Does Hezbollah have an interest in starting a confrontation, and what is the array of considerations on the Israeli side?

A strategic situational assessment with recommendations for the political echelon

Executive Summary

  • Developments at the Lebanese border over the past year testify to Hezbollah’s growing boldness and its intensified readiness for confrontation. While Hezbollah is following a policy of brinksmanship, Israel’s policy may be described as strategic containment intended to prevent escalation by means of public threats and diplomatic activity while not applying force. As to whether the accumulation of incidents will indeed lead to escalation, and when, the answer depends on both sides and it appears that both are patient and see no urgency.
  • To our understanding, behind Hezbollah’s provocative behavior is what it sees as a unique combination of circumstances, including above all its assessment that Israel will pay almost any price to avoid confrontation, as proven in the Gas Agreement and in Israel’s restrained reactions since then to Hezbollah’s repeated provocations, but also including Hezbollah’s own continuing force buildup and its achievements in the Syrian war, where it gained operational experience; the progressively stronger position of Hezbollah’s Iranian patron in the region as it progresses unimpeded with its nuclear program; the perception of the USA as weak; and the erosion that Hezbollah notices in Israel’s internal robustness in light of the growing societal rift.
  • All those factors lead Hezbollah to believe that it can continue provoking Israel in a variety of ways, on a variety of pretexts, sponsor terror attacks, and expect that Israel will be deterred and will try to restrain itself rather than respond, or at least will refrain from exacting too high a price in return for Hezbollah’s provocations. In that way, Hezbollah hopes to gain further advantages over Israel on the issues in dispute, in order to strengthen its position in Lebanon where it is subject to sharp criticism because of the difficulty of daily life, and to solidify its image and standing as the “defender of Lebanon” and increase its value in Iran’s eyes.
  • The high reputation that Hezbollah has acquired through public relations is a mixed blessing in that Hezbollah must now fulfill expectations by actual accomplishments. For that reason, in any scenario where a conflict does erupt, Hezbollah will have trouble trying to once more present its mere survival as an achievement, especially after Lebanon, including Hezbollah, took heavy blows while Hezbollah was exacting a price from Israel.
  • We believe that Hezbollah’s provocations are evidence that it is poised and prepared for escalation, whether eager for it or not. Even if initiating a campaign is not currently in Nasrallah’s interest or on his agenda, the weakening of Israeli deterrence and the swelling of Nasrallah’s self-confidence may lead to further provocations from Hezbollah. Those provocations may force an Israeli response, and from there the downward spiral into a military campaign could be quick, even if it figures neither in the interests nor in the desires of either side (as in the circumstances that led to the outbreak of the 2006 Second Lebanon War).
  • Therefore, we consider that if Israel does not succeed in changing Hezbollah’s view of the situation and deterring Hezbollah, a military conflict with Hezbollah will become a more likely scenario and it may be limited, or full-scale, or even on multiple fronts.
Hassan Nasrallah speech on TV
Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah

Is Hezbollah looking for a confrontation?

The developments of 2023, particularly during July, on the northern border testify to Hezbollah’s mounting boldness and to its increasing readiness for confrontation. Hezbollah is ready to fight, and what remains to be seen is whether the accumulation of incidents will necessarily lead to escalation, and if so, when.

Throughout the first half of 2023, particularly during the spring and into the summer, tension at the Israeli–Lebanese border was perceptibly increasing in a way that hadn’t been seen since the 2006 Lebanon War. Hezbollah is examining the quality and scope of Israel’s responses and is showing an increasing boldness that wasn’t typical of its operations in the previous 15 years. The succession of incidents and their sophistication, statements made by the organization’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, the laying of figurative pistols on the table as if to restate old territorial demands (the village of Ghajar, the Shebaa Farms, the seven villages), and in particular the increasing boldness of the terrorist organization along the border and the significant force buildup testify to the real potential of a flare-up between Israel and Hezbollah that could turn into Israeli–Hezbollah warfare, depending on what steps Hezbollah takes, on how Israel manages the situation, and on the interests of Hezbollah’s patron Iran.

