Hezbollah has several departments that specialize in monitoring events in Israel. They monitor everything that happens in Israel, then analyze that information by cross-checking it with privately-collected information. Inside these departments is a unit whose roots in monitoring Israeli events go back the 1975-1981 era, when the Palestinian Fatah movement was a state within a state and had its various institutions stationed in Lebanon. This unit is the remnant of Fatah’s so-called “Western sector,” which was directly led by Fatah’s second in command, Khalil al-Wazir (aka, Abu Jihad), and whose sole mission was to monitor the situation in Israel and assess its intentions toward Lebanon and the conflict in the region.
Throughout his life, Hezbollah’s military commander Imad Mughniyah was one of the most prominent examples of a Lebanese person inside Hezbollah who descended from Fatah’s Western Sector experience, before they embraced Hezbollah’s religious doctrine between 1983 and 1985. The members of this Hezbollah unit are now in their fifties and are highly knowledgeable of Israeli affairs. Over the past 20 years, Hezbollah has added a new generation of researchers and observers of Israeli affairs to the Israel-monitoring unit, of which they now constitute the majority, numbering in the dozens. Inside the party, they are known as “the Hebrew mujahideen.” Recently, they have been closely monitoring and analyzing the Israeli election and its implications on the “Israeli political structure,” the “security, military, and political open battle between Israel and Hezbollah,” and “Israeli political changes toward Lebanon, the resistance, Syria, and Iran.”
After examining the Israeli election’s results, the Hebrew mujahideen’s main conclusion is that the election has extended the historic leadership vacuum in Israel. Hezbollah is particularly interested in that aspect because, after an in-depth examination of the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel and of the manner by which the Olmert, Peretz and Halutz troika led the war, the party has reached a strategic conception of the situation. The conception is the following: Whenever senior Israeli leaders reach their positions because of unstable internal considerations — such as what put the above troika in power — it means that Israel’s strategic thinking is prone to be less deep and less experienced, which allows Hezbollah to prevent Israel from scoring victories in upcoming wars with the party.
Accordingly, Hezbollah was satisfied with the results of the recent election because all of the “real leaders” who have military and strategic experience with Hezbollah — such as Ehud Barack, Gabi Ashkenazi, Amos Yadlin, Meir Dagan, and Shaul Mofaz — are now outside the loop. Shaul Mofaz’s party lost in the election.
On that point, Hezbollah assesses the Israeli election based on its private archive of information on Israel obtained by spying or private collection methods. The archive contains detailed information obtained during Hezbollah’s military, political, and security battles with Israel for 30 years. Based on that information, Hezbollah sees that its “real enemies” inside the Israeli leadership circle have either completely left the political game or — because they are of the older generation — have become part of the military establishment, such as current Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
But there is an important side-note on how Hezbollah assesses things based on its monitoring of who leads Israel’s military and security establishment. Hezbollah prefers that combat duties in the Israeli army be led by those who can still bitterly remember the conflict with Hezbollah, either in the form of “an obsession with military” or by maintaining the conviction that a war with Hezbollah carries exorbitant costs. Based on that assessment, which Hezbollah puts in high esteem because of psychological factors in its conflict with Israel, the presence of Benny Gantz has a special meaning. In addition to his predilection for military adventures, he has dealt directly with Hezbollah throughout his military career (as commander of the Lebanon Liaison Unit, as commander of the Israeli Northern Command, which is responsible for the Lebanon and Syria fronts, and as commander of the Paratrooper Brigade). To Hezbollah, Gantz has two memories. The first is his experience with the Hezbollah threat to Israel, and the second is based on direct military confrontations on the ground. Those two memories make him part of an Israeli current that thinks that a military venture against Hezbollah would be very expensive for Israel. And this is what Hezbollah wants all senior Israeli military, security, and political leaders to think, since Hezbollah’s psychological strategy against Israel is primarily based on establishing a balance of terror.
Another important point with regard to how Hezbollah sees the Israeli election is that, unlike the Arab states, Hezbollah does not look forward to the success of the dovish forces in Israel. This is for two reasons:
First, Hezbollah’s historic relationship with Israel makes the party prefer Israeli extremism in order to showcase the sincerity of Hezbollah’s political and ideological discourse, which depict Israel as an aggressive state and that the war with it is existential. Hezbollah’s discourse becomes attractive to its popular base and the wider surroundings whenever Israeli elections confirm that the Israeli public prefers extreme right-wing parties, while that same discourse would be called into question by the Arabs and Muslims when pro-peace, leftist, centrist, or liberal Israeli parties come to power.
Second, Hezbollah places little value on internal Israeli contradictions, be they between left and right, or between religious extremism and moderation. Ideologically and out of practice, the party prefers to portray Israel by its “total picture” that fits with the image of the “enemy” as described by the party’s fundamental principles.
Hezbollah sees Netanyahu winning a third term as such: Even though Netanyahu does not seek peace with the Arabs and Palestinians — and that by itself strengthens Hezbollah’s ideological discourse — he is nevertheless still haunted by his mistake as prime minister in 1998, when he sent a commando team to Ansariyeh in south Lebanon resulting in the death of several Israeli soldiers in a Hezbollah ambush. Hezbollah believes that “Ansariyeh’s obsession” combined with Netanyahu’s personality makes him reluctant to launch an all-out war — as well as a limited or localized operation — against Hezbollah.
In short, Hezbollah’s assessment of the Israeli election depends on how the party sees its role in the struggle against Israel. Hezbollah sees the Israeli election differently from other Arab countries. Hezbollah wants the Israeli elections — now, tomorrow, and yesterday — to serve the party’s political discourse whereby Israel is eternally hostile and not amenable to a peaceful settlement. Hezbollah also wants the Israeli election to serve the party’s ideological mission, which aims to show the Arab and Islamic public that Israel is no more than a cobweb whose destruction, or at least whose deterrence, only requires someone with the will to fight it.
Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse, head of the Lebanese Institute for Studies and Publications, a writer for multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict, and has worked for the Palestinian Research Center.