Hybrid Warfare in the Middle East

Alexander Kurochkin
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;

Anastasia Lodina
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;

Georgiy Pankov
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;


The concept of hybrid warfare developed by Frank Hoffman has become especially fashionable amidst the Ukrainian crisis. Today Western academia is inclined to use the term primarily in the context of the ongoing US-Russian rivalry despite the fact that hybrid warfare as an international phenomenon is not brand-new. In effect, it is the Middle East that has become an arena of combined conventional and unconventional war practices since the late 1970s. The conduct of hybrid war is not limited to great powers: it may be pursued not only by state- but also by non-state actors, a striking example of which is Hezbollah. This article is aimed at shedding light on anti-Israeli hybrid techniques applied by the Lebanese political party that acquired the status of a terrorist organisation in a number of states. Using case study as the basic research method, the article proves that Hezbollah’s hybrid strategy ‒ that includes information warfare and propaganda, cyber techniques, intelligence and counterintelligence ‒ is efficient. The research conducted suggests that there is a chance of a growing escalation between Israel and Hezbollah, with the latter resorting to hybrid warfare techniques (potentially including new ones) more frequently.

Key words

Frank Hoffman, hybrid warfare, Middle East, Hezbollah, Israel, Iran.

For citation

Kurochkin, A., Lodina, A & Pankov, G. (2023). Hybrid Warfare in the Middle East. Управление и политика, 1(3), С. 0–0


In 2007 shortly after the 2006 Lebanon war Frank Hoffman elaborated the concept of hybrid warfare implying a combination of conventional and irregular war techniques used by nation-states as well as by non-state actors (Hoffman, 2007), and introduced the term “hybrid threat” meaning “any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism and criminal behaviour in the battle space to obtain their political objectives” (Hoffman, 2009). Irregular tools of warfare that traditionally include terrorism, insurgency, guerrilla warfare, criminal activity and disruptive technologies like hostile attacks on information technology infrastructure are all categorised as instruments of hybrid war[1]. The concept of hybrid warfare gained traction in 2014 in the context of US-Russian rivalry and now is widely used beyond academia by American and Russian politicians (Libiseller, 2023) in order to theoretically and ideologically justify their foreign policy beyond (in the US case) and within (in the Russian case) national borders (Suchkov, 2021). Still nonlinear wars are known to be fought earlier in the Middle East (Seliktar, 2021) which is a highly explosive region with a tangled knot of contradictions and complex conflicts, involving regional and global powers as well as irregular units. Hezbollah represents such a case, being a political party highly institutionalised into the Lebanese political system on the one hand, and having a military wing in its structure to resist Israel on the other.

The Past

The origins of Hezbollah, its ideological foundations and organisational structure are closely associated with its struggle against Israel, which can be traced back to the 1980s (Ali, 2009) when future members of Hezbollah's cells were trained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to resist Israeli forces after their invading Lebanon in 1982. Thus, the confrontation with Israel can be viewed as the very raison d’etre for Hezbollah, which would later translate into the core of the organisation’s ideology called “Resistance.” In 1985 the Shia association, dissatisfied with secular, in their opinion, orientation of the moderate Shiite Amal party, acquired its organisational structure and entered Lebanese politics, participating in 1992 national elections for the first time.

Despite being claimed by its opponents as an originally Iranian and Syrian project, since its founding, Hezbollah has been exclusively an inter-Lebanese entity, relying on support and assistance from Palestinian and Lebanese parties, while support from Iran and Syria started later, according to the party's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.

The history of confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel saw several periods of escalation, including the Second Lebanon War (2006) and the Syrian civil war. The first one is worth mentioning: Hezbollah didn’t win the war, but neither did it lose (Barnea, 2006); this proved the efficiency of its hybrid war techniques. In addition, the War of 2006 is regarded as the reason for Hezbollah’s non-disarmament because in the wake of the hostilities the organisation enhanced its image as the real force capable of countering Israel and defending Lebanon. The latter major episode of escalation is relevant to the study as it reveals the hybrid nature of Hezbollah, performing simultaneously as a political party integrated in the Lebanese system of government and taking part in combat actions beyond Lebanese national borders as an Iranian proxy without Lebanon as the state being directly involved in the war.


