Why Hezbollah Is a Wild Card as Israel Takes Aim at Hamas

People with Hezbollah flags in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. 

Photographer: Francesca Volpi/Getty Images

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah last fought a war with Israel in 2006. Since 2012, when it turned its attention to helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad prevail against rebels, Israeli officials have warned that a day would come when Hezbollah’s fighters would again turn their focus to Israel — this time having gained significant combat experience and better weaponry. Since the bloody invasion of southern Israel by Gaza-based Hamas militants on Oct. 7, Hezbollah has launched sporadic missile, mortar and rocket strikes on northern Israel, but both sides have held back from full-scale war.

Shiite Muslims in Lebanon formed what would become Hezbollah — “party of God” — in 1982, in reaction to Israel’s occupation of the country’s south. The movement was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Shiite-majority Iran, and Hezbollah to some extent became a proxy force for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. (Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims each comprise about 30% of Lebanon’s population.) Iran provides Hezbollah with “most of its funding, training, weapons, and explosives, as well as political, diplomatic, monetary, and organizational aid,” according to the US State Department, which says the group also gets funding from legal and illegal sources, including “smuggling contraband goods, passport falsification, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and credit card, immigration and bank fraud.” Because it is separate from Lebanon’s military, Hezbollah can attack Israeli and US targets without provoking the reaction such a move by a state would precipitate. Like Hamas, Hezbollah is designated by the US as a terrorist organization.

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Why Hezbollah Is a Wild Card as Israel Takes Aim at Hamas