A combination of factors has led Nasrallah to perceive a window of opportunity for provoking Israel and scoring achievements at Israel’s expense. The leading factor is that Nasrallah’s threats last August brought from Israel an inhibited and feeble reaction that led to the signing of the Gas Agreement, with Israel in effect acceding to all Hezbollah’s demands after being shown a pistol on the table in the form of drone attacks. Nasrallah interpreted that reaction as showing weakness and thus inviting further provocations. In contrast to Israel’s vain hope that the Gas Agreement would satisfy Hezbollah and lead to stability, the exact opposite occurred: Nasrallah revived old territorial demands and challenged Israel all the more forcefully. Following are some additional factors behind Nasrallah’s increasing boldness:

  • Israel’s restrained and prudent response to Hezbollah’s provocations could be interpreted in Lebanon as weakness that invites further provocations, such as the terror attack at Megiddo, the challenge of the tents, the confrontations along the border, and incidents including the sabotage of cameras and the shooting of 34 rockets by Hamas from Lebanon during Ramadan, to which Israel’s reaction consisted only of restraint and warnings, undercover operations, and diplomatic activity.
  • Israel’s internal situation, given the protests against the government. Along with the large-scale protests, there is also public support by certain elements for “civil rebellion” and organized refusal to report for duty, presented as a cessation of volunteering, encouraged by very senior retirees from Israel’s political and security establishments, and threatening to harm the army’s solidarity and preparedness and the political leadership’s ability to marshal broad support in any armed campaign against Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah are both watching this phenomenon and interpreting it in their own way, and if their words are any indication, this is a “particularly destructive” period in Israel’s history. Weakness on Israel’s part is automatically interpreted as an opportunity for the Iranian–Lebanese side.
  • Iran, the organization’s patron and chief bankroller, which is deeply involved in its force buildup by means of the “Quds Force” of the Revolutionary Guards, is interested in confirming that the organization’s strength can serve Iran by deterring Israel from action against the infrastructures of Iran’s nuclear program, while Iran simultaneously entrenches its standing in the region and seeks to retaliate against Israel for its aggressive anti-Iranian stance, including strikes in Syria against Hezbollah’s attempts to amass armaments.
  • The difficult domestic situation in Lebanon, including significant unemployment, the devaluation of the currency, a drop in the gross national product, a contraction of the economy, intensifying inflation, and bitterness among the public concerning the spread of corruption in the state institutions and among Hezbollah — is leading to ever-intensifying anti-Hezbollah protests. Such protests have emerged into the open in recent years, and many Lebanese, including significant figures, dare to speak publicly against the organization. The explosion at the Port of Beirut, which brought significant damage to the capital and brought death or injury to many Lebanese, also harmed the willingness of large numbers of Lebanese to trust the terror organization. Given these developments, Nasrallah is interested in shoring up his standing as “defender of Lebanon” and rehabilitating the organization’s image in order to emphasize his power as “leader of the resistance” against Israel.
  • The cold-shouldering of Israel by the US diplomatic echelons, despite the excellent relations on the military and intelligence planes, may be interpreted as an opportune moment for Iran and Hezbollah. Statements by American officials (such as the US President and various spokespersons) in opposition to the Israeli government’s actions, the identity of its office holders, and the lack of an invitation for the Prime Minister to visit Washington due to disagreements and other considerations all coexist with the warm reception for the Israeli President in Washington, support for Operation “House and Garden,” and continued military and economic support for Israel.


