The Confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel in the Larger Regional and Geopolitical Equation

Introduction
Confrontations erupted on the Lebanese-Israeli border the day after Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Hezbollah announced a war to support Palestinian resistance in Gaza, and these confrontations are continuously escalating, almost becoming an independent front, especially after the direct strikes exchanged between Israel and Iran.

This paper aims to describe and analyze the opposing strategies of Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the ongoing war across the Lebanese-Israeli border. The paper approaches these strategies within the framework of the regional geopolitical game between Iran and Israel, considering the American presence and influence.

The importance of strategy lies in its function as a course of action that links objectives with available means. A strategy, in general, must balance the goal with the means used, ensuring that the size of the goals does not exceed the available means. Thus, strategy can be seen as a living entity that changes according to prevailing war conditions and unforeseen developments on the battlefield.

Regional Conflict and Geopolitical Assumptions


The geopolitical assumptions of the main actors in the region, namely Iran, Israel, and the United States, dictate the rhythm and momentum of the war, as well as its framework and regulations. These assumptions also impose military strategies on Iran and Israel and define Hezbollah’s role as a central actor in the ongoing conflict.

The assumptions of each party can be approached as follows:

Iranian Assumptions:
Iran sees itself today, as in the past, as an “empire” with a historical presence in the region, regardless of the ideologies adopted, whether religious or nationalistic. The late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, under the banner of “Persian nationalism,” aimed to be the main actor in the region, even being described as the Gulf’s policeman, through his struggle with Arab nationalism represented by the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. However, after the Arab setback in the Six-Day War in 1967, the power dynamics in the region changed. Iran’s rhetoric towards Egypt also changed, especially as Egypt no longer posed an existential threat to “Iranian nationalism” and territorial unity. Thus, before President Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet advisors from Egypt, Golda Meir visited Iran and remarked to one of her aides, “The Shah is no longer as he was.”

Currently, Iran’s influence extends under the banner of resistance and religious ideology from the Gulf region to the coasts of Lebanon, passing through the entire Fertile Crescent and the Bab al-Mandab Strait. One can say that Iran’s historical geopolitical assumptions remain unchanged, but the religious ideology has evolved. In summary, Iran’s assumptions manifest as follows:

  • Control over Iran’s geographic center of gravity, represented by the region between the Alborz Mountains (extending from southern Azerbaijan) and the Zagros Mountains (western Iran and eastern Iraq). This region houses Iran’s demographic and political center of gravity.
  • Control over internal diversity and management of ethnic, religious, and sectarian diversity within.
  • Preventing the establishment of a hostile political regime in Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia), especially since existential threats to Iran historically came from the west, i.e., Iraq. Iraq was the passage for Alexander the Great, who overthrew Darius III. The war with Iraq from 1980-1988, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, still significantly influences Iran’s military and political thinking in formulating grand strategies. The American threat to Iran came from Iraq in 2003, and the threat of ISIS to Iran also emerged from Iraq, leading to the return of American military presence in Iraq. Additionally, Iraq poses the primary threat to Iran’s natural resources due to the significant presence of these resources along the shared southeastern border.
  • These Iranian assumptions are historically stable, as enduring as geography, history, and civilization. However, over time, situational assumptions emerge from the dynamic ongoing conflict. In this context, Iran’s situational assumptions include:
  • Ensuring the longevity and preservation of the Islamic regime in Iran.
  • Resisting the challenges imposed by the United States and Israel.
  • Establishing and defining an area of influence in the immediate vicinity and the region by exploiting the strategic vacuum created directly by the United States after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
  • Resisting America as much as possible by relying on self-sufficiency in all dimensions: political, economic, and military.
  • Adopting an asymmetrical strategy in all military and industrial dimensions. In other words, Iran seeks to achieve strategic parity with neighboring countries, particularly technologically advanced Israel and the United States, by adopting an asymmetrical military doctrine.

This asymmetrical military doctrine relies on the following dimensions:

  • Proxy warfare through “agents” or allies, providing Iran with significant strategic returns for modest investments.
  • The ability to deny and disavow any military action.
  • This strategy ensures the principle of “forward defense” for Iran, fighting outside its territories.
  • Relying on local military industry through the principle of “reverse engineering” of advanced military manufacturing. To compensate for the qualitative (Quality) military disadvantage of locally manufactured weapons, Iran has relied on quantitative (Quantity) use. This idea manifested in the “True Promise” operation against Israel on April 13, 2024.
  • Finally, Iran does not fight with combined arms (land, sea, air, space, and currently cyber) like the Western concept of joint warfare. Instead, it operates within the joint concept without actual implementation. Iran has an air force through drones but does not use them as part of a ground assault with infantry. Practically, Iranian-supported groups act as infantry and have the ability to initiate operations at the operational and tactical levels without affecting the strategic and geopolitical level. The Houthi Ansar Allah fight in the sea at Bab al-Mandab, intervening directly in the Arabian Sea and around the Strait of Hormuz.

