Hezbollah and Israel are once again facing the void, and both parties appear to be preparing for another confrontation. According to press reports, since its 2006 hostilities with Israel, Hezbollah has amassed more than forty thousand weapons, spread out over one thousand facilities across southern Lebanon. Once again, these strongholds are reportedly situated in civilian areas.
Hezbollah has done its homework and believes it is ready to face its southern neighbor, come what may. For its part, Israel has done a thorough review of the Second Lebanon War and made traditional and untraditional military preparations for conflict. Policymakers and analysts alike in Washington, Paris, London, Beirut, and Jerusalem are beginning to brace themselves for the spark that will light up the eastern Mediterranean.
Israel pulled out of Lebanon in May 2000 after an occupation of almost 20 years, not as a result of a peace agreement, cease-fire, or informal understanding on the status of forces on the border, but as a unilateral move. Hezbollah and its supporters interpreted the withdrawal as a milestone in the organization’s development as a military and political force in Lebanon, and as a resounding victory in its struggle against the “Zionist entity.” The withdrawal was depicted as a great defeat for Israel, a sentiment shared by many Israelis. As Hezbollah often claims (with some truth), this was the “first Arab victory in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
The summer of 2006 paid off for Hezbollah—and other sub-state actors across the region. Palestinians have adopted Hezbollah’s military tactics (believing they can get Israel to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank), including the use of short-range missiles and hit-and-run operations designed to draw the IDF into combat in populated areas. This has gradually forced the IDF—and coalition forces that have troops engaged in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen—to change their way of dealing with terrorist organizations.
Palestinians continue to believe that Israel withdrew in 2000 because of Hezbollah’s ongoing attacks and that they can achieve the same result in Gaza and the West Bank.
The bad news for groups like Hezbollah and Hamas is that while they can inflict a tremendous amount of political and economic pain on Israel, they cannot destroy the Little Satan. But the worst news of all is reserved for those living in places like Gaza and certain parts of Lebanon, where Hezbollah and Hamas have already implemented radical shari‘a-compliant regimes.
Hezbollah still maintains (though in muted tones) that it wishes to implement a mullatocracy modeled on the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, Hezbollah’s founding charter is crystal clear, calling for the creation of an “Islamic government which, alone, is capable of guaranteeing justice and liberty for all."
For its part, Hamas has established the Islamist Republic of Gaza and runs it based on its founding charter, which calls for “the reinstitution of the Muslim state … Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the ca[u]se of Allah its most sublime belief.”
Nasrallah has repeatedly used his group’s willingness to die as a strategic bulwark: “The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”
Politically, Hezbollah and Hamas essentially control their respective jurisdictions; Hezbollah has control over a third of the Lebanese parliament and veto power over the Lebanese cabinet, and Hamas has outright control of Gaza. Both are flush with cash from Iran, which funds them to the tune of close to a billion dollars per annum and provides arms galore.