How Hezbollah Is Igniting the Middle East

A dive into the terrorist group that has been tormenting Israel for decades.

  • Tensions are growing between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terror group

  • After months of rocket attacks from Lebanon into Israel, the latter is preparing a wide-scale invasion of its northern neighbor

  • A full-scale war between the two could reverberate throughout the entire region

The story

The Israel-Hamas war has been, until now, mostly confined to Israel proper and Gaza. However, if recent reports are accurate, a new front may soon open in Lebanon through a potential conflict with the terrorist organization Hezbollah.

While Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has fired rockets at Israel over the Lebanese border since Hamas’s October 7 attack, tensions have ratcheted up in recent months to the degree that Western nations recently felt compelled to urge Hezbollah back from the proverbial ledge.

To understand how things got here, it’s essential to understand the story of Hezbollah. Americans who have only casually followed events in Israel may still be somewhat familiar with the name, as the group has a long history; most famously for Americans, it was Hezbollah that oversaw the killing of nearly 300 U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1982.

The group is often portrayed as one of Iran’s many octopus-like tentacles. The Shiite group was founded in the early 1980s amid Israel’s occupation of parts of Lebanon by those loyal to Iran’s clerical government and still receives funding from them — one U.S. estimate puts their yearly tab at around $700 million.

What makes Hezbollah fairly unique is that it is also a legitimate and active political party in Lebanon. Lebanon’s government is a political balancing act, with power legally divided between Christians, who get the presidency; Sunni Muslims, who get the prime ministership; and Shiite Muslims, who get the parliamentary speakership. But while Hezbollah has worked with these groups since the early 1990s, it also has acted as a “state-within-a-state,” providing its voters with social services.

But it also has a rather large militia, having about 50,000 soldiers at its disposal. It is also well-armed and has been responsible for firing rockets into Israel these past few months in claimed solidarity with Hamas. Ever since its formation, this militia and Israel have clashed repeatedly in open warfare, most recently in 2006 when Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation for the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers.

Amid continued missile attacks from Hezbollah, Israel’s government has approved plans for an invasion of Lebanon, though no wide-scale attack has yet been carried out.

The politics

Israel’s left and right are united on opposing Hezbollah and would likely remain united if an expansion of the war was deemed necessary. Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival, recently said Israel could “return the southern and northern residents back to their homes, even at the price of escalation.”

Netanyahu swore to “restore security” to Israel’s northern regions, which Hezbollah has been persistently attacking. His national security minister, firebrand Ben Gvir, openly called for war with Hezbollah, saying, “All Hezbollah strongholds should be burned.”

Beyond the headlines

The mainstream media often follows a predictable pattern when violence breaks out around Israel. When Israel is initially attacked, as it was on October 7, the media offers its sympathy. However, once Israel counterstrikes, the devastating impact of the original attack is typically forgotten.

This pattern has already begun regarding Hezbollah, which, it bears repeating, has been striking Israel’s north for months. After these strikes had continued for some time, a senior Hamas official — called one of the “architects” of the October 7 attack — was killed in Beirut, with Hamas blaming Israel. For this extremely targeted killing, The Guardian decided to blame the victim by declaring, “Israel is pushing Hezbollah to its limits.”

This should seem bizarre to readers; the man killed was not a member of Hezbollah — he had overseen massacres of Israeli civilians, and the Israeli strike resulted in no civilian casualties. Yet, the attack is still portrayed as Israel being the cause of the problem.

Similarly, the United States has not been attacked directly by Mexico’s cartels, yet almost every major GOP candidate for president wanted to wage war in Mexico. If the United States was actually being attacked with missiles, there would be no question as to how it would respond. Israel is held to higher standards by the international press.

Why it matters

The last time Israel attacked Hezbollah, in 2006, the entire war was finished in just over a month. This time, with both sides having prepared and grown in strength, the war could be significantly larger and potentially even involve Iran. With the entire Middle East on the brink of a regional conflict, tact and calculated decision-making will be essential as tensions run hot.

And though the United States has pledged to fully back Israel in the event of war, it has failed to do so in the past — and with President Biden facing a tough re-election bid, it is unlikely that the United States would commit to engaging in a widespread conflict.

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