Opposing Lebanese militant groups join forces against Israel

Militias in Lebanon who are from different Islamic faiths and are more used to fighting one another are putting aside their greivences and uniting against Israel.

Lebanese militant groups, the Sunni Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Group, and the Shiite Hezbollah have joined forces in the fight against Israel along Lebanon’s borders, as revealed Islamic Group’s Secretary General Sheikh Mohammed Takkoush on March 26th in Beirut, according to the Arab News and agencies.

Takkoush cited Israel’s strikes against Lebanese towns and villages for his decision to join in on the conflict. Since October 7th, these attacks have killed many Lebanese civilians.

“We decided to join [the war] as a national, religious and moral duty,” Takkoush told The Associated Press (AP) at his group’s Beirut headquarters. “We did that to defend our land and villages.” 

Coordination between the two militant groups required a setting-aside of centuries-worth of tension between Islam’s main two sects — Sunni and Shiite — beginning with the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632. This makes cooperation between Hezbollah and the Islamic Group all the more historically significant. 

While the Lebanese border is usually seen as a Hezbollah stronghold with a primarily Shiite population, it also has Sunni villages where the Islamic Group primarily operates.

Takkoush admitted to the notorious traction between both groups, yet, they agreed to put them aside “to resist the Israeli occupation of parts of our Lebanese territories,” he said.

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Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation. Though the Lebanese government insists Israel has maintained control of the formerly Syrian Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Chouba hills following the 1967 Mideast War.

“We also did so in support of our brothers in Gaza,” he added, referring to Israeli offensive action in Gaza as an “open massacre.” 32,333 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, and thousands of people — both Lebanon and Israel — have been displaced in the conflict. 

Hezbollah has been engaged in the conflict since October 8th, when the group opened a new front “in solidarity” with its ally Hamas. 

Takkoush said he believed Israel has ambitions to seize more territory “not only in Palestine but in Lebanon too.”

On March 27th, Israeli airstrikes targeted the Islamic Group’s emergency and relief centre in the village of Hebbariyeh, Nabatieh, killing seven. UN diplomats disclosed discussions about widening the Israel-Lebanon buffer zone to reduce border violence. 

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati promised compensation for families who suffered casualties and were displaced as a result of the airstrikes, he announced on March 20th. 

The Islamic Group carries out its attacks against Israel mostly from the southern city of Sidon, where the group once enjoyed wide influence. 

The group has been using weapons against Israel since the founding of its Fajr Forces in 1982 — the height of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. The Fajr Forces have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks along the border since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

Takkoush shared that they have lost five fighters so far in Israeli airstrikes, with three killed earlier in March and the other two on January 2nd in a Beirut attack targeting senior Hamas commander Saleh Arouri.

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As Hezbollah has solidified its position as the most powerful political and military entity in Lebanon, the country’s Sunni population has floundered in the absence of a strong leader. The Islamic Group has kept a low profile politically over the years, with only one member in Lebanon’s 128-seat legislature. In 2022, elections aligned the group’s leadership with Hamas.

When asked whether the Islamic Group is trying to succeed Lebanon’s Sunni political leadership in the aftermath of Prime Minister Saad Hariri who quit politics two years ago, Takkoush said Hariri still has a base of support and popularity and his group will not fill anyone’s absence.

“We introduce ourselves as partners in building generations and [state] institutions,” said Takkoush, “but we do not replace anyone.” 

While his group makes its own decisions in the field, Takkoush said they now coordinate with Hezbollah and with the Lebanese branch of Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Like Hamas, the Islamic Group borrows its ideology from the 1928 Egyptian Islamist political movement the Muslim Brotherhood. Takkoush said, “Coordinating and cooperating with a movement like Hamas, the most honourable liberation movement, is an honour.” 

“Part of [the attacks against Israeli forces] were in coordination with Hamas, which coordinates with Hezbollah,” he said. He added that direct cooperation with Hezbollah “is on the rise and this is being reflected in the field.” He did not elaborate further.

“Our relations with Hezbollah are good and growing,” said Takkoush, “and it is being strengthened as we go through war.”

The Arab News and agencies

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