Written by – Elijah J. Magnier:
There have been many questions as to why Hezbollah did not fully engage in an all-out war in the conflict known as the “Al-Aqsa Flood”. Hezbollah chose to maintain a supportive and engaging role rather than fully immerse itself in this conflict, even though the Israeli occupation forces were heavily engaged on the southern front with Gaza. This decision can be approached from several strategic, political and regional perspectives. It may be based on strategic considerations, where such an action could have escalated the conflict to a level that could have broader regional implications, potentially drawing in other countries and leading to a large-scale war that Hezbollah may have considered undesirable or unsustainable, and where the objectives could not be achieved.
Could full Hezbollah involvement have shifted Israeli and international focus from the Palestinian cause to the broader regional conflict, potentially diluting attention to the situation in Gaza and the West Bank? Could it have had unpredictable consequences for Lebanon and its people?
Hezbollah’s decision not to declare all-out war during the Al-Aqsa Flood appears to have been influenced by a combination of strategic restraint, political calculations, considerations of regional dynamics and operational challenges.
Questions have been raised in Lebanon and the Middle East about Hezbollah’s muted response despite its strong rhetoric and considerable arsenal. Hezbollah, a key player in the “axis of resistance”, had previously articulated its ability and willingness to launch massive attacks on Israeli settlements and the Galilee region as part of the “unity of the theatres”, bringing together Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Gaza in a simultaneous attack against Israel. These statements, coupled with the organisation’s possession of advanced and destructive weapons capable of inflicting significant damage on Israel, have led many in Lebanon and the wider Arab world to expect a more aggressive stance from Hezbollah.
Yet despite these expectations, Hezbollah must still engage in the conflict entirely. This reticence raises questions about the factors influencing the organisation’s strategic decisions.
Since 8 October, Hezbollah’s involvement in the conflict has been marked by significant developments, including the loss of some 80 of its members, referred to as “on the road to Jerusalem”, and the Israeli killing of six Lebanese civilians. This engagement drew a significant portion of Israel’s combat-ready forces, as well as most of its air and naval power, to the Lebanese border. These forces had previously been engaged in operations in northern Gaza.
Reactions to Hezbollah’s restraint in the Arab world were mixed. Many were dissatisfied with Hezbollah’s decision not to launch a full-scale war against Israel at the same time as Hamas. Some of these observers hoped that Israel would suffer a decisive defeat and severe damage, while others expected a significant setback for Hezbollah and its supporters. The motivations for these expectations vary, with some rooted in religious beliefs and others hoping for a decisive blow to Iran’s main ally in the region. These perspectives underline the complexity of regional feelings about Hezbollah’s strategy and actions in the ongoing conflict.
Within Hezbollah’s leadership, diverse opinions have been regarding the timing and strategy for engaging in conflict. Some factions believed that the simultaneous opening of northern (with Lebanon) and southern fronts (with Gaza) would strategically overwhelm the Israeli-American operations room. This perspective held that such a multi-front engagement would place significant strain on Israel’s logistical capabilities and on America’s commitment to reinforce Israel with an expanded air bridge and necessary missile supplies.
However, these viewpoints may have overlooked other critical considerations. One key question directed to Hamas leadership is whether Hezbollah’s full entry into the war would halt the conflict in Gaza or prevent the establishment of a buffer zone in northern Gaza. Another consideration that was shared with Hamas during an open dialogue is whether Hezbollah’s involvement would lead to more significant destruction in Israel compared to the previous weeks. Unannounced responses from various Hamas officials suggest that the answer to these questions was negative. They believe that Israel and the United States would be able to manage conflicts on both fronts, given the presence and coordination capabilities of American military forces in Israel and inflict considerable destruction on Gaza and Lebanon.
Since the start of the conflict on 7 October, there have been significant developments that have influenced the strategies of various actors in the region. The military commander of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, Mohammad al-Deiyf, called on the “axis of resistance” in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen to intervene and open all fronts against Israel simultaneously. This call was a pivotal moment that led to a significant response from Washington.
The United States, which interpreted this call to arms as a signal of possible widespread escalation against its closest ally, deployed specialised units to Israel. This deployment included a significant naval presence with aircraft carriers, submarines, other naval forces, and special forces. The rationale behind this robust American military response was the belief that a coordinated operation against Israel could unfold on multiple fronts, as suggested by Muhammad Al-Deif’s announcement. The deployment of American forces in support of Israel in the context of the 7 October operation reflects a strategic decision based on the expectation of a coordinated, multi-front offensive. The US decision to intervene with significant military support suggests a belief in prior coordination between the various factions within the “Axis of Resistance”.