Nothing in the above indicates that Hezbollah necessarily perceives an erosion in Israel’s military strength. Hezbollah is aware that Israel can inflict major damage on it, and on Lebanon. But it believes that its own strength has grown greatly, thanks to its buildup of rockets and precision missiles, its accumulated experience from the war in Syria, its improved defensive abilities, and the investment in training its special forces (the “Radwan Force”). The feeling of capability brings a new challenge: In the next conflict with Israel, the organization will have trouble presenting its mere survival as an achievement and will need to prove that it is the defender of Lebanon and not merely an element that can exact a price from the Israeli home front.

Deployment and developments

At the same time, senior military figures have told Ynet News that Hezbollah “has taken its daring steps to the next level and is seeking more and more opportunities for provocations against the IDF at the border.” The large IDF exercise named “Firm Hand” practiced, among other things, a scenario of escalation against Hezbollah together with a multi-front confrontation.

The political echelons too are shifting into higher gear with regard to events on the northern front. On July 30, 2023, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gallant, the Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Halevi, Head of the Mossad David Barnea, Head of the ISA Ronen Bar, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, government ministers, and security figures conferred to evaluate the situation. When the government met on the same day, Netanyahu sent a message to Hezbollah: “On the day of reckoning, it will find us standing shoulder to shoulder. Even Nasrallah knows that they shouldn’t put us to the test.” Defense Minister Gallant issued another threat to Hezbollah (August 13) when he warned that if the organization starts a confrontation with Israel, Lebanon could be returned to the Stone Age.

Hezbollah has also participated in the ping-pong game of trading threats. Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah depicted the situation harshly on July 29, sending this message to Israel: “Lebanon is a state under attack, and Israel is still occupying parts of it. … Israel reconquered a section of Ghajar and has the effrontery to speak of provocations. To the Zionists, I say: Beware of any kind of foolish step or decision … The resistance will not take its responsibility lightly in reacting and liberating the lands. We are ready for all contingencies and we will not be silent in the face of foolish deeds.” In response to Gallant’s threat, Nasrallah warned (August 14) that although Israel has the ability to return Lebanon into the Stone Age, Israel could not survive the heavy damage that Hezbollah, for its part, can inflict on Israeli infrastructures.

The near term

Israel’s current response may be summarized as strategic containment while inflicting tactical military retaliation and continuing the war between the wars in Syria, where achievements have been partial. However, this policy, if continued, could drag Israel into a confrontation at an inconvenient moment because of eroded deterrence. On the other hand, initiating a preemptive strike, and thus halting the Israeli policy of avoiding war, could also expose the Israeli home front to significant fire, at a heavy cost to lives and infrastructure alongside the danger of a multi-front war, including the home front as a target of riots on the part of some in the Arab-Israeli community.

Currently Hezbollah is keeping up the “friction” against Israel along the border, with a potential for unplanned confrontation resulting from chains of events or for a confrontation initiated by one of the sides. Nasrallah is sophisticatedly playing the “long game” against Israel at a level below the tripline of war, strolling the brink, and it may bring him gains from Israel that he can present to his domestic public. Nasrallah well remembers the scenes of destruction from the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but the present situation enables him to maneuver near the verge of full confrontation while hoping to embarrass Israel or extract concessions from it like those of the 2022 Gas Agreement. Time will tell whether Nasrallah is ready to “go for broke” in a war campaign or intends to remain at the present low level of friction.

The tents erected by Hezbollah
The tents erected by Hezbollah and, at left, a Hezbollah operative wearing a “Green Without Borders” vest (Channel 11 News, Israel; June 24, 2023)

