30.03.2024 Author: Seth Ferris

Israel, You Should Take Notice: “Hamas is the Bark but Hezbollah is the Bite!

Israel, You Should Take Notice: “Hamas is the Bark but Hezbollah is the Bite!

Any commentary on this subject should go beyond a matter of short memories, recriminations and what is going on in Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel, and that is just for starters. Then we have to toss in a bit of history about how Lebanon is a country based on a delicate balance of political factions, outside competing interests and ripe pragmatism.

And to complicate things just a bit more, Hezbollah is more than a US-designated terrorist organization, but a political force and state within a state that provides for security, education and social needs for its followers.

At least until recently, most European countries (and the EU) did not classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group, and predicted it as being a liberation movement on the verge of evolving into a political movement.  It has established itself as a political party for all practical purposes in Lebanon with a military wing that is stronger than the standing army of the country of its origin, in a great part thanks to the moral, religious, and financial banking of Iran and Syria.

It has already proved that it can take on Israel with success, and brought the occupation of Southern Lebanon to a screaming end. Hence, Hezbollah is a mainstream political organization, armed to the teeth, with battle experience, and with an extremely disciplined and well-armed so-called terrorist wing. However, as noted several years ago, it has made the same transition Sinn Fein in Ireland, albeit without the disarmament.

It speaks for a significant segment of the population and Lebanon and Palestine, including Gaza and the West Bank. Nothing happens in this region without some outside meddling, and the list of usual suspects and their sordid history is well-known to regional observers, especially the Israelis, the United States and Iran, for starters.

Israel Should Tread Lightly

Perhaps Israel was not totally defeated but was bled enough where it had to withdraw its invading forces back in 2006, after renewed invasion attempting to avenge the defeat in 2000 which saw the Israeli forces withdraw and abandon their so-called protectorate in southern Lebanon. Naturally, Israel never admitted defeat in either instance, but rather described its situation as the result of a stalemate. Regardless, the Hezbollah performance on the battlefield was perceived as a win, and a bloody nose for the Israelis, in both the 2000 and 2006 wars—a feat no other Arab militia had accomplished—Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, came out as heroes throughout much of the Arab world.

Now people are asking if Hezbollah will join the fight against Israel, in order to support Hamas, or will they strategically try to stay out of the firefight, so not to drag the US into a war that it will justify as going up against a force that is not only out to destroy Israel, but also as taking on a proxy of Iran.  It is as if the US wants Israel to jump the gun so to have an excuse to go after Iran, via Lebanon and Syria.

Nonetheless, regardless of what game theory is in motion, Hezbollah has controlled its emotions so far, and has only made life difficult for those living in Northern Israel. Upwards of 70,000 settlers have had to relocate to safer regions in Israel as a result of Hezbollah rocket, drone, and missile attacks. So far, according to Israeli media sources, a total of 14 Northern Communities have been Evacuated ‘To Give IDF Freedom of Operation’

The reputation of Hezbollah effectively bogs down the IDF on this front, having to divert troops from the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza to the border region with Lebanon, which could easily become a free fire zone. And the number of Israelis evacuated likely far exceeds 200,000 in reality, and they have also been evacuated from areas close to Gaza, with many having left of their own accord, to move out of harm’s way, and are therefore not officially counted as evacuees.

Perhaps this time, Hamas will have learned from the Israelis and use Northern Israel as a buffer zone to the fighting in what Hamas prefers to call Palestine, rather than the UN created Israel proper. And Syria too has benefits from Hezbollah in its own fight for survival, thus Hezbollah fighters are battle-hardened, well-trained, dug in, and armed to the teeth with modern weapons, that can take on most, perhaps even all, of what Israel can throw at it.

It seems that neither the politicians, nor the generals, have learnt the lessons from their disastrous invasion of 2006. Instead of “destroying Hezbollah”, the IDF proved to be poorly organised and led, only the elite Golani brigade performed anywhere near expectations. Israeli armored units left behind over 40 destroyed tanks, mostly taken out by the antiquated AT-3 Sagger, a 1970s era ATGM. It does not bear thinking about how they would perform against a Hezbollah now armed with the latest in anti-tank weaponry.

Especially in southern Lebanon, both Muslims and most Christians see Hezbollah as the force that liberated the country from Israeli occupation, with Hezbollah also having alliances with a number of Christian political movements that is seen as preventing a return to the terrible civil war that shattered Lebanon for much of the 80s and 90s. Though there are tensions between Muslims and Christians and internal tensions in both communities (Sunni vs Shia and Marionite vs., Orthodox, in particular), for now, the balance is holding.

Western diplomats and media often try to play up these periodic tensions, and appear to be trying to incite another civil war, something that would only benefit Israel, but to date, nobody has been prepared to take the bait.

And for good reason. Hezbollah is far better armed and trained than any other military force in the country, including the national army of Lebanon. It is well-trained in both guerilla operations, and defense in depth, being particularly adept at using its network of bunkers and tunnels in southern Lebanon to trap and ambush Israeli military formations, using a wide range of anti-armor weapons that range from the tried and true RPG, through to the dreaded Russian Kornet ATGM, which has been wreaking havoc on NATO supplied tanks in Ukraine.

In addition, Hezbollah has an extensive arsenal of mortars, artillery, and rocket systems, which are capable of hitting most of the population centers in Israel, and unlike the homemade systems of Hamas, these are military grade, supplied by Iran through Syria, who also uses the IRGC-QF (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Quds Force) to train Hezbollah fighters, in much the same way as they trained various groups in Iraq.

Western and Israeli experts try to raise the specter of a Hezbollah invasion of Israel in order to justify action against the organization, but this is extremely unlikely. Hezbollah knows well that their biggest advantage is that they fight on “home turf” in the rugged terrain of southern Lebanon, and that it would be asking for heavy casualties to emerge into the open in Israel en masse, where the IDF-AF would be used to bomb them.

Hezbollah, if it wants a war with Israel, will use its rocket artillery and drones to push Israel into an invasion of Lebanon, where the defenders will repeat the tactics of the 1990s and 2006.

Why change a winning formula?


Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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