The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Hezbollah’s advanced weaponry and strategic positioning pose a significant and escalating threat to Israel, far surpassing that of Hamas.

In recent weeks, northern Israel has been subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets fired by Hezbollah, causing significant damage to both civilian properties and military installations. This heavy assault, which has included UAVs, has forced around 80,000 residents to flee their homes. The current situation in northern Israel is dire, with the relentless rocket fire from Hezbollah making the area increasingly uninhabitable. Hezbollah has declared that its military operations in Israel are in response to Israel’s actions in Gaza, and it claims not to seek a full-scale conflict. However, the reality on the ground tells a different story, as both sides have intensified their attacks in recent weeks.

There are rising fears of an all-out war, with fresh calls from Israeli officials for a military escalation. Adding to the alarm is Hezbollah’s newfound ability to bypass the Iron Dome system, which has rung alarm bells in Tel Aviv and forced Israeli officials to consider more decisive actions.

Hezbollah has been employing new tactics and advanced weaponry in this latest confrontation, targeting deeper within Israel than in previous conflicts. As Israel’s most formidable adversary at its doorstep, Hezbollah’s capabilities far exceed those of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, the two main groups currently at war with Israel. Strategically positioned along Israel’s northern border and throughout Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah has amassed a military arsenal that surpasses those of many national armies. Southern Lebanon has effectively become a Hezbollah stronghold, with underground bunkers, rocket launch sites, and an extensive network of interconnected tunnels. While Hezbollah lacks an operational air force, it has, in almost every other respect, transformed into a medium-sized regular army, rather than a semi-amateur militia. Various factors contribute to Hezbollah’s formidable presence and its threat to Tel Aviv.

Israeli intelligence estimates that Hezbollah now possesses an arsenal of approximately 150,000 missiles and rockets. This arsenal includes a wide range of medium and heavy rockets, such as the Burkan, and a variety of tactical ballistic missiles, including Scud missiles, Iranian Fateh-110 missiles, and Syrian-modified M-600 missiles. Many of these weapons have the range to cover all of Israel. During the 2006 war, Hezbollah primarily fired unguided rockets into Israel, but its capabilities have since undergone significant upgrades. The group now has the ability to launch guided munitions with increased accuracy, targeting critical areas within Israel, including central and southern regions. This includes command posts, airfields, and key economic targets. Israeli military planners anticipate that in a future conflict, Hezbollah could launch thousands of rockets and missiles per day, a rate that would overwhelm Israel’s missile defense systems, such as the Arrow, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome.

The Israeli Air Force has traditionally enjoyed superiority in regional conflicts, apart from a few exceptions, like the early stages of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It played a crucial role in the 2006 Lebanon War by destroying Hezbollah’s long-range missile capabilities within hours. However, Hezbollah’s acquisition of advanced air defense systems, including the SA-17 Buk missile battery of Russian origin, poses a significant threat to Israeli aircraft operating in northern Israel and the broader region. This system enhances Hezbollah’s ability to challenge Israeli air dominance.

Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has provided it with valuable battlefield experience and access to advanced weaponry, making it a much more formidable force against its adversaries. This experience has improved Hezbollah’s logistical capabilities and its proficiency in using sophisticated equipment, artillery, and reconnaissance drones. The group has also enhanced its ability to conduct effective surveillance. These capabilities allow Hezbollah to threaten deep within Israeli territory for the first time, significantly increasing the group’s threat level.

Hezbollah also has the capacity to open a second front against Israel from the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights in the event of a major conflict. This strategic positioning would place Hezbollah’s projectiles out of range of Israeli ground troops and within the protection of the Syrian army’s hardened shelters, making them more difficult to destroy. By dispersing its weaponry across a second front in Syria, Hezbollah would complicate Israel’s task of targeting and neutralizing these threats, as Israeli forces would need to cover a much larger area while contending with Syrian and Russian air defenses.

In the case of an all-out conflict, Israel will require a comprehensive hybrid strategy that incorporates both defensive and offensive measures. On the defensive side, Israel should focus on increasing the capacity of its missile defense systems and strengthening its civil defense infrastructure to mitigate the impact of Hezbollah’s extensive rocket and missile arsenal. Offensively, Israel’s strategy should prioritize the destruction of Hezbollah’s launch sites throughout Lebanon and the seizure of territories used as launching platforms. An offensive doctrine, such as the Gideon Doctrine, which advocates for the rapid and overwhelming use of force to destabilize the enemy and deliver a decisive blow, could be instrumental in such an effort.

Hezbollah’s advanced capabilities and strategic positioning make it a significantly more complex and dangerous opponent for Israel compared to previous engagements with Hamas. Addressing this evolving threat will require Israel to adopt a multifaceted approach to safeguard its security and maintain stability in the region.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.