Hezbollah: A Perception of the Israeli-Lebanese Border Conflict

August 9, 2021

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Hezbollah is a militant group and political party known as the Shiite Muslim Party of God (Harik 1). The organization was established during the Lebanon Civil War of 1975-1990 (Avon 11). The main purpose of Hezbollah was to declare the Israeli War on Lebanon and remove the Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon (Avon 11).

The organization’s activities are grounded on the ideas of a deep faith and adherence to the teaching of the Koran (Harik 1). As a result, Hezbollah has begun a campaign against the oppressors of the Muslim population, in particular Israel and the United States of America. Both the USA and Israel consider the actions of Hezbollah to fall under the definition of terrorism (Harik 1). While the leaders of the organization deny any relation to the terrorist activities, they confirm the development of the plans of jihad against Israel after its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (Harik 1). Compared to other countries in the region, Lebanese society was most suitable for the development of such organization as Hezbollah. First, the country has experienced the highest level of fracturing, including religion and standard of living distribution among its population. Second, Lebanon did not impose any religious restrictions, which were in the neighboring countries. Third, the Lebanese society could have been characterized by the increased level of freedom of expression compared to other countries of the region (Avon 11). Finally, the popularity of the organization within the Lebanese society was determined by the fact that the organization fought the war with Israel and could free Lebanon from its troops. Thus, all these tendencies contributed to the establishment of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Over the time, the power of Hezbollah in other countries of the region has reduced (Dingel 70). However, it has evolved from a terrorist group influenced by Iran into an influential political party and the most powerful military organization in Lebanon, as the Lebanese society considers Hezbollah to be a defender of their community (Norton 11). In addition to this, the organization slowly regains its control in some states of the Muslim world. Apparently, Hezbollah has become capable of restraining the activities of Israel in the region and got involved in the Israeli-Lebanese border conflict. Hezbollah has contributed to the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon; however, over time, the attention of the organization shifted from reduction of the Israeli presence in the region to enhancement of its political power.

Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1990 and escalation of the border conflict

The Lebanese civil war was followed by the Israeli invasion aimed at establishing control over Lebanon and guaranteeing its national security. The attention of the Israeli side was turned to the small zone in the southern part of Lebanon, along the border with Israel. The territory extended for 20 kilometers north to Jazzin, which is an important strategic town (Cordesman 383). Israeli has chosen to invade the southern part of Lebanon for security reasons, as this region of the country has always been a stronghold of the Shiite movement (Kaufman 36). The territory was considered to be a security zone and had to protect the northern borders of Israel from possible attacks of Hezbollah and Palestinian military organizations. The security zone along the borders of both countries was first established in 1978, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Operation Litani aimed at halting the Palestinian attacks against Israel (Cordesman 383). Later, in 1982, the zone was further expanded. In 1985, the security zone took its present form (Cordesman 383). Since then, Israel was present in the southern region of Lebanon and was reliant on the military formation supported by the Israeli that was known as the Army of South Lebanon (Cordesman 383). The purpose of the invasion was to move the Palestine Liberation Organization, which conducted violent operations against the Israeli citizens, further from the Israeli northern border. Moreover, the Israeli Defense Forces had to reach Beirut and establish new government there, which would support the Israeli position (Karsh and Kerr 54). Despite the fact that the Israeli forces did not reach the capital of Lebanon and did not manage to establish a new government, they occupied the security zone for eighteen years. The invasion of Lebanon can also be treated as the manifestation of the regional policy of Israel and its attempts to control the affairs of its Arab neighbors.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon was one of the biggest military operations conducted by Israel. In fact, it involved approximately 100 000 soldiers (Kaufman 33). The attacks were launched from the sea, land, and air in order to minimize the Israeli casualties. At the same time, the Israeli troops occupied major Lebanese cities that led to mass casualties among guerrillas and civilian population. With the end of the civil war in Lebanon, Israel kept its presence in the southern part of the country. In order to weaken the positions of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli launched two operations, namely the Operation Accountability and Operation Grapes of Wrath. Despite the fact that the hostilities between both sides had to stop due to mass civilian casualties, the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah continued. The Israeli side kept its position in the security zone and even organized operations in the regions located to the north of the zone to destabilize the positions of Hezbollah.