Today Hezbollah is a hybrid actor that has two faces: it represents a legal political power with developed civilian infrastructure within Lebanese national borders (Piotrowski, 2015) and, enjoying Iran’s support, acts as a paramilitary organisation to confront Israel and its allies outside Lebanon. The strategy adopted by Hezbollah may be conceptualised as “walking on the edge” (Azani, 2012). This implies that the movement tends to respect the playbook within the Lebanese political system while resorting to the use of limited violence for political gains when necessary. Hezbollah’s hybrid strategy, which proved to be rather efficient in the previous conflicts, includes among other things information warfare and propaganda, cyber-attacks, intelligence and counter-intelligence.

Information warfare and propaganda

Audiovisual propaganda is the key element of Hezbollah’s hybrid warfare strategy, which is “well honed, targeted, and specific, with such themes as resistance ideology, martyrdom, and legitimacy through the provision of social services” (Paul et al., 2018). Ron Schleifer specialising in psychological warfare notes that “by its astute use of the video camera Hezbollah demonstrated how it was possible, with only a few simple pieces of equipment and some creative thinking, to net huge military and psychological dividends” (Schleifer, 2006).

Hezbollah’s media empire is administered by the Media Relations Unit headed by Hajj Muhammad Afif. The movement possesses its own TV channel Al-Manar with audience coverage only behind Al Jazeera, radio stations The Al-Nour and The Al-Iman, print media namely Al-Bilad, al-Muntalaq, The Al-Ahed newspaper and Baqiyyatullah magazine as well as its own web-site[2].

The broadcasting, which targets Lebanese population, the Ummah – Muslim world (mainly Shia community), the Israeli Jewish community, English-speaking part of the world, Francophones and Spanish-speaking states, is available in five languages and addresses each audience, divided into smaller subgroups such as the military or civilians (Schleifer, 2006), with meticulously prepared multimedia campaigns and specific language tools. For example, messages targeting Hezbollah’s home audience often include such words and phrases as unity, Jerusalem, the justice of our path, the long struggle, demonising, and God’s will (Paul et al., 2018). In general, propaganda is tailored to shape a negative image of Israeli military among the enemy population and to create a “resistance society” within the Shiite community resting upon three pillars that are Hezbollah’s military force, institutional enhancement of the Shiites’ socio-economic status and media empire promoting Shia values worldwide. To reach the latter goal it places a special emphasis on the neglect which the Lebanese Shiites have suffered from for decades[3]. The agitation materials are of high artistic quality and take into account the Arab mentality not only in Lebanon, but across the globe.

The TV Channel Al-Manar is particularly noteworthy as according to Avi Jorisch it has become “a potent instrument in what Hezbollah calls its ‘psychological warfare against the Zionist enemy’ in the Arab world, focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”[4] The USA designated it a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and imposed a ban on its broadcasting December 17, 2004 on all platforms, including YouTube. In 1998, on the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s establishment, Hassan Nasrallah posted a message concerning “the bitter and distressing historical catastrophe of the establishment of the state of the grandsons of apes and pigs – the Zionist Jews – on the land of Palestine and Jerusalem.”[5]

The TV-channel broadcasting is carried out by four satellites, three of which are owned by Russia and the fourth one by Indonesia. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the movement, often appears on the TV channel with harsh anti-Israeli or Anti-American slogans such as “Death to America.” The channel also broadcasts Iranian content, for instance glorifying the Islamic Revolution. ITIC experts argue that Hezbollah has one common media plan with Iran, with the latter being its major funder, while total spending estimates dozens of million dollars annually.

Gabriel Weimann counted about 40-50 Hezbollah’s web-sites which can be divided into six types[6]:

  1. News and Information. This type encompasses only 6-8 continually updated sources, publishing original analytics that shows the world through Hezbollah’s perspective.
  2. Welfare and Social Services. Hezbollah spent several billion dollars on humanitarian activities in Lebanon. The organisation invests in building kindergartens, schools, hospitals and even supermarkets[7].
  3. Religious Indoctrination. Websites that broadcast religious values often cite Iranian resources.
  4. Personal websites. The type embraces the sites owned by Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, his deputy Naim Qassem and Lebanese Shia cleric Musa al-Sadr, as well as by other prominent members of the movement.
  5. Anti-Israel websites. Israel is shown as a provider of Western interests to conquer the world.
  6. Bulletin Boards. For instance, al-Maaref.

