Hezbollah's motivations for launching campaign against Israel: Analysis

Dr. Eyal Pinko

Dr. Eyal Pinko served for 30 years in Israeli security services. In recent years, having retired, Dr. Pinko is a journalist, a lecturer and the president of the International Institute for Migration and Security Research.

9 min read
A rocket launcher placed on a pick-up truck that was used by Hezbollah to fire rockets near Israeli positions is seen in the southeastern village of Shwaya, near the border with the Golan Heights, on August 6, 2021.
Mohammed Zaatari/ AP PhotoA rocket launcher placed on a pick-up truck that was used by Hezbollah to fire rockets near Israeli positions is seen in the southeastern village of Shwaya, near the border with the Golan Heights, on August 6, 2021.

It is not possible to predict which event will be the one to lead to a regional flare-up in the Middle East

In recent days, the borderline between Israel and Lebanon has been heating up. Only last weekend, about 20 rockets were fired by Hezbollah at Israeli cities. There are various calls and opinions from all sides regarding the need for an Israeli response, how powerful it is required to be, and its possible consequences.

From the past experience of the campaigns in Gaza and the Second Lebanon War, Israel has learned that the future cannot be predicted in the Middle East; military campaigns began within hours, with an action or an unexpected response from one side or another. In other words, an Israeli response that is perceived on the other side as disproportionate may well lead to the opening of a military campaign. Alternatively, Hezbollah attacks beyond the Israeli tolerance reference may also lead to a rapid deterioration of the region.

It is not possible to predict which event will be the one that will lead to an overall regional flare-up in the Middle East. However, in this article, I will analyze Hezbollah's potential motivations to warm up the arena and launch a campaign against Israel while observing it from a holistic perspective.

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The analysis will examine Hezbollah's situation from the political perspective in Lebanon, from the military-organizational aspect, and the Iranian pressure exerted on the organization.

From the domestic point of view, from its base in Lebanon, Hezbollah does not operate in a vacuum and is affected by a very complex system of pressures and challenges.

The economic situation in Lebanon is precarious, the financial crisis that the country is experiencing is one of the worst in global history, and its economy is on the verge of bankruptcy. 

In addition, the explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020, a sharp cut in the flow of Iranian funds to Lebanon, and other factors caused the value of the currency to erode by more than 90 percent, a dizzying inflation rate and an unemployment rate of about 40 percent in the country.

The social class gaps in Lebanon are growing. A small group of rich people control the country and enjoy economic well-being, while over 55 percent of its citizens are below the poverty line and struggling for personal and family survival.

Moreover, the salaries of Hezbollah operatives are exceptionally high, even compared to senior Lebanese government officials and military high-rank officers. Those differences highlight the gaps, rifts, and economic crisis of Lebanese citizens.

This economic situation causes political, economic, and social instability and a real difficulty for the Lebanese government to impose its governance in the country. In addition, the Lebanese citizens' complaints against Hezbollah are growing; when an accusing finger is pointed against it openly and clearly. Hezbollah finds it challenging to operate freely in this environment.

An additional factor is the Iranian aid reduction over the past year, which has not allowed Hezbollah to operate its religious, educational, charitable, food supply, and health care facilities and services. The Hezbollah aid was used to support the country's citizens (especially when the Lebanese government was scarce), giving Hezbollah relative internal peace and presenting itself as Lebanon's savior.

In the military-organizational aspect, Hezbollah is ending a nearly two-decade-long chapter of military force building. In this context, the organization developed a powerful missile and rocket force of about 150,000 long-range missiles, many thousands of unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance and attack, anti-tank missile units, a naval unit with long-range attack capabilities in Israeli territory using cruise missiles and commando force, intelligence units with tactical and strategic capabilities, cyberattack capabilities, and more.

The process of intensifying the financing and leadership of the Iranian Quds Force has helped Hezbollah build an adequately equipped force with a command and control structure, integrated battlefield approach, and an orderly warfare doctrine. Hezbollah's warfare doctrine was written by blood and practiced in the military campaigns that the Iranian proxy conducted since 2011 in Syria, helping the Iranians support the Bashar al-Assad regime. 

