In 2006, Hezbollah believed it could attack Israel and not provoke a war. It had witnessed how Hamas had launched an attack that led to Gilad Schalit being captured in June 2006.
A month later, Hezbollah launched its attack. Hezbollah was emboldened by Israel leaving Lebanon in 2000 and by its belief it could operate as it wanted along the border. After Hezbollah helped assassinate former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005, there were massive protests which caused Syria to leave Lebanon in April 2005, ending decades of Syrian occupation. A new article at pro-Iran Al-Mayadeen provides some insight on Hezbollah and Syria in this period. It has implications for today as well.
It's important to look back at this era to understand Hezbollah’s calculations. Hezbollah in recent months has begun a new round of provocations along the border. This looks a bit like how Hezbollah acted before 2006. It put a tent in the Mount Dov area and has enabled cross-border infiltration, rocket attacks, and also created protests and provocations along the fence line near Metulla and Ghajar and Mount Dov. Hezbollah did similar activity back in the era 2000 to 2006.
Hezbollah viewed Syria leaving Lebanon in 2005 as perhaps giving it complete freedom of movement. It knew that any war would not have Syria as a kind of shield in Lebanon, and Syria knowing it wasn’t going to be impacted could likely give Hezbollah support.
Hezbollah miscalculated in 2006. However, that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t claimed since 2006 that it “won a victory” in 2006. Hassan Nasrallah recently boasted about this "victory." In addition, Hezbollah published a new video showing it carrying out a mock attack on a model of an Israeli military post. The message is clear. Hezbollah is preparing for war and pro-Iran media indicates it has judged that several days of fighting may occur.
The recent article in Al-Mayadeen discusses “Syria in the July war.” It discusses how Syria supported the “resistance,” referring to Hezbollah. According to the article, Israel was concerned about Syria’s involvement in the 2006 war. Israel wanted to keep Syria out of the conflict, the article claims. It also claims that Hassan Nasrallah has since praised Syria’s role, claiming it helped back up the “resistance.”
The article claims “Syria protected the back of the resistance in July 2006, and secured it, which formed a strategic depth and a continuous supply line for the resistance, throughout the war, while the Israeli Air Force failed to prevent the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah and to the missile launch areas.”
Today, Iran uses a corridor through Iraq to supply Hezbollah. Iran exploited the chaos in Syria after 2011 to entrench. Israel has carried out the Campaign Between the Wars to reduce that entrenchment. Hezbollah has sought to expand threats against Israel into the area of the Golan. This has included sending drones to that area in the period after the Syrian regime returned to the Golan border in 2018.
The region in 2006 was much different
Back in 2006, it’s important to recall that the region was different. Hezbollah’s arsenal was much smaller back then and the range of its missiles was much less. Hezbollah’s arsenal in the war was perhaps as small as Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s rocket arsenal today, and Hezbollah used around 4,000 rockets in the war - mostly the 122 mm katyusha type. These have a warhead of some 30 kg and a range of 30 km.
The Al-Mayadeen article claims that the goal of Israel in 2006 was to defeat Hezbollah and “end the resistance.” The article claims that the US supported this goal.
At the time, it’s important to remember the US had invaded Iraq in 2003 and in 2006 the US was facing an insurgency in Iraq.
This insurgency was backed by extremists and some of those extremists were coming down the Euphrates river valley and entering Syria via Al Qaim and Anbar province. For instance, in May 2005, a member of the Green Berets was shot and killed during combat in Iraq, the Pentagon said at the time.
Sgt. 1st Class Steven M. Langmack was killed in battle in the city of Qaim. “Qaim, near the Syrian border, was the scene last month of US military operations aimed at rooting out insurgents allied to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The military said 125 insurgents were killed in Qaim,” a report at AP said. A number of other members of US elite military units were killed in fighting in the same area.
This means that Syria was helping fuel the insurgency against the US in Iraq. The article argues that the US wanted to defeat Hezbollah, Hamas and the Syrian regime and then target Iran, saying that: “Nasrallah did not separate Syria from Lebanon in the files related to the July war…Nasrallah pointed out that ‘the first result was the survival and growth of the resistance in Lebanon. Secondly, the war did not reach Syria. And thirdly, the war on Gaza in 2006 was postponed until the end of 2008.’”
This means that Iran-backed proxies saw the war in Lebanon as important for the region. The goal was to empower Hamas as well and use the Syrian regime as a kind of “depth” to the frontline in Lebanon.
“Syria played a military role in supporting the resistance, which was revealed by the political assistant to the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hussein Khalil, referring to ‘the Syrian army's provision of military supplies to the resistance throughout the days of the July war,’ stressing that ‘President Bashar Assad is a key partner in the victory over Israel, his attitude will never be forgotten.’”
According to the report, the “Syrian army opened its stores and sent all kinds of weapons, and they were sent to the resistance…The Kornet missiles, which were sent from Syria, had a major role in the last days of the war, especially in the massacre of the Israeli Merkava tanks."
This report says that Kornet missiles came from Syria. It also says that Assad made a speech in August that outlined how this “victory” would help Syria be free from “threats” and that this will lead to a “transition to a map New for the region, in which it [Syria] regained its regional role.”
The article then notes that this set back US plans in Iraq for a new Middle East. “Before the July war, the United States tried to weaken Syria and penetrate it through several attempts, through its invasion of Iraq, the arrival of its forces at the Al-Qaim border crossing, and the creation of a threat at a distance from Damascus, in addition to external pressure cards.”
This means the fighting in Qaim in which US special forces were killed in 2005 might be seen as a prelude to Hezbollah’s attack on Israel in 2006. Even though, ostensibly, the insurgency in Iraq was led by Sunni groups, as well as Iran; those groups were not connected; but Syria’s backing of the chaos in Iraq may now be placed alongside the 2006 war. The recent visit of Iraq’s Prime Minister to Syria could be seen in that context.
The article claims that after 2006, the US decided to overthrow the Syrian regime and it alleges that this led to the protests in 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.
“Between 2011 and 2018, that is, at the height of the fighting in Syria, the Americans and the Israelis were expressing the depth of their security predicament, and many of them were referring to the repercussions of July 2006, albeit through indirect means, so that the capabilities of the resistance doubled, in quantity and quality, and succeeded.
"Also in amending the rules of engagement with the enemy for its own benefit, and it has become a match for it in many aspects.”
In essence, Hezbollah sees 2006 as an important symbol and believes that saving the Syrian regime, with Iran’s backing, has enabled a new paradigm in the region. Now that the regime is secure and back in the Arab League, Hezbollah feels emboldened.