Hamas has been building up its military power in Lebanon for many years. As far as Hamas is concerned, the main goal of the force buildup in Lebanon is to open another front against Israel concurrently with the Gaza Strip. There is also a secondary goal – an effective alternative to the military force in the Gaza Strip, should the latter be severely damaged or neutralized. Hamas’ military buildup on Lebanese soil over the years has not led to a military response similar to the strengthening of the Shiite axis in Syria.

Hamas knows very well that Hezbollah is the strongest and most central military force in Lebanon, and therefore it has learned to coordinate with Hezbollah and perform under its patronage. All this despite the fact that there is an inherent tension between Hamas, which brands itself as “the defender of all Palestinians,” and Hezbollah, which brands itself as “the defender of all Lebanese.” This tension also created a conflict of interest in operations against Israel from Lebanese territory. As far as Hezbollah is concerned, the Palestinians are only guests in the Lebanese arena. However, based on the buildup and independent military operations Hamas has already carried out from Lebanon in the past and might carry out in the future, it appears that Hamas does not see itself as “just a guest” in Lebanon.

The inherent tension between Hamas and Hezbollah was evident from the very beginning of the establishment of Hamas’ military force in Lebanon. The main objective was to build a secret Hamas military force in Lebanon while concealing it from the Lebanese authorities and Hezbollah. In a March 2018 announcement sent from the Al-Shamali unit (one of Hamas’ military units in Lebanon) to the Bureau of Construction (the body in Hamas responsible for force buildup and developing military capabilities), the need arose to exclude Hezbollah (codenamed “Hazem”) from its activities.

Hamas’ main headquarters in Lebanon is located in the city of Sidon in a building called the Aref Center. The Palestine branch of the Quds Force assists Hamas in Lebanon. Military activity in Lebanon is carried out by two main operational units. The first, the Al-Shamali unit, and the second, the Khaled Ali unit. According to the Al-Shamali unit’s work plan from 2018, the main goal was the establishment of two battalions of 600 operatives (each), of which 125 were elite combatants (“Nukhba”).  By 2021, the unit had set itself a goal of reaching a total of 1,000 combatants.

In light of this, it is our assessment, that the size of Hamas’ operational units in Lebanon currently numbers several thousand operatives.

Hamas’ operational units in Lebanon recruit operatives (based on the Palestinian population in Lebanon), establish operational squads and prepare operational plans. For example, such an operational squad, which included three Hamas operatives from Ein al-Hilweh, was eliminated on October 14 while attempting to infiltrate Israeli territory in the area of the community of Margaliot.

With the assistance of the Bureau of Construction, special training and courses are conducted (snipers, anti-tank, sabotage, operation UAVs, etc.) and weapons are developed and manufactured (rockets, attack UAVs, miniature submarines).

In October 2021, we pointed out in a special report, Hamas’ infrastructure and military activity in Lebanon. Hamas’ military activity is spread throughout Lebanon, with the geographical anchors being the Palestinian refugee camps (Lebanon has ten main camps): Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, Beirut, and Baalbek. Hamas operates headquarters, weapons production workshops, training facilities, and the like are located in these places.

Hamas – Lebanon, is a ticking time bomb. Over the past few years, it has carried out military operations against Israel from Lebanon (some under the auspices, direction, and involvement of Hezbollah). During the past year there were two prominent attacks against Israel with Hamas involvement: the Megiddo attack in March 2023 and the extensive rocket fire in April 2023 during the Passover holiday.

Since the commencement of the war on October 7, apart from the targeted killing of Khalil Harez, the deputy leader of Hamas’ military-terrorist division in Lebanon (an operation attributed to Israel), there has been no recorded instance of any offensive action directed towards Hamas’ military infrastructure in Lebanon.

Assuming that Hamas’ military capabilities in the Gaza Strip will be severely damaged at the end of the war, Hamas’ military buildup in Lebanon will receive Iranian priority and become even stronger (a clear Iranian interest). Israel must act proactively, think unconventionally, and act broadly against Hamas targets in Lebanon.

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Tal Beeri

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