Since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Israel and its ally the Army of South Lebanon have experienced constant attacks from the Lebanese Shiite movements, including Hezbollah (Cordesman 383). Thus, the Israeli invasion was followed by a low-level war with Hezbollah and other elements of the Shiite military organizations. During the war, Hezbollah supported by Syria and Iran expressed its opposition not only to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon but also to the existence of the country in general (Cordesman 384). Thus, Hezbollah represented the only opposition to the Israeli invasion, thereby keeping the Israeli troops from invading further in the country.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon created a security zone along the northern border of the country that could protect Israel from Hezbollah’s aggression. At the same time, the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000 was a difficult political decision. It also made the continuation of the war between Israel and Hezbollah more problematic. While it was strategically important to keep the security zone under the control of Israel, which was supported by the military officials, the public did not approve of the military operation in Lebanon. The increased casualties during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon caused strong public opposition of the continuation of the invasion. Moreover, the decision to withdraw the troops from Lebanon was premised on the fact that the Army of South Lebanon could not oppose the growing power and influence of Hezbollah. However, peace that followed the withdrawal of the Israeli troops did not last for a long time, as Hezbollah has launched a couple of operations against Israel and renewed the conflict.

The role of Hezbollah in the Israeli-Lebanese border conflict

Hezbollah’s main goal of the involvement in the Israeli-Lebanese border conflict was to force Israel to leave the occupied territories in the south of the country. Hezbollah has always considered Israel to be a threat, and the leaders of the organization have mentioned that the country should be destroyed completely. According to the position of the organization, instead of Israel, Arab Palestine should be created (“Nasrallah Calls for “Comprehensive Resistance” against Israel”). Since the Israeli-Lebanese conflict did not end in 1985, Hezbollah experienced its empowerment and continued undermining the Israeli positions in the region (Kaufman 38). As a result, during 1990-2000, Hezbollah supported the Lebanese efforts to free the country from the Israeli occupation.

According to the official position of Hezbollah, its main goal was to expel the Israeli troops and its allies from Lebanon (Sirriyeh 43). In addition to this, the organization underlined the necessity to establish the Islamic state in Lebanon. While during the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in the 1980-1990s Hezbollah was not a considerable player, its role has significantly increased during the 1990-2000s. In order to remove foreign forces from the country, Hezbollah adopted a strategy on the basis of the organization of terrorist acts, including bombings, kidnapping, and hijacking (Cordesman 407). For example, about 80 foreigners, in particular citizens from the United Kingdom, France, and the United States of America, were kidnapped at the beginning of the 1990s (Cordesman 407). The purpose of the actions was to demonstrate the international community the power of the organization as well as motivate Israel and its allies to leave Lebanon. The actions also had a message for the citizens of Lebanon, as they displayed Hezbollah as the only organization capable of resisting the invaders.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, Hezbollah focused on its main enemy, namely Israel. One of the key strategies was to gain the public support of the Lebanese population through the provision of the social welfare (Cordesman 399). For instance, the organization started to invest in hospitals, schools, and infrastructure. This approach could guarantee Hezbollah the support of the Lebanese citizens. What is more, Hezbollah organized reconstruction works every time Israel would attack Lebanon. In this case, the organization wanted to demonstrate that it supported the population of the country in the endurance of the aggression of Israel. In the media, Hezbollah often displayed the destruction caused by the invaders and the role of the organization in rebuilding the country. As a result, Hezbollah has become more popular and gained considerable support from the Lebanese citizens.

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At the same time, Hezbollah still applied previous tactics of terrorist attacks, involving roadside bombings, anti-tank missiles, and Katyusha rockets. The military struggles between the Israeli troops and Hezbollah triggered many casualties among both sides. According to estimations, about 1200 Israeli soldiers died during 1990-2000 (Cordesman 398). In addition, 410 soldiers of South Lebanon Army were killed by Hezbollah. As a result, the Israeli population started to oppose the continuation of the invasion and insisted on the withdrawal of the Israeli troops. Therefore, in 2000, the Israeli troops left Lebanon (“Statement by the President of the United Nations Security Council on Lebanon”).

