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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In the event of a future conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, it will be much more difficult for the Israeli Air Force to pre-emptively destroy most of Hezbollah’s long-range missiles and rockets. They are widely scattered and deeply embedded in and around civilian population centers that include schools, nongovernmental organizations, hospitals and mosques. When the next round of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel takes place, it will affect significantly larger portions of both sides’ populations than seen previously. All sides know this, which is one major deterrent preventing hostilities from breaking out thus far.

Hezbollah and Hamas rose from very different beginnings, and those initial influences are showing themselves once again. Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shi’ite Islamist organization founded in large part by Iran. Hamas on the other hand is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist organization that has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. While the group has enjoyed support from Iran in recent years, that support is waning.

This is in part due to Hamas’s departure from Syria, which was seen as a slap in the face to the Assad regime and to his Iranian allies. But it is also due to the resurgence of Sunni Islamist powers, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and of course Egypt. Many of these Sunni powers have a hatred for Iran that stems back further than the existence of Islam itself, as Turks, Arabs and Persians have been fighting and dominating each other along ethnic lines for millennia. And so while the two groups will continue to share interests in the short term, the likelihood of further distancing between Hezbollah and Hamas, and between Iran and Hamas, in the medium and long terms is high.

These are tenuous times in the Middle East. There is ample reason to be concerned for Israel’s well-being and for America’s national security interests in the region. Both Israel and the United States would be wise to expose the emerging differences between Hezbollah and Hamas. While these two Islamist groups continue to see the Muslim world as under siege by Western imperialism and Zionist influences, their efforts to maintain a united front are showing signs of wear.

Joshua Gleis is a co-author of “Hezbollah and Hamas: A Comparative Study” (Johns Hopkins University Press) and author of “Withdrawing Under Fire: Lessons Learned from Islamist Insurgencies” (Potomac Books, 2011). Follow him on Twitter @Joshua_Gleis


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