Ten years ago this summer, Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. The incident triggered a massive response, as Israel’s jets bombed Lebanon’s capital of Beirut while Hezbollah retaliated with rockets.
About 1,100 Lebanese were killed, mostly civilian, while 119 Israeli soldiers and 45 civilians died during a 34-day long-clash. Both sides claimed victory. But Israel’s domestic investigators later described the war as a “failure” for the country.
The war helped prove that Hezbollah was a political and military power in the Middle East. And it created a huge crack in the region that still exists today.
Hezbollah now is an absolute regional power. It is stronger at home while becoming an important player in Middle Eastern conflicts.
Lebanon has plenty of political problems, with its populations of Sunni, Shia, Christian and Durzia minorities. Hezbollah, which in Arabic means “God’s Party,” represents Shia’s political and military power. It’s an official political party in Lebanon but also has a militia.
While Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab League define Hezbollah as a terrorist group, it is embraced by Iran as one of the main assets in the region.
The United States considers Hezbollah’s militants as a global terrorist group. As a constant enemy of Israel and Western allies, Hezbollah is an obstacle to Middle East stability. Some American experts describe the group’s position in Lebanon as a “state within the state.”
But the Islamic State, the world’s No. 1 political concern and the target of many U.S. and Western attacks, has complicated matters. That’s partly because the Islamic State and Hezbollah are fighting each other.
Between 2013 and 2014, the Islamic State targeted Hezbollah-dominated areas in nine attacks in Lebanon.
In Syria, thousands of Hezbollah fighters sided with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime in that country’s civil war, which started in early 2011. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has become an important unofficial ally of Russia in the Syrian war.
While the United States, Turkey and the Western allies wanted to end Assad’s regime, Hezbollah has fought for it for four years.
President Barack Obama wanted to establish a peaceful status quo in the Middle East. However, things have changed dramatically. The Arab Spring, Syrian war and the Islamic State conflict have forced Obama to change his strategy in the region.
Obama welcomed the Arab Spring, which began in late 2010, as a peaceful revolution by the people. The hope was that some Arab countries would end up with democratic regimes. But it did not work. The Islamic State also was born and strengthened in the gap years between the Arab Spring and Syrian crisis.
Ten years after the war between Israel and Lebanon, it seems many Middle Eastern countries are weaker even as Hezbollah gets stronger. How to deal with the group will be a major question for the next U.S. president, dramatically affecting future Middle East policies.