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13 APR 2024

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How Dangerous Is Hezbollah? A Deep-Dive Into the Terror Group’s Threat to Israel 

Breaking down the capabilities, weaknesses, and potential threat of Israel’s northern adversary, Hezbollah


hezbollah fighters holding flag

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  • When comparing Hamas and Hezbollah, Hezbollah is often seen as more dangerous due to its greater military sophistication, extensive arsenal, and broader geopolitical influence. 


  • With a sophisticated military wing supported by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has a substantial arsenal and an estimated 100,000 fighters.


  • Although politically active in Lebanon and holding seats in the parliament, several countries recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.


  • Hezbollah and Hamas, although different in their ideological roots and areas of operation, share a strategic alliance against Israel. 

 

 

What Is More Dangerous – Hamas or Hezbollah?


Determining which organization is more dangerous, Hamas or Hezbollah, depends on several factors including military capabilities, geopolitical influence, and the scope of operations. 


Hezbollah is generally considered militarily more sophisticated and better equipped than Hamas. Politically, Hezbollah exerts considerable influence within the Lebanese government and holds seats in the Lebanese parliament. It has also established a robust network of social services, which further strengthens its domestic support base. 

Hamas, primarily operating in the Gaza Strip, has more limited capabilities compared to Hezbollah. Its arsenal mostly consists of short to medium-range rockets. It also lacks the advanced military hardware and diversified weaponry of Hezbollah. Hamas, however,  is known for its extensive network of tunnels used for smuggling and military purposes. It has also shown resilience in its frequent conflicts with Israel, including the Israel-Hamas war that began on October 7, 2023. Hamas’s political influence is mainly confined to the Gaza Strip, where it governs. Hamas therefore lacks the broader political leverage that Hezbollah wields in Lebanon. 


From a geopolitical perspective, Hezbollah’s strategic position in Lebanon, bordering Israel and close to Syria, gives it a potentially greater impact on regional affairs than Hamas. Conversely, Hamas’s impact is more localized to the Israel-Palestine conflict, though its actions significantly contribute to regional tensions. 

While both Hamas and Hezbollah pose significant security challenges, most analysts view Hezbollah as the more potent and dangerous organization because of its superior military capabilities, broader geopolitical influence, and role in regional conflicts,



What Is Hezbollah?


Hezbollah, also known as the Party of God, is a Shiite Islamist political and militant group based in Lebanon. Formed in 1982, it emerged in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It has since evolved into a multifaceted organization, wielding considerable military, political, and social influence. 


Hezbollah operates under the ideological guidance of the Ayatollah Khomeini and maintains close ties with Iran - from where it receives significant financial and military support. The group’s military wing is highly sophisticated. It possesses a wide array of weaponry and engages in guerrilla tactics, conventional warfare, and rocket attacks against Israeli targets. 


Hezbollah is an influential political force within the Lebanese government as it holds seats in the country’s parliament. The organization also maintains a robust social services network, which has bolstered its support among the Shiite population. 


Despite being regarded as a legitimate political party within Lebanon, Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organization by several countries including the US as well as by various international bodies. This is due to its involvement in terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and conflicts across the Middle East. The group’s complex role in regional politics and conflicts continues to be a focal point of international concern and policy-making. 



Hezbollah’s Violent History With Israel


Since its establishment, Hezbollah has perpetrated countless attacks against Israelis and Jews within Israel and abroad. Even after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the militant group has maintained a guerrilla campaign against Israel. 


In 2006, Israel and Hezbollah engaged in a 34-day military operation, which is also known as the Second Lebanon War. The war began when Hezbollah crossed Israel’s northern border, abducted two IDF soldiers, and killed several others. Israel responded with a full-scale military offensive, intending to diminish Hezbollah’s military capabilities and recover the abducted soldiers. The month-long conflict involved intense ground battles and widespread air and land strikes by the IDF. The war caused significant destruction and loss of life on both sides. This conflict eventually came to an end following the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for a full cessation of hostilities. The war, while not leading to a victory for either side, significantly reshaped the geopolitical landscape of the region. 


Since the war ended, Hezbollah and Israel have not re-engaged in a full-out conflict.  Hezbollah, however, remains committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Intermittent incidents have taken place between the two bodies in recent years, including Hezbollah rocket fire and attacks on Israeli military bases, and Israeli retaliatory actions.  



What Are Hezbollah’s Capabilities and Strategies?


Hezbollah is known to be the world’s most heavily armed non-state group. This has been largely fueled by continuous support from Iran and Syria. 


Hezbollah’s weapon arsenal is both diverse and substantial. It features a wide range of weaponry which includes:


  • Missiles and rockets – Hezbollah possesses an extensive array of rockets and missiles. While the arsenal consists of mainly smaller, non-precise artillery rockets, they also possess longer-range, precision-guided projectiles with more destructive capabilities. Military experts estimate the missile arsenal at over 100,000. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said that its rockets have the ability to reach any part of Israel. 


  • Anti-tank weapons – The group has effectively used advanced anti-tank guided missiles in various conflicts, including the current multi-front war in Israel. 


  • Drones and air defense systems – Hezbollah has increasingly used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance and claims to possess drones capable of carrying explosives and targeting aircraft. 


  • Naval capabilities – Although limited, Hezbollah has shown capabilities in maritime warfare, including the use of remote-controlled explosive boats and anti-ship missiles. 


Hezbollah’s estimated 100,000 fighters are known to have received extensive military training in Iran and Syria. 


Iran is widely recognized as Hezbollah’s primary benefactor, providing significant financial support, weapons, and training. This support is part of Iran’s broader strategy to exert influence in the region and create a deterrent against adversaries. 


