This July marks the anniversary of the start of Hezbollah’s war with Israel, which began 11 years ago. The fighting started with rockets fired at Israeli villages and missiles launched at Israeli armored vehicles patrolling the border. Although a U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 marked a halt to the conflict, at least in theory.
Although the United Nations tried to put strength behind its resolution by granting authority to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to ensure that southern Lebanon was free of any armed personnel, assets, and weapons not under the direct control of the Lebanese government or UNIFIL.
But that force has been able to truly stop the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which has an estimated 150,000 missiles of varying ranges and accuracy point at Israeli villages and cities. Israel has been able to stop some shipments of Iranian missiles into Lebanon, but they haven’t been able to stop all of them.
Now, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been building fortified, underground missile production factories within Lebanon. For Israel, this means a shifting from missiles being shipped over by Iran, to being created by Hezbollah right in the country.
At the moment, Israel is trying to work through diplomatic means, particularly by going to the U.N. Security Council and laying out their concerns that the next conflict will be worse than the last. The reasons are clear. Hezbollah presence now extends far beyond southern Lebanon and they have control of the airport and port in Beirut. This powerful faction means that fighting them won’t spare the people of Lebanon.
In addition, these missiles aren’t being stored in traditional places, but have been distributed throughout the civilian population. This makes it harder for Israel to destroy them without civilian casualties, which would bring an international uproar, because it violates international law.
But even the environment has been converted into a way to hide the missiles and fighters, should Israel return fire and send in its soldiers. A complaint filed by Israel with the U.N. was rejected last week.
The timing, when Hezbollah is also sending in fighters to Syria, seems suspect. Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to open Lebanon’s borders to tens of thousands of Shia fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This would also be a violation of Resolution 1701, but there seems to be little that the UNIFIL will be able to do to stop it.
Iran’s biggest priority is the creation of the Shia Crescent, a land arc that extends from Tehran to the Mediterranean, thus giving Iran a source of control and power in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza. But they aren’t trying to limit their control to just these areas. Tehran’s clerics see Kuwait and Bahrain as lost provinces that must be reclaimed. Thus, Iranian officials continue to support any resistance that could contribute to instability in these nations.
The spread of the Islamic Revolution means a spread of Iran’s influence, while they continue to war with the Saudis and Emiratis, who they see has heretics and enemies of their brand of Islam.
The United States, particularly the Trump administration, are considering designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization as part of a set of new sanctions on Iran. Doing so could disrupt the finances of the IRGC, which would hamper the plans of the Iranian regime to expand its territory and influence within the region.
The question is how Israel will respond to these signs of renewed aggression. If they attack first, Israel would be seen as the aggressive party. But Israel also understands that Iran is playing a part in this increase of arms, and they have warned Iran’s rulers not to expect to sit safely on the sidelines should a new war erupt.
In the end, it appears that Iran’s recent moves are focused on renewing its fight with Israel, using its forces within Hezbollah, but also with its willingness to support Hezbollah with foreign fighters.