Recommendations to Israel’s political echelons

  • Hezbollah is testing Israel’s reactions, rather than responding to steps taken by Israel. Accordingly, dealing with this terror organization should be cool-headed, on the understanding that a harsh and inconveniently timed reaction from Israel could play into the hands of the organization and of its patron Iran. At the same time, further gestures of defiance should be handled firmly and promptly in order to foil attempts at attack and provocation in the field and in order to strengthen deterrence in general, especially including deterrence against challenges that are dangled beneath the brink of a possible large-scale flare-up.
  • Nasrallah’s territorial claims are simply excuses for continuing the fight, and Israel must avoid the trap of conceding on specific points of contention for the sake of the same quiet that Israel wrongly expected from the 2022 Gas Agreement. Ghajar, the Shabaa Farm, and the seven villages are mere excuses, and Hezbollah has no real claim there. This is also a message that the international community must understand.
  • We must be prepared for a conflict with Hezbollah and even, if it breaks out, for a multi-front campaign — escalation on the Lebanese front, in Judea and Samaria, in Gaza, and on the domestic front (as in Operation Guardian of the Walls), with the involvement of Syrian militias and even Iraqi and Yemenite militias. If Hezbollah initiates a conflict, the IDF must be ready for every scenario. It must practice for high readiness and improve its capabilities of interception (air defense) as much as possible. For any preemptive strike initiated by Israel, the political echelons must deeply examine the operation’s objectives, the ability to achieve them, and the implications of the decision along with the implications of the decision to, conversely, refrain from a preemptive strike — which is to say, to accept that the timing may be imposed to Israel’s disadvantage.
  • Societal and national readiness for war must be promoted, in all its aspects. The internal crisis and the refusals to report for duty must be handled, the IDF must remain ready and capable, and a national guard must be set up to deal with flare-ups from Arab elements on the home front.
  • The advantage of a preemptive strike is the element of surprise, at a time convenient for Israel, as against a scenario of surprise like that of Yom Kippur. The disadvantage is in instigating a war with an unpredictable outcome, which may degenerate into any manner of scenarios such as multi-front warfare, large-scale casualties on the home front, or damage to strategic assets. Relevant questions are “For how long, between rounds of fighting, can Israel limit the buildup of the enemy’s forces?” and “What is the trade-off in such an operation — the cost/benefit ratio that justifies an operation to neutralize its force buildup?”


The events of July–August 2023 — An increasing boldness on Hezbollah’s part

The developments in July 2023 testify to an increasing boldness on Hezbollah’s part, deliberately testing Israel’s reactions at the risk of drawing the sides into an unintended confrontation:

  • On July 12, three Hezbollah operatives tried to sabotage the border fence. The IDF forced them away by using riot control measures. Defense Minister Gallant confirmed that the operatives were from Hezbollah. The Lebanese media reported three injuries from the incident.
  • On July 14, IDF security cameras installed at the border fence were dislodged. Hezbollah published a video that showed three operatives climbing the fence and waving the organization’s flag.
  • On July 14 and 16, Lebanese residents approached the border fence in the vicinity of Metulla and lobbed stones at IDF soldiers. The soldiers used riot control measures and fired warning shots into the air. (Al‑Manar, July 16, 2023)
  • On July 15, eighteen Lebanese civilians, including a member of the Lebanese parliament, crossed the Blue Line into Israeli territory during a photographed visit to the Mount Dov area. IDF soldiers ordered them to away from the area.
  • Hezbollah has produced a video showing its operatives in a military exercise simulating the capture of an Israeli post.
  • On July 17, Hezbollah’s combat propaganda unit published a video of the Radwan Force, the organization’s elite unit, in an exercise simulating the capture of an Israeli post. In the video, the exercise begins by “softening” the post with antitank fire and mortar shelling. Subsequently dozens of Hezbollah operatives, on motorcycles and ATVs, mount an attack. After “successful conclusion” of the assault, the organization’s flag is hung above the post. (Al-Manar)
  • On July 20, media identified with Hezbollah published a video showing the Israeli Chief of Staff and other senior figures on a visit to the northern border. In addition, photos of senior IDF officers were distributed that were snapped in crosshairs.
  • In April, Hezbollah set up two tents in Israeli territory near the border fence in the Mount Dov area, or the “Shabaa Farms,” in what Hezbollah claims is Lebanese territory. The tents were erected in violation of the Blue Line, which Hezbollah considers not the international border but merely the line to which the “army of occupation” retreated. In June, one of the tents was dismantled. According to the Lebanese media, the next step will likely be the addition of further Hezbollah tents.
  • Hezbollah contextualizes the tents as intended to protect the village of Ghajar, which the organization claims is under occupation. Nasrallah has threatened that if Israel dismantles the tents, that move may justify a larger-scale counterattack on his part.
  • The UN and the USA are involved in indirect talks between Israel and Hezbollah. One suggestion on the table is that work on the land barrier that Israel is constructing along the Lebanese border could be halted in return for dismantlement of the Hezbollah tent camp. However, a dynamic whereby Israel endangers its critical security requirements in response to demands from a terrorist organization that figuratively lays a pistol on the table, is in contravention of Israel’s policy of deterrence and Israel’s future balance of deterrence against Hezbollah may suffer significantly in the future.


