An Emboldened Hizballah Is Trying to Remake the Status Quo

March 23, 2023 | Matthew Levitt
About the author: Matthew Levitt directs the Jeanette and Eli Reinhard program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is also the Fromer-Wexler senior fellow. A former U.S. intelligence official, Levitt is the author of Hizballah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.

Two weeks ago, a terrorist—most likely working for Hizballah—managed to cross into Israel from Lebanon and plant an explosive device near Megiddo that wounded a civilian. The attack, according to Matthew Levitt, is a sign of the Iran-backed militia’s increasing willingness to challenge the tacit understanding it has had with the IDF for over a decade. Such renewed aggression can also be found in the rhetoric of the group’s leaders:

In the lead-up to the 2006 war, [Hizballah’s] Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah famously miscalculated how Israel would respond to the cross-border abduction of its soldiers. According to Israeli analysts, however, he now believes he can predict the enemy’s behavior more accurately, leading him to sharpen his rhetoric and approve a series of increasingly aggressive actions over the past three years.

Nasrallah’s willingness to risk conflict with Israel was partly driven by domestic economic and political pressures. . . . Yet he also seemed to believe that Israel was unlikely to respond in a serious way to his threats given Hizballah’s enlarged precision-missile arsenal and air-defense systems.

In addition to the bombing, this month has seen increased reports of cross-border harassment against Israelis, such as aiming laser beams at drivers and homes, setting off loud explosions on the Lebanese frontier, and pouring sewage toward Israeli towns. Hizballah has also disrupted Israeli efforts to reinforce the security barrier in several spots along the Blue Line, [which serves as the de-facto border between Lebanon and the Jewish state].

This creeping aggressiveness—coupled with Nasrallah’s sense of having deterred Israel and weakened its military posture—indicate that Hizballah will continue trying to move the goalposts.

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