By Teymour Nsouli
Many believe that Hezbollah (The Party of God) poses a menacing danger to the Lebanese people. The Shia Islamist militant group formed in southern Lebanon in the 1980s has grown into one of the world’s most heavily armed militant groups with a vast arsenal of missiles capable of reaching any target in Israel. The Lebanese are no strangers to war and conflict, and unfortunately, many believe that Lebanon’s future looks bleak. Hezbollah has fought many wars with Israel since its formation, and most notable was the 2006 War, which lasted just over a month. Since then, no full-scale war has broken out between the two countries; however, border clashes are frequent and growing in danger. In July 2020, a Hezbollah fighter was killed by an Israeli airstrike, which prompted the group to vow revenge. A few days later, there was an attempted infiltration into Israel, which was thwarted but resulted in clashes along the border.
The Hezbollah-Israel dynamic is incredibly complicated and should be paid attention to because of its broader impact on the region. It seems inevitable that Israel and Hezbollah will enter into a conflict in the future because of the risk the militant group poses to Israel, as they rapidly increase their acquisition of missiles and continued financing from Iran. Israel has been conducting daily military flights over Lebanese territory, violating the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Hezbollah shot down a drone as well as launched surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli Defense Force (IDF)-remote piloted aerial vehicle but failed to hit their target. According to senior defense officials in Israel, this was such a severe escalation that, had the drone been hit, it would have prompted a response from Israel, which could have easily flared into a wider conflict.
On February 14, the IDF conducted a surprise military drill simulating a war with Hezbollah and practiced striking three thousand targets in a single day. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, made a televised speech two days later discussing the ongoing tensions with Israel and said, “After all the recent threats from Israel, no one can guarantee that it won’t lead to war. Israel will see things it hasn’t seen since its inception.”
Not only does Hezbollah threaten the stability of the region, but it also proves to be a threat domestically. On February 4, Lokman Slim, a Shia Muslim journalist and harsh critic of Hezbollah, was shot in the head four times and once in the back in an attack widely believed to be conducted by Hezbollah. Slim was a prominent critic of the group and the entire political system in Lebanon. He was a political activist who risked his life daily to exercise his freedom of speech. Slim knew he was a target, and claimed to have received threats from Hezbollah, only a few days before his death. Assassinations are not new in Lebanon’s history but have been rare in the past few years, prompting fears that this was foreshadowing more political assassinations to come.
Even the prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri is no stranger to political assassinations as his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and twenty one others were murdered in 2005 when around 2000 pounds of TNT were detonated and believed to be carried out by Hezbollah. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, however, found Salim Ayyash, a mid-level Hezbollah member, guilty for the murder of Hariri. High-level figures were not held accountable, which is common in Lebanon as people tend to be scapegoats for crimes committed by political leaders. The Lebanese don’t expect the high-ranking culprits to be held accountable for this murder, hence the total mistrust of the judicial system. On February 18, top U.S. lawmakers urged President Biden to invoke the Magnitsky Act, which would allow the government to investigate and sanction the perpetrators of this assassination. The U.S. had thoroughly condemned the murder of Lokman Slim and joined the international community in calling for the killers to be brought to justice.