Ten Lessons Learned by Hezbollah From Israel’s Summer War in Gaza
It seems like an eternity ago that fighting raged in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, dubbed by the IDF as Operation Protective Edge. Nonstop coverage of that conflict clogged the airwaves for weeks, only to be drowned out by new headlines: ISIS. Ebola. Ferguson. But with activities now heating up between Israel and Hezbollah on the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli borders, it is worth exploring what lessons Hezbollah took away from this past summer’s conflict, and what one might find as a result, both on and off the battlefield with Israel.
Highlighted by recent skirmishes on the Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Syrian borders, tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are high, and the possibility of a more sustained outbreak of violence, intentional or not, is becoming increasingly likely.
Below is a list of the top ten lessons Hezbollah likely learned from Operation Protective Edge, as well as what can be expected from them as a result, in a future conflict with Israel. Hezbollah is now significantly more battle hardened as its fighters have been engaged in deadly fighting in Syria for years. Pre-occupied with fighting in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, it is not interested in another conflict with Israel at the moment. Yet it is willing to open another front with Israel if it deems such a move necessary to improve its deterrence, rally its base, or otherwise defend its core interests. Expect the next round of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah to be much bloodier, with more unintended consequences than previous conflicts with the Jewish state.
Lesson 1 – Casualties: Civilian casualties, both Arab and Jewish, worked in Hamas’s favor. Palestinian casualties drew international condemnation and pressure on Israel, led to significant criticism and accusations of human rights abuses from much of the international community and even some left-wing supporters of Israel, and continues to threaten the Jewish State with the potential involvement of the International Criminal Court. Israeli casualties, while limited, highlighted the well-known sensitivity of the Israeli people, and showed the vulnerability of both Israeli civilians and soldiers – even as Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip with an intense air campaign and limited ground operation.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to more intentionally draw Lebanese casualties – especially Christian, Sunni and Druze – in an effort to pressure Israel while simultaneously re-casting itself as protector of all Lebanese. They will also seek to draw UNIFIL casualties to bring further pressure onto Israel, and of course, will underreport any casualties its fighters incur.
Lesson 2 – Reliance on Fellow Arabs for Support: Arab neighbors do not mind seeing their fellow Arabs bleed if it serves their interests. Unlike in 2010 and 2012 where the Arab League and individual states placed tremendous pressure on Israel and its allies to end the fighting before achieving visible benefits, in the latest round this past summer they were more than happy to let Hamas pay for their ties to the Muslim Brotherhood… even if this meant Palestinian civilians suffered too.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: With Shiite-Sunni conflicts raging in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East, and worsening relations between Iran and the Arab world, Hezbollah should not expect the kind of support it received from the Arab street in 2006. It will need to plan accordingly.
Lesson 3 – Tunnels: Hezbollah can actually teach Hamas a thing or two about tunnels (and they have). Nothing affected the Israeli psyche as much as the threat of Hamas fighters crawling out of tunnels in people’s backyards and attacking them when and where they least expected it. Hamas’ numerous, infamous tunnels helped define last summer’s war.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to take a more pronounced use of tunnels in any future conflict with Israel. Israeli forces are actively seeking out these tunnels but they can be difficult to destroy. Israel also is still developing its policy and forces to more effectively combat the tunnel threat.
Lesson 4 – United Nations: Hamas scored great propaganda points by launching strikes from UN facilities that drew an Israeli response. Those responses led to international condemnation on Israel for targeting “neutral” UN facilities, and is a continued example by critics of Israel of the Jewish State’s disregard for human rights.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to fire from a larger number of civilian and UN facilities than it has done in the past. Hezbollah has witnessed firsthand how effective this tactic can be. In Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996, Israel shelled a UN compound at Qana, killing 106 civilians, and leading to intense pressure to end the military campaign.
Lesson 5 – Iron Dome: Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile shield has been applauded for its significant success in targeting and destroying rockets that are being fired on Israeli civilian, military and government sites. It remains a symbol of Israeli ingenuity and ability to limit the effects of war, and was a thorn in the side of Palestinian forces.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to combat the Iron Dome in two ways: the first will be by the sheer number of rocket salvos Hezbollah will fire at any given time. Secondly, Hezbollah may try to attack some of the Iron Dome installations themselves that are positioned in the north of the country. If successful, the attack would be a major blow for Israel and significant boost for Hezbollah supporters who will point to it as evidence of a victory. Hezbollah is keen to deliver surprises to Israel.
Lesson 6 – Ben Gurion Airport: In the summer of 2014, Hamas successfully shut down international air traffic into Israel when one rocket landed close to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. This resulted in thousands of Israelis being stranded around the world and caused great insult to the Israeli government.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to fire numerous salvoes at Israel’s airports and other critical infrastructure from the onset of any future war. It will seek to shut down all of Israel’s airports and cause as many symbolic victories as possible.
Lesson 7 – Propaganda: Hamas did a remarkable job at manipulating the international and local media to deliver the storyline it wished to portray. It recorded and televised numerous successful attacks on Israeli forces that it conducted, while keeping reporting of Hamas forces operating from hospitals and other “neutral” sites to a minimum.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to employ its own propaganda machine in full force in any future conflict. Its al Manar television station will ensure reporters sympathetic to Hezbollah gain firsthand footage and knowledge of any successful attacks on Israeli forces. Its control over neighborhoods in Beirut and southern Lebanon will also ensure that reporters tell the stories it wishes to portray.
Lesson 8 – Kidnappings: Hamas successfully captured the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in combat in the Gaza Strip. It previously held IDF soldier Gilad Shalit captive and successfully traded him for the release of over 1000 Palestinians and others convicted of terrorism that were held by Israel.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to make every effort to capture and kidnap Israeli soldiers (and even possibly civilians) in any future war. The kidnapping of an Israeli soldier would be an immediate sign of victory for Hezbollah, as it would allow the group to point to a concrete “win” in the capture of an Israeli soldier, allow it to negotiate the release of Islamists held by Israel, and raise its stature as Israel will be forced to conduct prisoner negotiations as is normally conducted between two states.
Lesson 9 – Tel Aviv: Israel has always prided itself on its ability to keep life as normal as possible even in the face of continued conflict. Indeed, its economy continued to grow despite conflicts on its borders and in neighboring lands. When Hamas successfully fired upon Tel Aviv and Jerusalem it ensured that all of Israel was affected by the war.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well as all of Israel’s major population centers. In its last war with Israel in 2006, it was unable to successfully fire upon Tel Aviv. This time around, nobody is expecting Hezbollah to have that limitation. Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and their various military and government sites will be targeted in any next round of war.
Lesson 10 – Invasion: During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas brought the war to Israel when it sent fighters through tunnels into Israeli territory. At Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Hamas fighters dressed as Israeli soldiers killed five members of the IDF and brought great panic to the Israeli civilian population in the area.
Hezbollah Takeaway for a Future War: Expect Hezbollah to send forces into Israel’s northern communities to wreak havoc on Israeli civilians and hold different territories for short periods of time. Both Hezbollah and Israeli forces have warned that this should be expected in the next round of war.