Israeli Assumptions:
The ancient “Jews” or “Israelites” were part of the Persian Empire (550-330 BCE). Currently, Iran’s military influence extends to the vicinity of the current “State of Israel,” even if indirectly. However, the rhythm of the geopolitical game between the two states is directly or indirectly dictated by the Americans. The American player is Israel’s most important ally and the only savior from strategic entanglements. Uncle Sam saved Israel in the October War of 1973 and is saving it today from the strategic and geopolitical dilemma following Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7, 2023.

Israel faces three unsolvable, perhaps insurmountable, problems: geography, demography, and topography. Israel is militarily fragile, with no geographical depth or natural barriers for defense. The demographic situation is even more challenging, with internal divisions along several levels: religious identity between Orthodox Jews and secular Jews, ethnic divides between Sephardim and Ashkenazi, and divisions among those of Slavic or Ethiopian origin, among others.

In conclusion, everyone in Israel agrees on the necessity of defending the state, but there are differences in the method and approach.

Israel adopts a grand strategic doctrine, but within a dynamic and changing military doctrine according to the circumstances and nature of the conflict. After every war, Israel updates and adjusts this doctrine, as stated by American strategic thinker Edward Luttwak.

David Ben-Gurion, the founder of modern Israel, outlined the grand strategic vision for Israel since the state’s inception, based on the following triad:

  • Relying on deterrence: Deterrence is less costly for Israel than going to war.
  • Early warning: Due to Israel’s lack of geographical depth. Hence, Israel’s constant concern for establishing buffer zones by force or through security appendices to any peace treaty with neighboring states.
  • In case of war, always striving for rapid decisive victory, attempting to destroy the enemy and its capabilities to an extent that cannot be quickly recovered.

To support this grand strategy, two essential elements are required: First, securing an international ally with significant political and military capabilities, where the United States plays the role of the patron. Second, building a highly capable army equipped with the latest technology in the world.

Due to demographic challenges, Israel has adopted the concept of a small army with the ability to call up reserves to fight in emergencies. This is detrimental to Israel’s national security because the reservists are the backbone of the Israeli economy. This army adopted counter-terrorism doctrines from the British army and the ideas of General Reginald Wingate (1861-1953). The Israeli army also adopted the naval special forces combat principle from the Italian navy and the blitzkrieg (lightning war) concept from the German army.

Between the grand strategic doctrine and the military combat doctrine, Israel adopted the principle of the war between wars, a series of military operations that do not escalate to war, targeting Iranian influence in Syria. Thus, it can be said that Israel is in a state of “perpetual war.”

Israel avoids fighting on multiple fronts simultaneously. In the “Six-Day War” (1967), Israel stabilized the Syrian front and fought on the Egyptian front. After finishing the war with Egypt, the Israeli army moved to fight on the Golan front. In 1973, during the October War, Israel had to fight on two fronts simultaneously.

In the ongoing war in Gaza and the Lebanese front, Israel is adopting a strategy of stabilizing the Lebanese front while considering Gaza the main focus of the war effort. However, some Israeli officials believe Israel is fighting on multiple fronts, starting from Gaza, reaching Iran through the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Thus, this is the picture of the geopolitical conflict in the region, particularly between Iran and Israel, with the influential American presence as the primary director of the regional theater of war.

The War on the Lebanese Front

The dynamics of the war between Hezbollah and the Israeli army play a crucial role in the current confrontation, spanning from the geopolitical level to the tactical, passing through the operational level.

By comparing this war with the July 2006 war, we observe the adaptation processes of both sides, especially Hezbollah. Generally, Hezbollah has been preparing for a defensive war against the Israeli army, which relies on the principle of attack and maneuver, as happened in the July 2006 war. Notably, Israel had fought two similar operations against Hezbollah in 1993 (Operation Accountability, as named by Israel) and in 1996 (Operation Grapes of Wrath, as named by Israel). However, Hezbollah today is not the same party it was during those periods. After that time, Israel withdrew from Lebanon under the pressure of the resistance in 2000, and Hezbollah returned to fight the July 2006 war against Israel. Additionally, Hezbollah fought in Syria alongside the army of a great power, Russia, and the Syrian army. But certainly, the war today in southern Lebanon is different from the war in Syria and even from the July 2006 war. So, what are the strategies of this war? What are the tactics being used?

The Rules:

In the larger geopolitical picture of the ongoing war between Hezbollah and the Israeli army, it can be said that the geopolitical decisions are in the hands of both Iran and the United States. Neither side wants a full-scale regional war, hence the restrictions on the combatants. Operational and tactical decisions are in the hands of those fighting on the ground, but these decisions must not exceed the major restrictions. The only exception was the Iranian “Promise of Truth” operation (April 13, 2024) and the Israeli response to it. In the Iranian response and the response to the Israeli response, the American hand was most visible and influential in controlling the conflict.

Strategic-Tactical Dynamics:

Given Iran’s advanced influence in the region, it relies on forward defense to protect the Iranian interior, which is practically done by the “Unit of Fronts.” This type of defense aims to compensate for the geographical distance from Israel (estimated at 1500 km). The recent “Promise of Truth” operation demonstrated the obstacle of geographical distance; the Iranian drone requires about 7 hours to reach Israel, which is sufficient time for early warning. Therefore, Iranian forward defense against Israel shortens the 7 hours to minutes, depriving Israel of the time to prepare for air defense, something Hezbollah in Lebanon can provide as the backbone of this forward defense.

