December 27, 2023 | The Messenger

The Hezbollah Threat Looms Large Over Israel

The sheer brutality of the Hamas attacks of October 7 shocked decent people around the world. Israelis were deeply shaken by the stunning intelligence failure and the Jewish state’s inability to protect its citizens. But Israelis — and anyone else who had been paying attention — shouldn’t have been surprised by the infiltration, mass murder, and abductions, because Hamas has been explicit about its intentions to carry out an event like October 7 for at least a decade.

But Hamas is not the only genocidal terror regime neighboring Israel. For years, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has been cooking up similar plans to slaughter Israelis via terror tunnels on Israel’s northern border — just as Hamas has used tunnels in Gaza.

If the Jewish state is to survive, the government must regain the trust of its citizens by ensuring that border communities in the north and south will be safe from future attacks.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah first announced his intentions to conquer Israel’s Galilee region in 2011 and even went as far as to create a propaganda video describing the invasion. But Israel did not take these claims seriously until December 2018, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) discovered a Hezbollah terror tunnel in an apple orchard outside Israel’s northern town of Metula. The IDF said at the time that it was likely one of many.

The IDF subsequently exposed six terror tunnels reaching into Israel. Intelligence showed that Hezbollah had plans to launch a war “with a surprise attack, in which commando forces will cross the border and take control of remote communities or military positions,” as Israeli reporter Amos Harel put it. Another account of Hezbollah’s 2018 plans showed that the terrorist group aimed to take Israeli citizens hostage and use them as human shields.

Since the October 7 massacre, tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from Israel’s northern border region, where there have been almost daily rocket, missile, and drone attacks from Lebanese territory; 11 Israelis have been killed by fire from Lebanon.

While Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant optimistically told Israelis that they will be able to safely return to Israel’s southern Gaza periphery region as early as January, there is no timetable for a safe return to the north. For Israelis to return to their homes, farms, and businesses there, the IDF must be able to ensure that Hezbollah — a group with far more capacity, funding, and battlefield experience than Hamas — remains at a safe distance from the Lebanese border.

This is no easy task.

The last war that Israel fought with Hezbollah in 2006 — triggered when the terrorist group murdered three Israeli soldiers and snatched two of their bodies back into Lebanon — concluded with the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. The measure determined that the area south of Lebanon’s Litani River would serve as a buffer zone between Hezbollah and the Israeli border. The resolution mandated that the U.S.-backed Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) be the sole military in proximity to the Israeli-Lebanese border. A UN peacekeeping force known as the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) would supervise and enforce the arrangement.

But neither the LAF nor UNIFIL ultimately had the backbone to force Hezbollah to comply with Resolution 1701. In recent years, Hezbollah has been encroaching boldly on Israel’s border, building outposts within feet of the Israeli border fence.

Given the inability of the international community to reel in an emboldened Hezbollah, the terror organization’s demonstrated willingness to kill Israelis, and its known plans to carry out horrors similar to those of Hamas on October 7, Israel may conclude that it will have to take matters into its own hands in order to return security to the north of the country.

A war with Hezbollah will likely be devastating for both sides. Whereas Hamas has an estimated 30,000 rockets in its arsenal, Hezbollah has more than 150,000, including precision guided munitions (PGM) that can maneuver in mid-air and strike within feet of an intended target. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has proven incredibly successful against Hamas rockets but could quickly be overwhelmed by volleys of Hezbollah rockets and may not stand up to PGMs. Lebanon is already experiencing economic freefall, a war that damages infrastructure and creates large numbers of displaced people could push Lebanon into the abyss.

So, while it is in both countries’ interest to avoid war, a diplomatic solution that removes Hezbollah from Lebanon’s south seems far-fetched. Even if Hezbollah would agree to settle the conflict diplomatically, it’s unlikely that Israelis would trust the lives of their families to the whims of a terror organization. The events of October 7 have changed Israelis’ risk tolerance calculus.

Israel will likely have to use hard power to force Hezbollah into compliance with Resolution 1701. The United States should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel in this effort — not only to bolster our ally, but also for the sake of Lebanon’s future.

Israelis have the right to live in peace along all their borders. When a genocidal terror regime says that it wants to invade Israeli territory, inflict mass casualties, and take hostages, the Jewish state has learned the hard way that it must heed such threats and preempt them when necessary.

Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (@FDD) Israel Program and National Security Network. Shannon Walsh is the Associate Director of Programs for FDD’s National Security Network. Follow the authors on X: @EKrivine and @ShannonSWalsh. FDD is a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Hezbollah Israel Israel at War Lebanon