This deployment indicates that the US assessed the situation as potentially escalating into a wider conflict, requiring its involvement to prevent Israel from facing these multiple challenges alone. The presence of American forces was likely a response to the perceived threat of a broad, synchronised campaign against Israel, as suggested by Hamas’s call to arms and subsequent developments.
Such a move by the United States underscores the complex geopolitical dynamics in the region, where the actions and statements of key players are closely watched and can lead to significant military and strategic responses by global powers. US involvement in this context was not only a show of support for Israel but also a precaution against the escalation of hostilities into a wider regional conflict, including Iran as well.
However, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, stated that the “Axis of Resistance”, including its factions, was not aware of the specific operational plans or timing of the 7 October action, which was a decision taken independently by Hamas. This statement suggests a need for prior coordination within the Axis of Resistance regarding the timing and nature of the operation.
The announcement of a coordinated operation of this scale would require more than a public statement by Hamas military leadership. It would require a comprehensive assessment of each party’s capabilities, circumstances and strategic objectives within the Axis of Resistance. This nuanced approach underlines the complexity of the alliances and individual strategies of the parties involved in the region.
Hamas’ attitudes and actions reflect its perspective on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation characterised by deep-rooted historical, political and social complexities.
Unlike Hezbollah, the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas has specific goals in its conflict with Israel. These include bringing the Palestinian issue back to the forefront of global attention, securing the release of over 7,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, and responding to what it perceives as the aggressive policies of the Israeli government. These policies, particularly under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are seen by Hamas as eliminating any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu’s declaration that the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 are null and void and his presentation at the United Nations of a map that excludes Gaza and the West Bank have further exacerbated tensions. Hamas also accuses the Israeli military of carrying out repressive actions in the West Bank, including torture, arrests, killings and land confiscations. These actions have taken place under Netanyahu’s 16-year rule and have been particularly pronounced since an extreme right-wing government formed. The policies of this government have not only caused discontent among a significant proportion of the Israeli population but have also strained Israel’s relations with many of its international allies.
As for the goal of “eliminating and destroying Israel”, both Hamas and the broader “Axis of Resistance” are aware that such a goal is unrealistic in the current geopolitical circumstances. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for the elimination of Israel was seen mainly as populist rhetoric rather than a feasible strategic goal.
Israel’s possession of nuclear capabilities and a formidable military force makes the prospect of its elimination highly unlikely. Moreover, the close strategic and military alliance between Israel and the United States further strengthens Israel’s security and regional position. Israel views US military hardware, soldiers and forces in the region as an extension of its defence infrastructure.
In the context of pressuring Israel to abide by international law, cease its military and annexationist activities, and respect Palestinian rights, the dynamics are complex. The influence of the United States as a global superpower and its support for Israel is an essential factor. Without a countervailing force with significant international impact and interests in the Middle East, it is difficult to force Israel to change its policies and abide by the UN resolutions related to the Palestinian’s cause and right of return. Such a force would need to be able to use its influence to persuade Washington to pressure Tel Aviv to comply with international laws and norms to stop building illegal settlements and address the rights and concerns of the Palestinian people.
The concept of achieving victory over Israel through incremental gains of “points”, as stated by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Nasrallah, reflects a strategy that focuses on cumulative impact rather than outright military conquest. This approach suggests that each operation by groups such as Hamas against Israel contributes to a broader goal of challenging Israeli stability and sending a message to the international community. Disrupting Israel’s peace is seen as a way of undermining the world’s confidence in international projects that involve occupied Palestine, such as alternative routes to China’s ‘Belt and Road’, which the US has been promoting.
Furthermore, Sayyed Nasrallah’s messages to the Israeli army and settlers aim to convey the possibility of surprising and overcoming Israeli military capabilities, thus fostering a state of uncertainty and insecurity. According to this perspective, the victories claimed by Hamas in Gaza are not only about territorial gains or military successes but also about psychological and strategic effects behind and beyond the frontlines of the conflict.
