No Run-of-the-Mill Islamists

Hezbollah and Hamas Present Israel With Unique Challenges

Two H’s: Pro-Hezbollah Lebanese demonstrators protest Israel’s attack on Gaza during the recent conflict.
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Two H’s: Pro-Hezbollah Lebanese demonstrators protest Israel’s attack on Gaza during the recent conflict.

By Joshua Gleis

Published December 19, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
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Hezbollah and Hamas have been capturing the world’s headlines for nearly 30 years. These two notorious organizations share more than just an enemy in Israel and an ally in Iran. Hezbollah has also served as a model for Hamas, with similar political structures, terrorist and military tactics, propaganda apparatuses and social welfare systems. Cooperation between the two organizations burgeoned in 1992, when Israel expelled more than 400 Palestinians to the southern Lebanese border, where they met with and learned from Hezbollah operatives. After intense international pressure, Israel eventually allowed those Palestinians to return to their homes. And when they did, they brought with them new lines of communication, further training, and a deadly new tactic: the suicide bomb.

Since that time, both Hezbollah and Hamas have matured greatly. To call them just “terrorist organizations” does not do them or their victims justice; these are not your run-of-the-mill Islamist terrorists. Today the groups are major political players in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. With help from Iran, Hezbollah in particular has influence and power projection in many regions around the world. Both organizations cunningly use their political, military and religious might to remain in control and to combat their domestic opponents.

The recent flare up of violence between Israel and Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense exemplified both sides’ capabilities and limitations. Yet in many ways, Operation Pillar of Defense was really a smaller, practice run for a future war Israel might have to fight with Hezbollah and Iran. In its most recent mini-war with Hamas, Israel successfully prevented most projectiles from hitting their intended targets. This was possible because although Hamas possessed an arsenal of some 10,000 rockets and missiles, only a handful of them, like the Fajr and Grad, had extended range.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, is a different story altogether. It claims to have more than 100,000 rockets and missiles, including long-range scuds with large warheads, and sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. It has some of the best-equipped fighters and is a recognized innovator in the deployment of improvised explosive devices. And as long as Syria remains in Bashar al-Assad’s control, it also has a secure and steady supply line for additional weapons to be transferred to it from Iran.


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