April 21, 2023
Earlier this month, as Israelis marked the beginning of Passover, nearly three dozen rockets were fired from southern Lebanon. The barrage of rockets was the largest such attack from the territory of Israel’s northern neighbor since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, marking a potentially major escalation for Israel against Iranian-backed terror organizations in the region.
Here is what to know about the situation in Lebanon, the connection between Hamas and Hezbollah, and why this renewed front poses a major risk for Israel and the Middle East.
What is the situation in Lebanon?
Due to decades of corruption and sectarianism, the political and security situation in Lebanon is unstable and complex. The Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah is one reason why. More on Hezbollah is in the section below.
In August 2020, a massive explosion at the port of Beirut caused widespread destruction and led to political unrest, with many Lebanese blaming the government for the negligence that led to the explosion.
In October 2020, the Lebanese government resigned in response to widespread protests and pressure from the international community. Since then, the country has been struggling to form a new government, with various political factions vying for power and struggling to agree on a new cabinet.
As of April 2023, Lebanon is still without a fully functioning government. The prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati, has been attempting to form a new government for months.
The absence of a government has exacerbated Lebanon's already dire economic situation, with the country facing severe shortages of essential goods and services, including fuel, electricity, and medical supplies. The ongoing political crisis and economic collapse have led to protests and social unrest in Lebanon, with many Lebanese calling for a change in the country's political system and the end of corruption and sectarianism.
What is Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon?
Hezbollah has been involved in Lebanese politics since the early 1990s and has been represented in the Lebanese parliament since 1992.
The Iranian-backed terror organization has been able to gain political power in Lebanon through a combination of popular support from Lebanon's Shi’ite Muslim community, which represents the largest religious faction in the country, and its military strength thanks to support from Iran, which has allowed it to maintain a significant influence in Lebanon's political affairs.
Currently, Hezbollah holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and has representation in the current caretaker government, including two ministerial positions.
Hezbollah's involvement in Lebanese politics has been controversial within the country, with the terror organization using its political power to advance its own interests and undermine the sovereignty of the Lebanese state. Furthermore, Hezbollah is seen as Iran's proxy in Lebanon, and the terror organization has been able to maintain a significant military and political presence in the country thanks in part to Iran's backing.
Is Hamas opening up a new front in Lebanon?
Lebanon has a significant population of Palestinian refugees who have been living in the country for decades. Lebanon has refused to grant these Palestinians citizenship, and as such, they have been stuck as permanent refugees for several decades. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimates that there are some 470,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.
Israeli officials have for several years warned about Hamas’s increasing role in Lebanon. According to a memo from former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, “Hamas has been building its own military force covertly in Lebanon. Hamas has recruited and trained hundreds of fighters, mostly men of Palestinian origin.”
Saleh Al-Arouri, the founding commander of Hamas’s military branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was reportedly behind the recent rocket attacks from Lebanon. Al-Arouri, who used to be based in Turkey full-time, is believed to now split his time between Turkey and Lebanon.
What is the connection between Hamas and Hezbollah?
Amid the rocket attacks on Israel in early April, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh along with other senior Hamas officials, including Saleh Al-Arouri, met with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, where the two terror factions discussed deepening cooperation, including intensified “resistance in the West Bank and Gaza” as well as the “readiness of the axis of resistance,” referring to Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, and other Iranian-backed terror groups in the Middle East.
While Hamas and Hezbollah are both terrorist organizations that share a common goal of destroying Israel, there are some important differences between the groups. Hamas is primarily a Palestinian organization based in the Gaza Strip, while Hezbollah is a Lebanese organization with a strong presence in Southern Lebanon.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, while Hezbollah is a Shi’ite Muslim organization that shares close religious and strategic ties with Iran. Hamas’s primary focus is on the Palestinian issue and the establishment of a Palestinian state and the eradication of Israel. While Hezbollah is similarly dedicated to the eradication of Israel, it also has a broader regional and international agenda through its ties with Iran. Hezbollah has been involved in the civil war in Syria as well as carrying out terror attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in Latin America such as the 1994 AMIA bombing, the Burgas terror attack in Bulgaria, and elsewhere. AJC has been at the forefront of encouraging the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
Despite these differences, Hamas and Hezbollah have maintained close ties and have provided each other with support over the years. Iran, a key supporter of both terror organizations, has played a significant role in facilitating this relationship. Hezbollah has reportedly provided Hamas with training and weapons, while Hamas has offered political and moral support to Hezbollah in its conflicts with Israel.
How does Iran support Hamas and Hezbollah?
Iran has long been known to provide support to both Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran's support for these groups is part of its broader strategy to increase its influence in the region and counter the influence of Israel and the United States. It sees these groups as proxies that can carry out its interests and goals in the region, including opposing the West and calling for Israel’s destruction.
To support Hamas, Iran provides financial aid, weapons, and training. Hamas is based in Gaza, a Palestinian territory that is bordered by Egypt and Israel. Its border with Israel is under a security blockade, so Iran’s support is crucial for Hamas to maintain its military capabilities. Iran provides Hamas with rocket technology and expertise, including advanced training, which has enabled Hamas to launch rockets into Israel during conflicts.
As for Hezbollah, Iran has been its main supporter and patron since the terror group was founded in the early 1980s. Iran provides financial support, weapons, and training to Hezbollah. Iran has also been known to provide Hezbollah with rockets and other advanced military technology, which has allowed the group to launch attacks against Israel and maintain a significant military presence in Lebanon.