But they say that while Hezbollah holds unprecedented military and political power, the crippling economic crisis in Lebanon has also exposed the group’s vulnerabilities.
The war between Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Israel, often referred to as the July War, began on July 12, 2006, days after Hezbollah operatives captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid they hoped for. obtain a prisoner exchange agreement with their Israeli counterparts.
Israel responded militarily to recover the two soldiers and with the intention of destroying Hezbollah, the only faction from the time of the civil war in Lebanon that maintained its arsenal.
During a devastating conflict that ended on August 14, 2006, Israeli air, artillery and naval attacks killed at least 1,109 Lebanese, the vast majority of whom were civilians, wounded over 4,000. and moved nearly a million. About 250 Hezbollah fighters died during the war. Hezbollah rocket attacks killed 43 Israeli civilians and 12 soldiers.
Israeli forces say they only bombed Lebanese state infrastructure which made “a significant contribution to the operational capabilities” of Hezbollah; including the runways of the country’s only international airport, bridges and roads, power plants, water networks, a lighthouse in Beirut and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television studio.
The Lebanese government has estimated the cost of the damage at $ 2.8 billion.
Israel also fired around four million cluster munitions, mostly in the last three days of the war when a ceasefire was imminent, but not all of them detonated. According to Human Rights Watch, up to a million unexploded cluster munitions have been scattered across fields, towns and villages. These hidden ammunition still injure or kill residents to this day.
But an Israeli government investigation concluded that the 2006 war was a missed and “missed” opportunity.
“Israel launched a long war, which ended without a clear military victory,” it read.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in a recent speech said the 2006 war was a key victory for the group and for Lebanon’s security.
“This is the historic and strategic achievement that the resistance achieved for Lebanon during the July war: security and safety over the past 15 years,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech last week, adding that Hezbollah’s military force has become a deterrent for the Israeli army. incursions.
Hezbollah has expanded its arsenal since the war and has become a crucial paramilitary group in the region, especially in Syria where it has supported President Bashar al-Assad on the battlefield.
“The caliber of his [Hezbollah’s] weapons and rockets have increased… as well as his possession of precision missiles, ”Nasrallah said in his speech.
Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal has grown from around 15,000 in 2006 to around 130,000 rounds in 2018.
Since its expansion into regional military activity, it has grown widely in numbers and diversified its military tactics and arsenal, notably through its collaboration with the Russian and Syrian armies.
It has, however, lost more than 1,700 fighters in Syria over the past 10 years, according to the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In recent years, Israel has launched airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian convoys in Syria.
But while tensions between Hezbollah and Israel have erupted intermittently on the southern border of Lebanon over the past 15 years, the situation has remained largely calm in Lebanon, although tensions continue to surface.
Hezbollah’s “mentality change”
Randa Slim, a senior researcher at the Institute for the Middle East based in Washington, DC, said the 2006 war had brought about a “change in mentality” for Hezbollah.
“Their military victory [emboldened them] stand up to Israel and become the makers of war and peace in Lebanon, ”Slim told Al Jazeera, adding that the 2006 war was the first time Hezbollah has mobilized without seeking government approval Lebanese.
Slim said Hezbollah’s more independent mindset continued after the war, especially when Hezbollah made the unilateral decision to intervene militarily to support the Syrian government in 2012.
“If 2006 hadn’t happened, I don’t think they would have made the decision to go to war in Syria, to be honest. I think they would have been very reluctant without [political endorsement]. »
“It was the beginning of Hezbollah which no longer cared about this political cover and [believing] that they have earned the right to make these decisions for themselves, regardless of what the government wants or says, ”Slim said.
At the same time, over the past 15 years, Hezbollah has also become a key political player in Lebanon, notably following its key alliance with the Christian party the Free Patriotic Movement, whose leader, General Michel Aoun, has become the country’s president. in 2016.
Their rhetoric over time still revolves around the narrative that they are a resistance group, but their anti-establishment rhetoric has faded.
Nonetheless, tensions escalated between Hezbollah and Israel earlier this month as Israel launched airstrikes against southern Lebanon in response to three rockets fired at them. No group has claimed responsibility.
Hezbollah then fired dozens of rockets near a military installation, raising fears of all-out war.
It was the first reported rocket attack against Israel since the 2006 war, and it is Israel’s first air raids on Lebanese territory since 2014. “It is a very dangerous situation, with actions of “Escalation observed on both sides over the past two days,” United Nations Interim Forces in southern Lebanon said in a statement.
However, Hezbollah said in a statement that they had deliberately targeted “open areas” near a military installation in Israeli-controlled territory in response to the airstrikes.
Israeli forces returned the favor with similar rhetoric, saying they were unwilling to escalate.
Hezbollah chief Nasrallah later said in a speech that Lebanon would respond to any further Israeli attack, but said it would be “in an appropriate and proportionate manner, as we want to serve the purpose of protecting our country.”
Ibrahim Halawi, lecturer in international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, says all-out war is not on the horizon and that Hezbollah, in responding to the latest tensions, has acted and spoken with more than retention than it would have done in the past, which he described as “unprecedented”.
“Before, they usually only said [they targeted] Occupied Palestine or the name of an Israeli settlement, but they would not have publicly stated that they were aiming for an open space, ”Halawi told Al Jazeera.
Slim said Israel was also not interested in an escalation in Lebanon.
“Israel’s major problem with Hezbollah is their precision-guided missiles, which they see as an existential threat,” she told Al Jazeera. “But it’s still a manageable threat. “
But the collapse of Lebanon’s economy is another reason Israel is pulling out of the war – and that they are likely to use a strategy of covert attacks rather than all-out war.
“Israel recognizes the economic stress on Hezbollah,” Slim said. “If there is all-out war, then there will be help in Lebanon. They don’t want to save Hezbollah from this economic mess.
Halawi said the economic crisis in Lebanon is likely a factor in Hezbollah’s less inflammatory rhetoric.
“They rely on their military daring because its daily economic and political realities [in Lebanon] have become its weakest link.
Lebanon has continued to suffer from a devastating economic crisis since the end of 2019, which, according to the UN, recently plunged 78% of the population into poverty.
Hezbollah, with its greatest influence and political representation, has not been immune to criticism and contempt as part of a patchwork of ruling parties that brought the country down.
The party has since been increasingly blamed to varying degrees for Lebanon’s economic and political paralysis and for providing political cover to other ruling political parties in Lebanon. Nasrallah opposed calls for the resignation of the government.
But contrary to the party’s inflammatory rhetoric when it talks about Israel or its regional military operations in Syria, it has taken a different approach to addressing growing grievances in Lebanon, as living conditions continue to deteriorate, including included in its areas of political influence.
“One of the Nasrallah [recent] speech was 90 minutes, of which 30 minutes begging people to calm down [protests and riots]. Now compare that with his ability to remain bold militarily, ”Halawi told Al Jazeera.
Halawi argues that this is done to “cover up the weaknesses that are building up” on the party at home, with no solution in sight to soaring food prices, drug and fuel shortages and rampant unemployment.
“I don’t think they’re comfortable at all. “