Israel compensates for this gap in facing forward defense by constantly seeking to establish buffer zones in its enemies’ territories. It requested Hezbollah, through international mediators, to withdraw to the Litani River, approximately 40 km inside Lebanese territory. It is worth noting that the international forces (UNIFIL) deployed in southern Lebanon under Security Council Resolution 1701 already provide a legally recognized international buffer zone. Alongside buffer zones, Israel conducts preemptive strikes against the axis of resistance, especially in Syria, under the principle of “the war between wars.” The goal is always to prevent Iran from establishing its forward defense system through its allies on Israel’s borders.

The ongoing war today between Israel and Hezbollah differs from the July 2006 war. In the July war, Israel attacked while Hezbollah defended. Today’s war is a stationary war of attrition with known and currently defined geographical boundaries. If this war exceeds its limits, it always returns to the pre-escalation phase, highlighting the importance and influence of the major geopolitical constraints.

In this war, Israel cannot measure its success even if it targets Hezbollah’s military leadership at all levels. The metric it uses is a numerical one that cannot be translated strategically or politically. If Israel achieves tactical victories against Hezbollah, these successes, even if accumulated, will not have a significant strategic impact. Conversely, any tactical success by Hezbollah will have a strategic impact on the Israeli interior. Can the losses inflicted on Israel by Hezbollah’s reversed doctrine of Dahiya (destruction) in the Galilee be imagined?

Some experts say the current war between Hezbollah and Israel is akin to a “war game,” but real instead of digital. In this war, Hezbollah tests its military system and all available types of weapons, including air defenses, at both the tactical and operational levels by targeting the Israeli military’s depth by hitting its leadership, from the division level to the battalion level. Hezbollah also studies the Israeli response to every detail to draw real lessons from the battlefield and potentially share them with the “Unit of Fronts.” In this war game, Hezbollah develops and adjusts its target bank while sending deterrent messages to Israel, warning against the risk of a war on Lebanon as Lebanon is not Gaza.

In this war, Hezbollah tests the principle of combined arms combat, involving special forces, drones, air defenses, command and control, eavesdropping, jamming, and more. This also includes testing its logistical system and engaging in psychological and media warfare.

Hezbollah trains a new generation of fighters with a combat approach different from the July 2006 war and the war in Syria. Hezbollah targets the Israeli army’s military centers of gravity, such as surveillance and intelligence-gathering towers (as in the Aramsha operation), both in the southern theater of war and regionally, by targeting the Meron base (Jarmak).

If Israel is unable to translate tactical victories into strategic and then political victories, Hezbollah is not concerned with these criteria. It operates under the motto: “The party wins if it does not lose, and Israel loses if it does not win.” It suffices for the party to continue fighting another day. The equation here is: If Hezbollah is part of the resistance axis and currently fights under the principle of the “Unit of Fronts,” which includes “Gaza,” Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and even the “West Bank,” any tactical success in southern Lebanon will contribute to the collective tactical achievements of Iran’s allies, turning these accumulations into significant strategic success. Israel attempted to shift the conflict from Iran’s proxies to Iran itself by targeting the Iranian consulate in Syria. The response and the response to the response returned the situation to the collective “Unit of Fronts,” but with Iran regaining credibility after temporarily abandoning strategic patience.

Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, considers the battle with the Israeli army a distraction war to relieve Gaza by pinning down numerous Israeli divisions and brigades in northern Israel. The Israeli army, meanwhile, is fighting a positional war, in a state of “temporary stability” until the situation allows for a transition to attack and maneuver warfare. But undoubtedly, moving from a static positional war to maneuver and attack warfare after more than six months will undermine the element of surprise.

Conclusion

This paper focused on analyzing the strategies and tactics used by Hezbollah and Israel within the broader geopolitical context of the region. The regional conflict is highly complex. What is tactical for Hezbollah might be strategic for Israel, and what is strategic for Hezbollah might be a matter of life or death for Israel. The current confrontation occurs in the context of the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, with the Israeli army mired in Gaza’s quagmire following the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation, which overturned all of Israel’s strategic military concepts.

Today, Israel is fighting non-state actors within the framework of Iran’s “Unit of Fronts” strategy, similar to the Chinese principle of “death by a thousand cuts.” Thus, Israel finds itself in a major strategic predicament: it cannot decisively defeat these players. If it opts for a direct war against Iran under the “octopus doctrine” followed by former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, it cannot do so without the help of its allies, especially the United States. This was evident during the Iranian attack on Israel in the “Promise of Truth” operation. Can Israel always lose against a non-state player in successive wars, particularly against Hezbollah? Certainly not. Will it adopt a phased strategy, finishing with Gaza and then turning to southern Lebanon? What if it loses again, recalling a conversation between the state’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, and his Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, when Dayan asked Ben-Gurion, “When will Israel fall?” Ben-Gurion replied, “When it loses the first war.”

  • Trita Parsi, The Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States,  Yale University Press; 1st edition (October 28, 2008), pp-34
SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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