Hezbollah: The Challenge of Subnational Actors

Hezbollah: The Challenge of Subnational Actors

On July 12, 2006, highly-trained Hezbollah militants managed to kill several Israeli soldiers and kidnap two others in a carefully coordinated raid into Israel near the Lebanese village of Ayta ash-Shabb. Ever since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah had sought to kidnap Israeli soldiers in order to then exchange them for Lebanese prisoners held in Israel. The 2006 operation was the first time since an initial effort in 2000, though, that it succeeded.

The raid, whose fire and withdrawal plan suggested careful planning and rehearsals, was executed without the knowledge of the government of Lebanon. Even Hezbollah's own ministers in parliament are not believed to have had any prior warning. Nevertheless, Hezbollah's actions on July 12 were to have serious implications for Lebanon and its citizens. Israel promptly launched an offensive, and in the 34 days of fighting that followed, more than 1,000 Lebanese were killed. As in previous Israeli offensives on southern Lebanon -- such as Operation Accountability in 1993 and Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 -- hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were displaced, and much of the infrastructure of southern Lebanon was reduced to rubble. Furthermore, Israel took its frustration out on the rest of Lebanon, too, bombing the airport as well as bridges, power plants, and roads throughout the country.

Subnational actors like Hezbollah represent a challenge to the international order as well as to the states in which they operate. In Lebanon, Hezbollah today functions less as a proxy for Iran and Syria and more as an independent actor retaining the right to pursue a foreign policy agenda independent of the Lebanese state. The fact that Hezbollah retains the right to use force to pursue that agenda is what makes Hezbollah so dangerous to stability in the Levant and so challenging for policymakers in Beirut, Jerusalem, and Washington.

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