Hezbollah Backs New Armed Groups to Garner ‘Sunni Support’ for War with Israel

Israeli soldiers in their tank at their position along the Israel -Lebanon border, 21 October 2023. (EPA)
Israeli soldiers in their tank at their position along the Israel -Lebanon border, 21 October 2023. (EPA)
TT

Hezbollah Backs New Armed Groups to Garner ‘Sunni Support’ for War with Israel

Israeli soldiers in their tank at their position along the Israel -Lebanon border, 21 October 2023. (EPA)
Israeli soldiers in their tank at their position along the Israel -Lebanon border, 21 October 2023. (EPA)

The Lebanese people’s fear that their country would be dragged into a war with Israel are being compounded with the announcement of armed groups, besides Hezbollah, that they had launched rockets from southern Lebanon at Israeli settlements.

Some of these groups are well-known, such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, while others are new, like the Fajr (Dawn) Forces that are affiliated with the Jamaa al-Islamiya, the Lebanese branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Forces announced that they have joined the “resistance axis” that is led by Iran-backed Hezbollah.

This marks the first time that these groups have carried out operations in the South, a Hezbollah stronghold.

Some observers believe that they are operating with the blessing of Shiite Hezbollah that is seeking to mobilize as many armed groups to the southern front “in search of Sunni cover” for its role in a potential war.

The timing of the emergence of the Fajr Forces has raised questions, especially since the Jamaa al-Islamiya is - in theory - a rival of Hezbollah. In reality, it is impossible for the group to operate militarily in the South without Hezbollah’s approval and cover.

Head of the Jamaa al-Islamiya's political office Ali Abou Yassine said the Fajr Forces’ announcement of operations in the South does not mean that it is aligning itself with a foreign axis.

He said the announcement is “natural” as the forces “have not stopped and are continuing their jihadist work.”

“They will do everything they can towards their people, land, nation and residents of Gaza,” he added.

The Jamaa al-Islamiya first emerged five decades ago. A leading member of the group told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Fajr Forces are the military wing of the group that was formed in 1975.

It took part in operations against Israel during its invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he added. Three of its members were martyred in the southern city of Sidon at the time.

On the Fajr Forces’ recent operation in the South, he said resistance against Israel cannot be monopolized by one party – Hezbollah.

Director of the MENA Geopolitics Center Naufal Daou was not surprised by the announcement of the formation of the Fajr Forces, especially since the Jamaa al-Islamiya views itself as an affiliate of the Palestinian Hamas movement.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that there are concerns that Hezbollah would embroil it in military operations and that it would even receive backing from Sunnis. This means that the Hezbollah would not be the sole party to blame should Lebanon be dragged to war with Israel.

Daou warned that Lebanon is experiencing a critical and extraordinary phase that may lead to war, seeing as western countries have been quick to evacuate their national from the country.

These countries have had difficult experiences in the past with Hamas, which had kidnapped several of their nationals in Israel. They fear that they may also fall victim to it in Lebanon should the crisis deepen, significantly since these countries openly support Israel, he noted.

Military and strategic expert Khalil al-Helo said the operations between Hezbollah and Israel in the South are still contained. The party is firing rockets with a range of no more than 3 kilometers into Israel, while the latter is retaliating within a limited geographic area.

Hezbollah is worried, however, that Israel could exploit the international support it is enjoying to deal the party debilitating blows, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.



Israel Carries Out New Raids in Gaza as Netanyahu Visits US 

This picture taken in Khan Younis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture taken in Khan Younis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
TT

Israel Carries Out New Raids in Gaza as Netanyahu Visits US 

This picture taken in Khan Younis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture taken in Khan Younis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)

Israeli forces carried out new raids in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to address the US Congress.

The latest Israeli attacks destroyed homes in towns east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza and thousands of people were forced to head west to seek shelter, residents said.

The Palestinian Civil Emergency Service said it had received distress calls from residents trapped in their homes in Bani Suhaila, east of Khan Younis, but were unable to reach the town.

Israel's military, which is trying to eradicate the armed group Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, said it had been operating in areas from which fighters had been able to fire rockets into Israel and attack Israeli troops.

Gaza health officials said Israeli military strikes in the past 24 hours had killed at least 55 people, the latest casualties in a war that health authorities in the enclave say has killed more than 39,000 Palestinians.

"Where should we go? Shall we cross into the sea?" said Ghada, who has been displaced with her family six times during the war, said from Hamas City in northwestern Khan Younis.

"We are exhausted, starved, and want the war to end now, now not an hour later. Every day means more families are wiped off the registration book," she told Reuters via a chat app.

Local residents said they had been ordered to head west towards a designated humanitarian area, but that the area was now unsafe.

Israeli forces also carried out airstrikes on several areas of central and northern Gaza Strip, killing and wounding several Palestinians, health officials said.

Residents of Rafah, near the border with Egypt, said Israeli forces had blown up several houses in the west of the city.

PALESTINIANS CRITICISE U.S.

Hamas-led fighters triggered the war on Oct. 7 by storming into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 captives, according to Israeli tallies. Some 120 hostages are still being held though Israel believes one in three are dead.

Some Palestinians who gathered at a hospital in Khan Younis before funerals criticized the United States, Israel's most important international ally, for welcoming Netanyahu.

The Israel leader was due to address Congress later on Wednesday and to meet President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would meet Netanyahu in Florida on Friday.

"The United States is a main partner in what is happening in Gaza. We are being killed because of the United States. We are being slaughtered by American planes, American ships, American tanks, and American troops," said Kazem Abu Taha, a displaced resident from Rafah.

A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, told Reuters: "The Congress invitation to Netanyahu to make a speech gives legitimacy to the crimes of the war of genocide in Gaza. Receiving a war criminal is a shame to all Americans."

Israel has rejected accusations brought by South Africa at the UN's top court that its military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide campaign against Palestinians. It has reacted angrily to a decision by the International Criminal Court's prosecutor to seek an arrest warrant against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said this week a deal to release Israelis held captive in Gaza could be near. But Hamas officials said Netanyahu was stalling and that they had not seen any change in the Israeli stance that would allow an agreement to be reached.

Hamas wants a ceasefire agreement to end the war in Gaza. Netanyahu says the war cannot end before Hamas is eradicated.