Iran’s War on Israel Has Reached A New and Deadly Stage

Iran’s War on Israel Has Reached A New and Deadly Stage

Iran has sought to unite Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, militias in Iraq, and Hamas in a regional conflict.


On Friday, November 3, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a much-anticipated speech. Some in the Middle East thought he might decide to increase attacks on Israel. Israel’s defense minister had warned the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group against an escalation. In the end, Nasrallah appeared to climb down from a major war. Nevertheless, the threat to Israel from Hezbollah and other groups in the Middle East has become a considerable factor in the recent war between Israel and Hamas.

Iran has been able to knit together several proxy groups in the region to attack Israel in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. This has included the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, as well as Hezbollah and militia groups in Iraq and Syria. The militias in Iraq and Syria have concentrated their attacks on U.S. forces, carrying out nearly thirty attacks in the first month since the Hamas attack. Iran now shows that it can unite disparate forces in the region, across thousands of miles, to carry out attacks. While Iran has played a role in backing these groups for decades, its support has now reached a pinnacle of operational coordination. Although Iran has tried to do this in the past, the Hamas attack has set in motion a new regional dilemma.


Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, sending hundreds of its fighters to attack twenty-nine points along the Gaza border. It then followed up the initial attack with two waves of assaults, encouraging ordinary people to enter Israel and plunder and kill. More than 1,400 people were killed in Israel, many of them civilians. Israeli border communities were overrun, a concert was attacked, and military posts were also overrun along the border. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers were killed, and fifty-eight police were also killed.  

This was an unprecedented attack. The attack has had serious ramifications around the Middle East. Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador, Russia and China have both refused to condemn the Hamas massacre, and countries such as Jordan have excoriated Israel for its response. Israel began its retaliation by bombing Hamas targets in Gaza for three weeks and then launching a ground offensive. 

One of the first decisions by Iran was to send its foreign minister to Doha, where Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh resides, for meetings. Iran pledged further cooperation with Hamas. During the first week of the war, Hezbollah also began to carry out attacks on Israel. Hezbollah and Israel last fought a war in 2006. At the time, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets at Israel. Since that war, there has been an uneasy peace in the north. During the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah began to operate in more parts of Syria. This led to tensions near the Golan Heights. There were several incidents where Hezbollah members were killed, Hezbollah would threaten Israel, and then the tensions would simmer down.  

In 2022, Israel and Lebanon signed a maritime border agreement. Hezbollah used this as an excuse to threaten Israel. Hezbollah also began to enable Hamas and other groups to operate in Lebanon. During the 2021 brief ten-day war between Hamas and Israel, for instance, rockets were fired from Lebanon. A drone was also flown from Iraq, targeting Israel. In early April 2023, rockets were also fired from Lebanon. This illustrated that Iran is capable of uniting various groups, creating multiple front threats for Israel. 

Israel also drilled to prepare for a multi-front war. Iran saw the use of various proxies, from Lebanon to Yemen, via Iraq and Syria, as a way to bring in multiple pawns to fight on the battlefield, which could now expand Israel’s frontline. That meant Iran could also encourage groups in the West Bank, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to attack Israel. It could also use Hamas, which it has backed for many years. This could make up for the fact that no one of these groups by itself is a match for Israel.  

Iran’s exploitation of this phenomenon is essential. In the past, there were many groups in the region that opposed Israel. For instance, Iraqi militia leader Qias Khazali visited Lebanon in 2017 and vowed to back Hezbollah against Israel. Many groups that Iran backed wanted to fight Israel. But they rarely coordinated in the past. Instead, it was Israel who appeared to have the initiative. Israel seemed to have contained Hamas and was waging a “campaign between the wars” in Syria to prevent Iranian entrenchment. Israeli leaders and security officials vowed to confront Iranian threats. But groups like Hamas had other plans. A key Hamas leader, Salah al-Arouri, said in August 2023 that there could be a “regional war” if Israel’s threats continued. Iran also believed internal domestic protests in Israel were weakening the country.  

In essence, two processes were at work in the days before the October 7 attack. Israel believed it could confront the Iranian “octopus” of threats using its superiority in advanced defense technology. In contrast, Iran believed the octopus could eventually cause the Israeli military behemoth to stumble. The Hamas attack reflected this reality. Hamas used pick-up trucks, motorcycles, and bulldozers to break through a billion-dollar hi-tech fence that was supposed to detect threats on the border. Israeli forces took time to get to civilian communities, and Hamas was able to massacre 1,400 people. 

In the following days, pro-Iranian groups such as Hezbollah began their attacks. Hezbollah fired mortar shells and carried out anti-tank fire. Since October 7, it has attacked Israel every day. Israel responds proportionately. The defense establishment has said it is ready for a war in the north but has warned Nasrallah not to escalate further. Meanwhile, the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have increased their attacks. They began the attacks on October 17 and have carried out several ballistic and cruise missile attacks. Israel launched its Arrow missile system, developed jointly with the United States, to stop a Houthi ballistic missile, and its F-35 stealth fighters succeeded in downing a Houthi cruise missile.  

The attacks on Israel from Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and the battle in Gaza are now at risk of growing into one larger conflict. This is in Iran’s interest. The United States has sought to deter this possibility by positioning aircraft carriers in the region. Israel has also been pragmatic in not escalating attacks with Hezbollah and not responding to the Houthi attacks so far. Nevertheless, Iran’s ability to bring all these groups together means it can do this in the future, and Israel will have to address this multi-front threat. The Hezbollah attacks, for instance, have forced Israel to evacuate communities on the northern border, including one city. Israel can’t function if it has to evacuate tens or hundreds of thousands of people every time Iran chooses to key in Hezbollah or another group to threaten the country. Israel wants to focus on destroying Hamas in Gaza.  

Iran wants to use this war to bring together its proxies. The fact that it has also unleashed them on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria shows that, for Iran, this is already a regional conflict. Iran sees Israel and the United States as linked and is trying to foment a regional war against the two countries. This upends the stability in the region that appeared to be emerging in the wake of the defeat of ISIS. Iran’s war against Israel has now reached a new stage, and this affects the whole region. Iran’s proxy militias will need to be viewed as more than the sum of all their parts in the future. Iran’s ability to operationalize them all over the month that began with the October 7 attacks is evidence of how Iran has succeeded in uniting all these groups.  

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Image Credit: An Israeli air force F-15I Ra'am taxis down the runway during Blue Flag 2019 at Uvda Air Base, Israel, November 4, 2019. The U.S. and Israel have a strong and enduring military-to-military partnership built on trust and developed over decades of cooperation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Cope).