The intensification in July follows escalation in March and during the Ramadan and Passover period, when Israel had all the layers of its defense, their quality, and its readiness to respond put to the test:

  • Air defense and anti-missile defense systems: On April 6, thirty-four mortar rounds were fired at Israel from Lebanon, wounding two civilians. The intelligence services consider that the responsibility for the attack probably lies with a south Lebanese branch of Hamas that is under control of Iran’s Quds Force, with Hezbollah’s approval. In parallel, Hamas fired 44 rockets from Gaza. Two days later, three rockets were fired from Syria. Israel’s open response was tactical and tightly focused, while unofficially Israel hinted at completing its response with other actions such as those that Prime Minister Netanyahu alluded to “around Nasrallah.”
  • Border defense: A month earlier, in the Megiddo Incident (March 13), a terrorist crossed the border from Lebanon and penetrated more than 70 km into Israel. He set off an explosive device that seriously wounded an Israeli citizen and was wearing an explosive belt with the intent of perpetrating a sizeable terror attack. In the end he was neutralized by the IDF. On Telegram, a group calling itself “the Galilee Forces – Lone Wolves” claimed responsibility for the operation. Clearly the attack was perpetrated with Hezbollah’s full knowledge and approval, since Hezbollah is sovereign de facto in south Lebanon. The last time a similar attack took place was in 2002. The attack was unprecedented in its boldness, since according to the Atlantic Council, between 2006 and 2020 Hezbollah was involved in ten border incidents targeting IDF soldiers and those incidents all were responses to deeds that it attributed to Israel. The Megiddo Incident constitutes a new red line in terms of Hezbollah’s boldness and of an Israeli response that, given the graver consequences of the attack, risks tumbling into war.
  • During Ramadan and Passover, a number of fronts were simultaneously destabilized:
    • Destabilization in Jerusalem by Hamas included rioting on Temple Mount;
    • Volatility in Judea and Samaria included thousands of attacks in the first half of 2023 from shooting to the throwing of stones, firebombs, and explosive devices. The ISA thwarted 400 significant terror attacks;
    • Low-level disturbances took place in Arab cities such as Nazareth, Arraba, Sakhnin, Umm al-Fahm, and Baqa al-Gharbiyye, while there were tensions in Jerusalem and rockets were fired from across the borders;
    • Cyber assaults came from Iranian and Sudanese groups. They attacked websites belonging to Israel’s large universities, the Israel Postal Company, mobile phone companies, and the Israel Electric Corporation;
    • Provocations have been intensifying along the northern border in March 2023 and have included sewage water directed into Israeli territory, an attempt to blind Israeli drivers with lasers, powerful explosions on the Lebanese side of the border intended to increase anxiety among residents of Israel’s north, and frequent incursions across the border to test Israel’s enforcement of the Blue Line. From March 5 to March 7, incidents of greater severity occurred in connection with the building of the land barrier — for example, a physical confrontation between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers that resonated in the Lebanese media, and the theft of an Israeli soldier’s weapon by a Lebanese civilian.


