In the decades since its creation, Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militant group, has been an important player in Middle East geopolitics.
The key to understanding the organization is often overlooked, however. Hezbollah conceives of itself and operates under the premise of being the “Lebanese branch” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
It is not just the massive amounts of cash Hezbollah has gotten from the Mullahs that links it to Tehran. Rather, the two are (and have been) cooperatively bound on a strategic level for decades.
Thus it is not surprising that Hezbollah is playing an important role in Iran’s reaction to the crippling sanctions inflicted upon it by the U.S.
In a recent Daily Beast interview with mid-level officers, Hezbollah revealed its personnel are being deployed to its southern border with Israel. Militant commanders bluntly told the outlet its forces were setting up for war on both Lebanon’s and Syria’s border.
“We will fire the first shot this time,” said “Samir,” an alias given by a Hezbollah officer commanding 800 fighters on the border with Israel. “The sanctions now have us preparing for dealing with the Israeli front,” he told the U.S. publication. The same officer said Hezbollah had been wanting to open a new front with Israel but was held back by Bashar al-Assad. “Our wish before the war in Syria was to go and open a front in the Golan but [the Syrian government] set a red line,” the commander said, describing the limits the Assad regime placed on Hezbollah’s operations in its territory. “Now there are no red lines.” Another commander, “Assir,” noted that many Hezbollah fighters returning from the conflict in Syria were being sent to the Israeli border.
“People who finish their mission in Syria go to the south,” he said. “There are some units in Syria but a lot go back to Lebanon or to the Golan. Thousands have come back.”
The efforts of Hezbollah preparing for conflict with Israel has been confirmed by top IDF brass as well. In June, the head of the Israel’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Amir Baram, threatened action against Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, in response to militant efforts to build up terrorist infrastructure along the border. Baram relayed in a statement to the media that “Hezbollah’s loyalty was and remains to the supreme leader of Iran, not to the citizens of Lebanon. As a direct result of this, the nation of Lebanon will pay a heavy price in the next campaign for cooperating with Shiite terror.”
News on Hezbollah’s plans is confirmation of what many analysts have been saying on Iran’s strategy since sanctions started kicking in last year: economic strains will trigger Iran to lash out even more. This has already been witnessed with Iran’s maritime attacks in the Gulf region. The loose and unofficial coalition of nations opposing Iran, from the U.S., to Israel, to the Gulf states, must be ready for more diverse modes of aggression.