Hezbollah’s Strategy: Building a Multi-Sectarian Front Against Israel

Photos of members of the “Islamic Group” who have been killed in Lebanon, taken from the official party announcement.
Photos of members of the “Islamic Group” who have been killed in Lebanon, taken from the official party announcement.

As the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel intensifies, diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the dangerous situation appear stalled. This conflict, unfolding along the northern front, not only highlights the ongoing tension between these adversaries but also reflects Lebanon's intricate domestic political landscape. Hezbollah’s strategic pivot towards creating a multi-sectarian narrative of war significantly impacts the regional geopolitical discourse.

The Lebanese government's inability to impose its sovereignty in southern Lebanon and force Hezbollah to stop its attacks is evident. It has failed in compelling Hezbollah to cease its attacks or in fulfilling its commitment to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war by calling for the total disarmament of military groups in south Lebanon and the deployment of the formal Lebanese army in the area. Moreover, Hezbollah’s subsequent attacks on northern Israel, following Hamas’s October 7th terror attack on southern Israel, reveal a seldom-seen cooperation between Hezbollah and various political entities within Lebanon.

Recently, Amal, a Shia group closely aligned with Hezbollah, publicly acknowledged its men are fighting alongside Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Even though Amal's military capabilities are insignificant relative to those of Hezbollah, this cooperation boosts Hezbollah's legitimacy in carrying on the fight against Israel.

Further complicating the narrative, the "Islamic Group" (Al-Jama'ah Al-Islamiyah), associated with the Lebanese branch of the "Muslim Brotherhood," announced the loss of three of its members to an Israeli retaliatory strike. These members attacked Israeli targets with an anti-tank missile. The "Islamic Group," with its limited representation in the Lebanese parliament, underscores the political rather than military significance of its imvolvement.

One might ask, what is the reason for the high-profile media exposure of the "Islamic Group" involvement in the fighting alongside Hezbollah? The answer will not be found at the military level, as it primarily serves political goals. Being a Sunni party, the political importance of the "Islamic Group" participating in the fighting is by strengthening Hezbollah's domestic legitimacy to continue its attacks on Israel, a notion echoed by Hezbollah-affiliated media channels in Lebanon.

For months, Hezbollah's political opponents have criticized the organization's unilateral decision-making and the risk that the conflict it initiated in southern Lebanon will escalate to a full-scale war that will have a devastating effect on the country as a whole. In response, Hezbollah's leadership has tried to justify the ongoing and ever-escalating skirmishes by attempting to portray the fighting as if it serves the interests of the Lebanese state. The wider the political support Hezbollah receives from other local parties, the easier it will be for its leadership to establish this narrative.

 A further added value lies in the fact that the "Islamic Group" is a Sunni party, unlike Amal and Hezbollah, which are Shia. The prominent Sunni identity enables Hezbollah to counter the allegations that its actions in the south are the result of Iranian Shia regime influence and are being done in the service of Tehran's interests. Of course, this refers to the broader domestic debate in Lebanon regarding the legitimacy of Hezbollah's arms and the long unanswered call by opposition parties to disarm the organization altogether. 

Hezbollah confronts these voices with a narrative that is competing with the national one. The notion of "resistance" as a collective effort that transcends sectarian, ethnic, or national identities is being used by Hezbollah's leadership as an effective tool to silence its political opponents. At the same time, the term is used to attract public sympathy from the wider Arab Sunni street and specifically from the religiously diverse public in Lebanon for the fight against Israel.

The more heterogeneous the groups participating in the resistance effort are, the easier it will be for Hezbollah to use this notion as a justification for the risks embedded in the ongoing fighting it leads against Israel. Thus, the "Islamic Group" participation in the fighting against Israel in southern Lebanon, as a Sunni Lebanese party, holds special importance from Hezbollah's point of view – not as a fighting force but rather thanks to the political message it carries.

Dror Doron is a senior advisor at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) focusing on Hezbollah and Lebanon. He spent nearly two decades as a senior analyst in the Office of Israel’s Prime Minister. Dror is on Twitter @DrorDoron