Prior to the Syrian civil war, Syria also played a key role in the transfer of arms and support to Hezbollah. Although Syria’s capabilities are somewhat limited due to the ongoing conflict in the country, it still remains a strategic ally. 



What Are Hezbollah’s Weaknesses?


Hezbollah continues to seek expansion of its influence in the region and beyond. But, for a variety of reasons, it has avoided direct confrontation with Israel or the United States. It favors instead covert operations and terrorist tactics. 


Amidst severe economic turmoil in Lebanon, Hezbollah has taken steps to increase its influence. In 2021, the group imported over a million gallons of fuel from Iran, circumventing US sanctions as a response to the Lebanese government’s inability to address fuel shortages. 


Changing political dynamics in Lebanon, however, suggests waning support for Hezbollah. The 2022 parliamentary elections saw a rise in independent candidates and increased backing for the Lebanese Forces party, which opposes Hezbollah and advocates for its disarmament. This indicates a shift in public perception of Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon.



What Is the Relationship Between Hezbollah and Hamas?


Despite being distinct organizations with different ideological roots and primary areas of operation Hamas and Hezbollah share a strategic alliance driven by common adversaries, primarily Israel. Both groups emerged in the context of regional conflicts involving Israel. Their alliance is cemented by mutual support that includes military training and arms supplies. 


Hezbollah historically has provided military training and weaponry to Hamas by leveraging its own experience and support from Iran. This relationship is underpinned by Iran’s broader strategy in the region. As Tehran is a key benefactor of both groups, it offers both groups financial and military assistance. The nature of their cooperation, however, is complex. It is also subject to the shifting political and military dynamics in the Middle East.



What is Hezbollah’s Involvement in the War With Gaza?


Following the October 7 massacre, Hezbollah has repeatedly fired rockets and anti-tank missiles at Israeli military targets and communities. Hezbollah has also attempted to infiltrate Israeli territory with militants. This has been the largest escalation between Israel and Hezbollah in nearly 17 years. Hezbollah’s involvement in the war seems to be a tactical move to drain Israeli resources and attention, thereby hindering Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas in the Gaza Strip.


In early November, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a much-anticipated speech in response to the massacre by Hamas. In his speech, Nasrallah shared that while Hezbollah was wholly unaware of Hamas’ plans, he embraced them. Despite his remarks, many assume that Hezbollah was aware of the imminent attack, and possibly provided both military training and support to Hamas in preparation for the attacks. 


Hezbollah’s continuous attacks on Israel since the beginning of the war have sparked concerns that a greater war will erupt between the two. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened, “If Hezbollah decides to open an all-out war, then with its own hands it will turn Beirut and southern Lebanon, which are not far from here, into Gaza and Khan Yunis.” 


Many on both sides of the conflict have indicated that a full-scale confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah is too high a price for all parties involved, especially considering the economic and political instability within Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib have publicly requested Hezbollah leader Nasrallah to avoid dragging Lebanon into war. The Biden administration has also threatened Iran, Hezbollah, and other countries in the region not to engage in attacks against Israel. 



A War With Hezbollah on Israel’s Northern Border 


The likelihood of a war between Hezbollah and Israel along the northern border is a topic of significant concern and debate among political and military analysts. Escalating tensions have sparked fears that a full-scale regional conflict is imminent. 


A senior Israeli official expressed that the nation is “closer to war” with Hezbollah than ever before, and clearly, both countries are preparing for the worst. Nearly 100,000 Israelis from northern border communities have evacuated, with approximately 76,000 Lebanese also fleeing their homes. Within Israel’s war cabinet, several Israeli officials are reportedly pressuring for a preemptive strike against Lebanon. Other cabinet members remain opposed. 


“It seems clear that there is a significant faction in the Israeli war cabinet that wants to expand the war in an effort to smash and degrade the military power of Hezbollah, its most potent immediate adversary,” said a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, Hussein Ibish. “But…there is a lurking desire to set in motion a cascade of events that logically lead to a US confrontation with Iran and the long-sought-for US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”


The looming threat of an expansive war, especially against an adversary as significant as Hezbollah, poses serious challenges. The implications extend beyond security concerns - the financial burdens are also severe for all parties involved. The costs of warfare, coupled with the disruption of trade, tourism, and workforce stability, could severely impact the economies of the region. This economic toll, in addition to the inevitable loss of human life and infrastructure damage, adds another layer of complexity to the already fraught situation. 


While the possibility of war persists, given the volatile history and the current strategic calculations of both Hezbollah and Israel, many analysts suggest that a full-scale conflict is not yet imminent. Both parties, as of now, appear inclined to maintain the status quo. Nonetheless, the situation remains dynamic. Shifts in the regional landscape, internal political changes, or unforeseen events could alter this delicate balance.  


 

Sources


Britannica, Hezbollah, n.d.


American Iranian Council, The Origins of Hezbollah: An Export of the Islamic Republic, September 29, 2022


Council on Foreign Relations, What is Hezbollah, October 14, 2023


Israel Defense Forces, The Second Lebanon War: A Timeline, July 7, 2016



Center for Strategic and International Studies, Hezbollah’s Missiles and Rockets, July 5, 2018



Alma Research and Education Center, Types of weapons used by Hezbollah in the conflict in the northern arena:, December 27, 2023




The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah Finances: Funding the Party of God, February 13, 2005



Council on Foreign Relations, How Hezbollah Sees the War in Gaza, November 6, 2023




I24 News, Hezbollah At A Crossroads In The Gaza War, December 3, 2023





 

Ariana Sonsino

Ariana Sonsino


Ariana Sonsino, a Texas native, graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. Ariana now applies her diverse skills as the Marketing Manager at Awesome-Deloitte blending her background in both marketing and public relations

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