Foreign fighters are operating in Lebanon against Israel

Evidence of foreign fighters operating in Lebanon under the Iran-led Resistance Axis has gradually surfaced following the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Oct. 7, 2023, which triggered the war in Gaza and on the Lebanon-Israel border.

On Nov. 22, 2023, Hamas announced that Israel killed a group of fighters in an airstrike while they traveled in a vehicle in southern Lebanon. The target of the attack was Khalil al-Kharaz, a missile commander belonging to the Lebanese branch of Hamas. Notably, the strike killed two Turkish nationals who were members of Hamas: Yakup Erdal and Seyfullah Bilal Öztürk.

Additionally, Syrian fighters have actively participated in border skirmishes with Israel. On Oct. 22, 2023, Islamic Jihad announced that Israel killed two Syrian fighters in Lebanon belonging to the Martyr Ali al-Aswad Brigade (named after an Islamic Jihad engineer killed by Israel in’ 23).

There have been several more instances where Israel has killed Syrian fighters belonging to Islamic Jihad in southern Lebanon, including two on Feb. 26.

The Israeli military said on Saturday that it had targeted a vehicle in southern Lebanon carrying members of the Imam Hossein Brigade, who had launched rockets into northern Israel earlier that day. This event is significant because it marks the first known time during the war that the Imam Hossein Brigade attacked Israel from Lebanese territory. Additionally, the fact that the Brigade typically operates in Syria suggests that Iran’s proxy groups have mobilized fighters to Lebanon to engage in attacks on Israel.

Other groups belonging to the Iran-led Resistance Axis may be conducting operations in Lebanon discreetly. One such example is the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which has taken credit for attacks on Israeli territory during the conflict. Some of these attacks have allegedly occurred against Israeli military installations in the Golan Heights. Still, other statements have claimed attacks on the port city of Ashdod and an unidentified target in the Mediterranean.

It’s impractical for the Islamic Resistance in Iraq to launch drones on targets in Ashdod and the Mediterranean Sea from areas such as Iraq or Syria because they would likely be shot down before they reached their destination. However, if they were launched from Lebanon, it would be a more feasible operation.

There’s also the IRGC that is likely operating in Lebanon and assisting Hezbollah. However, all of the known Israeli eliminations of IRGC personnel related to the war have occurred in Syria.

Nevertheless, there may be more foreign actors operating in Lebanon against Israel that have not yet been publicly revealed. Iran has been cautious not to expand the current war with Israel. It has only given Palestinian armed groups, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and to an extent, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a longer leash to confront Israel compared to the other Axis partners. However, one can successfully argue that Iran and its network of clients have so far failed to deter and slow the Israeli military’s progress in the Gaza Strip.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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