In addition, over recent months Hezbollah has taken its military exercises to the next level. In April and May it held military exercises next to the border, in the presence of invitees from the local media, and those exercises were based on attack rather than defense. They simulated, among other things, the abduction of soldiers and the conquest of communities and areas in Israel, the taking of Israeli hostages, drone attacks, rocket fire, and sniper fire. Live ammunition was used. In parallel, the IDF held a large-scale military exercise named Firm Hand that was intended to simulate a multifaceted war.

On the other hand, the events of July could indicate that Hezbollah is reducing the forcefulness and the serious nature of the incidents, tending toward provocations along the border rather than toward “high quality” attacks such as the one at Megiddo or unusual incidents such as the greenlighting of the 34 rockets fired by Hamas of south Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s force buildup

Hezbollah’s significant force buildup is the second-largest strategic threat against the State of Israel. Whereas the Iranian nuclear program is considered the largest strategic–security threat against Israel, the terrorist organization Hezbollah which operates in Lebanon with Iranian backing is clearly the second most serious.

  • Rocket capabilities: Today Hezbollah possesses an estimated 150,000 rockets, missiles, and attack drones. A fraction of them are precision-guided missiles that can hit their targets with a margin of error no greater than a few meters. Hezbollah is also equipped with shore-to-sea missiles and land-to-air missiles.
  • Funding: Hezbollah is the world’s richest terrorist organization, with an annual budget of roughly $1 billion USD.
  • Land attack capabilities:
    • For some time, Hezbollah has been devoting significant efforts to destabilizing the dynamics vis-à-vis Israel around the fence at the Lebanese border, in gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. As a first step, Hezbollah is strategically positioning brigades of fighters inside hardened positions along the border zone. At those positions, it has stored and camouflaged a variety of materiel including antitank launchers, rockets, sniper rifles, explosives, and other weaponry. That equipment is guarded and secured in underground facilities, testifying to the organization’s significant force buildup.
    • Hezbollah is training and operating an elite land unit named “the Radwan Force.” Such units are intended to penetrate into Israeli areas and even take northern communities over (“Conquest of the Galilee”). The force is deployed across broad swaths of southern Lebanon so as to conceal indicative signs of a possible land incursion and position a large number of fighters at high readiness for immediate action. The “Radwan Force” fighters, estimated to number in the thousands, have acquired military capabilities not to be taken lightly. They played a significant role in support of the Assad regime during the Syrian Civil War as part of Hezbollah’s allegiance to the Iranian axis.
    • Over the past two years, Hezbollah has intensified its military presence on the land in the border area. One of its projects is a bogus Lebanese environmental organization named “Green Without Borders,” which ostensibly deals with forestation but actually enables Hezbollah’s operatives to approach the border, under cover of civilian activity, in order to collect intelligence and provoke IDF soldiers. Those phony environmental activists actually belong to the “Radwan Force.” Hezbollah’s “Green Without Borders” maneuvers have included setting up 20 observation posts along the border under false civilian guise, from Mount Dov to Rosh HaNikra. The founding of “Green Without Borders” in 2017 flagrantly violates UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
    • This is rooted in an intensifying process of raising the bar. The process begins with shouts, curses, spitting, and damage to the fence, and it continues into today’s situation where Hezbollah forbids the Lebanese army and the UN’s UNIFIL forces from entering the area for purposes of monitoring. Hezbollah is even no longer hiding its military presence along the border, and its operatives circulate in military uniforms.
    • The operational plan for conquering the Galilee was first formulated by Hezbollah in 2011 but subsequently Hezbollah busied itself only with building up a force at the border with Israel, since the lion’s share of its manpower was invested in assisting the Assad regime in Syria’s Civil War. Now that Assad has reinstituted his rule over most of Syria and returned to the embrace of the Arab League, his regional standing is stronger and therefore the chances of confrontation may increase.


“Nasrallah Warns Israel Against Any Folly” From Hezbollah’s Al‑Manar network in English, 7/31/2023