbollah remains on the sidelines,” Mr. Lipowsky said. “If Hezbollah unleashes a stream of rockets on northern Israel and prompts a second front, then Israel may target the Hezbollah leadership.”

Mr. Smith said that doing so is “certainly possible” were there to be an “all-out war” but “in a more limited fight, perhaps not.”

“It’s very difficult to tell,” he said. “It will depend on a lot of factors, some of which could not possibly be known till the fighting starts. Where is he? What is their war aim? What do the Iranians do? I could probably come up with another dozen factors. Too many questions to know.”

Mr. Berman echoed Mr. Smith and remarked that “it’s hard to tell” if Israel will try to kill Mr. Nasrallah and other senior Hezbollah leaders during the Hamas–Israel war.

“Clearly, if Hezbollah becomes a direct participant in the conflict, then Israeli direct action—including the targeting of its leadership—will be on the table,” Mr. Berman said. “However, if Hezbollah largely stays out of the fray, Israel won’t press the issue and risk widening the war.”

Jackson Richman is a Washington correspondent for The Epoch Times. In addition to Washington politics, he covers the intersection of politics and sports/sports and culture. He previously was a writer at Mediaite and Washington correspondent at Jewish News Syndicate. His writing has also appeared in The Washington Examiner. He is an alum of George Washington University.
twitter
Related Topics