Nasrallah’s comments also suggest a strategy for Hezbollah that does not involve an all-out war with Israel but instead targeted border skirmishes and precise strikes. This approach was evident when Hezbollah reportedly launched a series of attacks that hit numerous targets, killing 13 Israelis and 31 civilians – casualties that Israel did not officially acknowledge to avoid domestic embarrassment. Such actions led Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Galant to prepare for a possible significant escalation on the Lebanese front, prompting American mediators to intervene. TUS officials contacted Hezbollah indirectly through the Lebanese government, demanding clarity on its intentions.
This measured response by Hezbollah, particularly after the Israeli airstrike in Homs, Syria that killed several Hezbollah members and a separate attack in southern Lebanon that killed six civilians in two separate attacks, appears to maintain a balance of power and adhere to established rules of engagement. These responses have prevented an escalation into a full-scale conflict along the Lebanese border, a situation that was on the brink of a major confrontation.
Hezbollah’s possession of advanced weaponry serves more as a deterrent to prevent war than as a tool to initiate a wider conflict with unknown benefits and grave consequences. This deterrent role of Hezbollah’s arsenal was underscored by another message from the United States, which indicated that American forces deployed in the Middle East were not intended to fight Hezbollah.
This suggests that the current balance of deterrence, which keeps both Israel and Hezbollah from exchanging fire across the border, is a delicate one, crucial to preventing a broader conflict in the region.
According to sources within the Hamas leadership, the organisation initially demanded Hezbollah’s participation in the conflict from the outset. However, Hamas later became convinced that opening a northern front with Hezbollah would not effectively deter Israel from concentrating on the southern front in Gaza. As a result, Hamas reportedly asked Hezbollah’s Sayyed Nasrallah to articulate the reasons for Hamas’s actions publicly. Nasrallah’s subsequent speech, delivered in his unique style, attracted considerable media attention and provided a platform for Hamas’ perspectives and motivations that it might not have achieved alone.
Hezbollah’s actions and involvement in the conflict in support of Gaza during this period also had broader implications. The group was able to defuse some of the sectarian tensions that had been exacerbated by the war in Syria and Iraq and its involvement therein. This was particularly notable as Hamas received no direct military support or participation in the conflict from neighbouring Sunni Arab countries, which did not suffer plain human or material losses. In contrast, Hezbollah’s show of solidarity with Gaza led to the evacuation of thousands of residents in southern Lebanon, underlining its commitment to the cause despite the potential risks and repercussions for its region.
Hezbollah’s involvement in recent conflicts has also served as an opportunity to test new weapons and strategies on the battlefield. The organisation has closely monitored the effectiveness of these weapons against Israel, as well as Israel’s responses to Hezbollah attacks. This has included the use of drones and various operational tactics, allowing Hezbollah to gain valuable insights into how to conduct warfare and identify methods to counter Israel’s military capabilities.
Important lessons were learned about Israel’s strengths, the types of infrastructure to target, and the areas in southern Lebanon that were considered vulnerable to infiltration. Hezbollah experimented with anti-drone and anti-aircraft technologies to minimise human casualties. Notably, Hezbollah has also reserved some of its advanced weaponry, choosing not to use it in the current conflict.
On the economic front, Israel has suffered significant setbacks as a result of the war. The resumption of Israeli gas production, which had been halted for a month to support the economy, makes its offshore platforms potential targets for Hezbollah’s precision surface-to-surface missiles in any future conflict.
Lebanon, meanwhile, has avoided a full-scale war, a situation that could have escalated dramatically had it not been for American diplomatic intervention, which Lebanon did not particularly want. However, the situation in Gaza, particularly in the northern part of the Strip, remains volatile and unresolved. As a result, different outcomes remain possible, keeping the region uncertain and anticipating.
The decision for Hezbollah to not fully engage in the conflict was influenced by a nuanced understanding of the regional dynamics, potential outcomes, and the limitations of their impact on the broader conflict involving Gaza. It reflects a calculated approach, weighing the potential gains against the risks and complexities of a multi-front war in the region.
The prospect of a future conflict between Hezbollah and Israel is the subject of growing tension, particularly among Israeli settlers living near the Lebanese border. These settlers have expressed to Prime Minister Netanyahu their reluctance to return to their homes as long as Al, Ridwan, Hezbollah’s special forces, are positioned along the borders. This sentiment reflects a heightened sense of insecurity and anticipation of potential hostilities.
The prevailing view in these communities is that a confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel is almost inevitable, making it a matter of timing rather than possibility. The presence of Hezbollah forces along the border, perceived by Israeli settlers as a direct threat, adds to the tension and the likelihood of an eventual clash. It is only a matter of time.
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