With fewer combats and fights during the last year in Syria, the well-experienced Hezbollah forces have begun returning to Lebanon and reorganizing at their bases.

Hezbollah's military power and rich combat experience allow it to control the Lebanese territory and operate unhindered there, without Lebanese military capability to stop them.

From the external Iranian pressure. Iran has also experienced ups and downs in recent years. It has suffered international pressure, particularly vis-à-vis the United States, which has imposed heavy sanctions on it in 2018, including sanctions on its oil sales, in light of its refusal to cooperate with the nuclear deal.

US sanctions have created a severe economic situation and civil rebellion in Iran, the echoes of which are heard from time to time in the global media.

Iran began to change its face in the last year of Trump's administration and began to operate secretly to pirate oil supplies to China, Venezuela, Syria, Lebanon, and North Korea to improve its economic situation and bring foreign money into the country. In addition, Iran has begun to pursue other ways to increase its revenues, such as cyber-attacks, drug trafficking, and crypto-currency mining.

Iran's efforts to carry out covert oil transfers have not gone unnoticed, and for more than a year, there has been a secret naval battle between Iran and Israel. In this context, Iran has repeatedly attacked merchant ships in the Gulf of Oman, identified as Israeli-owned ships.

Iranian aggression and the Iranian intention to overcome the barriers of American sanctions were reflected in the election of the new Iranian president, who came into power this week, Ebrahim Raisi, far more radical than his predecessor and known for his proximity to Hezbollah. Raisi will continue to implement the Iranian strategy, which seeks to position Iran as a regional power in the Middle East, based on the vision of Islam.

Iran operates many proxy organizations in the Middle East to carry out its strategies, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq. Iran operates its proxy organizations to carry out operational activities, gather intelligence, and establish its influence as a power in all dimensions - religious, cultural, economic, social, political, and of course, military.

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Raisi sees these proxy organizations, which are operated and controlled by the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, as Iran's main executive arm. Through them, he intends to implement Iran's policies and power, like his predecessors.

Based on his intention to implement the strategy and release the economic and political pressure from Iran, Raisi began to use Hezbollah to start an offensive act against Israel, barely a day after the Iranian parliament ratified his inauguration. 

This act aims to create pressure and warn Israel and the United States not to act against Iran after the recent attack on an Israeli-owned ship - the Mercer Street in the Gulf of Oman.

Hezbollah operating on Raisi's mission is launching a "drip" of implicit threats against Israel not to act against Iran.

If so, it can be summarized.

Hezbollah is currently operating under massive pressure; from the domestic arena, the Lebanese tormented by the country's precarious economic and political situation. In this case, Hezbollah cannot support the economy as it has done in recent years. Moreover, Lebanese have begun to point the finger of blame at Hezbollah for at least part of the country's ills.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is under pressure from the Iranian government, which has begun stepping up its efforts against the US and Israel to remove the economic sanctions and improve the financial situation in the country. Thus, Hezbollah is Iran's game tool across the Middle East chessboard.

And from another perspective, Hezbollah is tired from the Syrian campaign. Its fighters have completed a decade of service in the fighting in Syria. Despite their vast experience and many advanced warfare capabilities and weapon systems it acquired, Hezbollah wants to rest, lick its wounds, and reorganize Lebanon with all its forces.

Hezbollah, despite its militant declarations, is between the hammer and the anvil. This period is not convenient for the organization to wage a military campaign, but it is apparently forced to act against Israel because of direct Iranian orders.

A campaign against Israel may help Hezbollah gain internal political power during the campaign. However, even if Israel suffers severely from it, the results of such a campaign will inevitably hit Lebanon hard and plunge it into a much deeper economic crisis than it is today.

So despite the Iranian perspective, in the domestic and organizational aspect, Hezbollah has no real motivation to fight Israel, especially nowadays.

It is probably true that the organization perceives Israel as weak (and not as smart) when the Jewish state does not respond to its provocations. However, it is likely that Hezbollah (and Lebanon) should congratulate Israel on its limited response to its attempts to start a war. 

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