Hezbollah’s escalation in the aftermath of the Gaza war: a preparation for battle on the northern front?

By Elijah J. Magnier:

Since the outbreak of hostilities on 7 October, Hezbollah’s military initiative against Israel has been evident. The group has launched rocket attacks against various Israeli military installations and assets. Among the targets were more than a dozen Merkava-4 tanks, radar installations at Raheb and Jal al-Alam, the Zarit military barracks, a naval base near Ras al-Naqoura, strategic points on Tayhat Hill, the Malikiyah outpost, the Ruwaisat al-Alam site in the Kfar Shuba hills and the militarised areas in the occupied Shebaa region. These attacks covered a wide geographical area, from the far west to the far east, and resulted in Israeli army casualties. In retaliation, Israel has focused its counter-attacks on Hezbollah strongholds, losing several Hezbollah members in the process. However, there has been a worrying shift in the conflict dynamics recently. An attack resulted in the unfortunate deaths of two Lebanese civilians and a journalist, with several others injured.

This departure from the previously established rules of engagement, in which Hezbollah primarily targeted military sites and kept civilians out of the crossfire, raises urgent questions. Do these latest incidents signal a change in Hezbollah’s operational strategy? And, more importantly, is the organisation preparing to expand its offensive, potentially targeting Israeli positions deeper than 3-5 kilometres from the Lebanese border?

Over the past 15 years, Israel has shown unwavering confidence in its military capabilities, seemingly oblivious to the creeping complacency that has affected its ranks. In stark contrast, Hezbollah undertook a rigorous self-assessment after the July 2006 war in Lebanon, identifying vulnerabilities, learning from past battles and upgrading its rocket capabilities. The organisation meticulously analysed the Israeli army’s strengths and weaknesses and concluded it needed a comparable destructive force to counter Israel’s dominant air force.

Hezbollah’s strategy focused on building a formidable rocket arsenal. It aimed to launch rockets continuously, with improved precision, and to match Israel’s explosive firepower. The group realised it didn’t need long-range missiles to target Israel; a radius of 450 kilometres was enough to cover the entire country. Rockets with a range of only 100 kilometres were sufficient to target vital cities such as Tel Aviv. More importantly, Hezbollah’s strategic target is strategic locations such as Haifa, which lies 30-40 kilometres from potential launch sites. This city, an Israeli industrial and economic hub, houses several critical infrastructures. Haifa is a vital nerve centre for Israel’s economy and infrastructure, from chemical and industrial plants to water treatment and refining facilities, power stations, and busy ports. A successful rocket attack on this city could cause immediate devastation and long-term effects on Israel’s economic stability and growth. Hezbollah’s focus on such targets underlines its intention to cripple the military and the nation’s economic backbone.

In essence, Hezbollah’s recalibrated strategy underscores its intention to level the playing field, use missile power as a deterrent and potentially change the dynamics of future confrontations.

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