Hezbollah front group likely behind attack in northern Israel

Smoke billows in the area of the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila during Israeli shelling on on January 14, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as the war between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group in Gaza enters its 100th day. (Photo by Rabih DAHER / AFP) (Photo by RABIH DAHER/AFP via Getty Images)

An unknown organization calling itself the Islamic Azz Brigades claimed responsibility for infiltrating the border fence in northern Israel at Shebaa Farms and attacking Israeli troops on Sunday morning. It is possible that the Islamic Azz Brigades is a front group established by Hezbollah to provide plausible deniability for the attack.

“On the morning of today, January 14, 2024, a group of our mujahideen managed to penetrate the border fence in the occupied Shebaa Farms, where they clashed with a Zionist enemy patrol near the Ruwaisat al-Alam site from zero distance, and resulted in confirmed casualties.”

Furthermore, the group acknowledged Israeli forces killed three fighters while two others were able to escape.

Separately, the organization confirmed a previous operation, also in Shebaa Farms, saying that an Israeli drone killed three fighters on Dec. 8, 2023, after they had spent 35 hours on a reconnaissance mission.

According to an IDF statement, on Sunday morning, an incident occurred in the Har Dov area where a group of terrorists crossed the Lebanon-Israel border. An IDF patrol identified the threat and engaged in a clash, resulting in the elimination of three gunmen. Five IDF soldiers sustained injuries during the operation. It is important to note that the IDF has not released any official statements regarding a drone strike in Shebaa Farms or an infiltration in that specific area on Dec. 8.

Since the beginning of the Oct. 7 war, there have been a handful of attempts by Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations in southern Lebanon to infiltrate northern Israel to carry out attacks. Of the known attempts, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Islamic Azz Brigades have claimed credit for the operations.

For example, on Oct. 14, Hamas issued a military communique acknowledging the IDF killed three fighters at the Lebanon-Israel border. Later, on Dec. 7, Islamic Jihad published a statement mourning the deaths of two fighters killed at the Lebanon-Israel border.

The assertion of an attack by an unknown faction holds little doubt that the Islamic Azz Brigades is likely a façade group established by Hezbollah. It is improbable for unknown entities to operate in southern Lebanon without the involvement or consent of Hezbollah. Moreover, Hezbollah has previously created front groups to establish plausible deniability. For example, following the 2012 Burgas bus bombing, a group calling itself Base of Jihad took credit for the attack. However, it was clear that Hezbollah was behind the bombing.

Unlike other front organizations created by members of the Axis of Resistance, the Islamic Azz Brigades seems to be a somewhat haphazard attempt by Hezbollah to distance itself from the attack. FDD’s Long War Journal could not identify a logo for the organization or an official media channel.

Separately, it is notable that Hamas has yet to claim an attack in response to the killing of Hamas deputy Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut. Hezbollah is the only established organization that has claimed responsibility for responding to Arouri’s killing. It’s plausible that Hezbollah is quietly undertaking the response to Arouri’s death since the Israeli military has severely degraded Hamas’ military capabilities, and its assets in southern Lebanon and Syria can only mount limited attacks against Israeli territory.

Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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