By: Rami Levin  | 

Hezbollah — What’s Next?

In the midst of the Israeli-Hamas crisis of 2021, from May 13 to 19, about a dozen rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. This was the first time since late 2015 that such an attack was carried out, breaking the unofficial ceasefire and paving the road for further attacks over the summer.

The next rockets over the Lebanese border would come two months later. On July 20, at 3:54 a.m., sirens went off in about ten towns in northern Israel. This time, only two rockets were fired. 

The latest round of attacks on Israel proper occurred on Aug. 4, at 12:15 p.m.: Three rockets were fired, with two landing in Israel. Two days later, on Aug. 6, sirens went off in three towns in the Golan Heights.

These attacks give rise to a valid fear of war. With the current instability of the Lebanese Republic, the terrorist organization Hezbollah has functionally become, for many, the de-facto government. As such, Hezbollah would be aware of planned attacks along the Lebanese border with Israel. 

Considering this pattern of attacks, it appears rockets will not stop for the near future. While the  rockets launched in May could have been in response to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, there isn’t as clear of a reason why rocket attacks are happening now. This could indicate Hezbollah’s desire for a larger conflict with Israel. Hassan Nasrallah, the chief of Hezbollah, has openly said they will retaliate against future Israeli airstrikes. 

Another Lebanon-Israeli war would be disastrous. Hezbollah is estimated to have 40,000 to 150,000 rockets. Such a barrage would absolutely overwhelm the Iron Dome. And, unlike Hamas’s rockets, these are military grade. 

Fortunately, escalation is not guaranteed. For one, Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for any of the following attacks, except for the launches into the Golan Heights. The attack that occurred on July 20, for example, was claimed by the Palestine Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization affiliated with Hamas. While other attacks are unclaimed, Hezbollah’s denial of responsibility could be viewed as sort of a “de-escalation.” 

More significantly, none of these attacks have resulted in any casualties on either side. Many rockets launched at Israel are landing in empty fields, and those that aren’t have been intercepted by the Iron Dome. Israeli airstrikes into Lebanon have also not caused casualties. Effectively, current rocket fire is for “show,” not for actual damage. Also notable is that Nasrallah has said Hezbollah will retaliate to airstrikes “in a suitable and proportionate way.” If he holds to this standard, Hezbollah would not escalate to an open conflict.

It should be noted that Hezbollah is not Hamas. Here’s why that is important.

Hamas is the government of the Gaza strip. They have full control over their territory, using courts to punish those deemed criminal. The only way to expand is conflict with Israel. The same cannot be said of Hezbollah in Lebanon where the government is still functioning. Hezbollah still has more internal room to “grow.” An open conflict with Israel would weaken Hezbollah and limit their ability to gain further control of Lebanon. At the same time, however, Hezbollah is funded by Iran. Indeed, Hezbollah has been called an Iranian proxy. As Iran speeds up uranium enrichment and Israel contemplates striking Iran, Hezbollah might be influenced to launch rockets as a distraction. This would put Hezbollah at a crossroads: Attack Israel and be put under greater Iranian influence, or have a cold peace while establishing a stronger grasp over Lebanon.

What will Hezbollah do next? Such remains to be seen. For now, expect bloodless shows of force, with a possibility of a sharp escalation.

Photo Caption: Israel faced several rocket attacks in the summer of 2021

Photo Credit: Red Alert Israel