Thus, the establishment of the propaganda machine as well as conduct of the attacks against the Israeli forces facilitated the process of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. At the same time, Hezbollah’s activities were partially successful. On the one hand, with the withdrawal of the Israeli troops in 2000, Hezbollah succeeded in its goal and ended two decades of the Israeli occupation. On the other hand, Hezbollah did not reach its aim of the total destruction of Israel. Nevertheless, the organization succeeded in increasing its popularity and support in Lebanon.

Hezbollah after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon

After the Israeli forces left the country, Hezbollah has changed its strategy concerning domestic and foreign policy. The organization has evolved from a military group into an influential political party, which succeeded in winning elections and promoting its politics (Norton 6).

With the Israeli withdrawal, the situation on the border between Israel and Lebanon was relatively quiet (Norton 117). Thus, the killings of Israeli soldiers and civilians have reduced. For instance, during 2000-2006, nine Israeli soldiers were killed near Shebaa Farms and eight soldiers were killed close to the blue line determining the border between Israel and Lebanon. Compared with the times of the Israeli occupation, about 25 soldiers were killed per year (Norton 117). Moreover, there has been only one civilian casualty.

At the same time, when the Israeli troops left Lebanon, a vacuum of power was created in the region, which was filled by Hezbollah. When Israel left Lebanon, Hezbollah focused on the extension of its influence in the country. The assassination of Hariri provided Hezbollah with an opportunity to transform the political situation in the country (Jones 3). In fact, the assassination led to the Cedar Revolution, which included demonstrations in Lebanon. The primary goal of the revolution was to force Syria’s withdrawal from the country. The protesters also demanded the replacement of the government, which was under the influence of Syria, with a new one that would be independent. The protesters succeeded in the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon and provided an opportunity for the establishment of a new government. This opportunity was used by Hezbollah to enhance its political influence in the country.

At the same time, Hezbollah did not refuse from its initial goal to eliminate the threat of Israel. As a result, in 2006, it organized an operation aimed at capturing Israeli soldiers and provoking the future conflict (Norton 7). Israeli responded with the July war, which led to mass casualties, particularly among the Shiite population (Norton 7). Despite the fact that the war did not lead to complete victory of Israel or Hezbollah, it has enhanced the positions of the Shiite organization as the political power and protector of the Muslim population in the region.

As a result, the Hezbollah’s role in the Israeli-Lebanese conflict has changed since the withdrawal of the Israeli troops. The organization shifted its interest from Israel as a threat to its security in the region to the necessity of the enhancement of its political position in Lebanon. Hezbollah succeeded in the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from the country, as well as eliminated the influence of Syria on the Lebanese politics. Therefore, the organization managed to create a vacuum of power and entered the Lebanese political arena.

Hezbollah played one of the key roles in the Israeli-Lebanese border conflict. Supporting Lebanese positions, the organization pursued the goals of removing the Israeli troops from Lebanon. In order to achieve this task, the organization launched numerous attacks on the Israeli positions, which triggered mass casualties from both sides. Moreover, the military group began propaganda campaigns within the Lebanese population, promoting the positive image of the organization as a savior of civilians. As a result, these actions led to the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

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At the same time, the role of Hezbollah in the conflict between Israel and Lebanon has changed over time. At the beginning, the military organization was characterized by the extremist position, and it was even defined as a terrorist organization; however, the situation has changed after the Israeli troops left the country. Hezbollah focused on the restoration of its political power and influence in the country. However, the organization still provoked Israel to renew the military operations against Lebanon in 2006, which could indicate that the main goal of the group to eliminate the Israeli state was still relevant. At the same time, the status of Hezbollah in the international relations varies. The Western countries and Israel perceive it as a terrorist organization, as its methods of combat often include bombings and kidnapping. In Lebanon, it has become a powerful political party. The rest of the Arab world considers it a resistance movement due to its ability to force Israel and Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. Thus, the organization has a complex nature and is cable of influencing regional politics.