Cyber attacks

During the 2006 Lebanon War Hezbollah carried out a series of cyber-attacks against Israel-backing countries, including the United States. In 2010, the Analytical Center of the US Congress described Hezbollah as the world strongest terrorist organisation in terms of technical capabilities[8]. The same year Iran expanded its cyber program in the wake of Israeli-American attack on nuclear complex with Stuxnet virus and Hezbollah became the most influential faction in the Middle East following ISIS[9] defeat when it comes to cyber component of hybrid warfare[10].

In 2018 Hezbollah founded its own counterintelligence cyber unit lead by Quds Force, one of the five units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specialising in hybrid warfare. Hezbollah’s cyber-attacks are conducted by diffused autonomous groups each consisting of no more than 10 people with different levels of technical training. Lebanese Cedar is one of the most professional hacker groups associated with Hezbollah. According to the Israeli cyber security company ClearSky, from the beginning of 2020 to June 2021, Lebanese Cedar managed to carry out an operation to implement “Explosive” V4 RAT (Remote Access Tool) and “Caterpillar” V2 WebShell through such vulnerability from the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) catalogue as CVE-2012-3152[11]. Companies from many countries were attacked, including those from the United States, Great Britain, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Vast amounts of confidential information were stolen, with 250 servers being hacked[12]. Iran invests in Hezbollah's cyber power, striving to strengthen control over Lebanon. In addition, supporting the movement allows for masking Iran’s attribution, and, consequently, for avoiding retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets.


Imad Mugniyeh, heading one of the most influential intelligences, was on the FBI’s top 25 Most Wanted Terrorists list, believed to bear personal responsibility for the death of 62 Israeli citizens as well as some hundred of US, French, Argentinian, USSR and other countries’ citizens[13]. He is also supposed to have organised a great multitude of sabotage activities, including numerous explosions of the headquarters of American and French paratroopers in Beirut, an explosion of a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires, an explosion at the US military base in Saudi Arabia, and many others. In 2008, he died as a result of a car bomb.

Integrated into the Lebanese intelligence services until 2005, Hezbollah enjoyed ample opportunities to conduct operations. However, accused of 2005 provocation that resulted in Rafic Hariri’s death, Hezbollah lost access to the infrastructure of Lebanese special services. The organisation actively absorbs both Iranian and Israeli experience in conducting subversive and intelligence work. Moreover, it has a wide agent network in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and in AMAN military intelligence. For example, in the late 90s Hezbollah recruited hereditary Bedouin Lieutenant-Colonel Omar al-Hayeb, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for transmitting the schedule of patrol borders with Lebanon[14].

Recruitment is also organised through the activities of Israeli Arabs and contacts with the Palestine authorities. Recruited from among the members of former Arab or Muslim organisations, agents are appropriately trained by Syrian or Iranian specialists. Agents travelling to Israel speak Hebrew, use Israeli equipment and weapons, Semtex or C4 explosives for instance[15]. Two Jihadi groups close to Hezbollah are known to commit acts of retaliation by means of explosions:

  1. Islambula Brigade: assassination of political activists.
  2. Al-Quds Brigade: two units of suicide bombers consisting of 56 each, the Fathi Shkaki Company and the Ihye Ayyasha Company[16]. Located in the Gaza Strip and funded by Iran, this group represents the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organisation[17].

The way forward

Having a multifaceted nature, Hezbollah resorts to a range of hybrid warfare instruments in order to achieve its goals. The strategy of “walking on the edge” adopted by Hezbollah may imply that its behaviour depends on its current positions within the Lebanese political system. Thus, shortly after Hezbollah’s losing 2005 and 2009 national elections[18] it engaged in the 2006 Lebanon War and the Civil War in Syria while after a successful electoral campaign of 2018[19] no serious escalation was witnessed. In May 2022 the coalition led by Hezbollah failed to gain the parliamentary majority[20], while in the beginning of 2023 Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on restoring diplomatic relations[21] which may eliminate one of deterrence factors for Hezbollah’s actions. The analysis of Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches delivered between April 2021 and May 2023[22], which covers a year before and after the 2022 elections, records a 25% increase in hostile rhetoric with the words ‘confront,’ ‘fight,’ ‘respond’ and ‘threat(en)’ being used more frequently after the coalition failed to gain a majority. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that Hezbollah might intensify its international activities relying on hybrid techniques more frequently.


  • Ali, M. H. (2019). Hezbollah and Syria From 1982 to 2011 (Power Points Defining the Syria-Hezbollah Relationship, pp. 3–8). Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Azani, E. (2012). Hezbollah’s Strategy of “Walking on the Edge”: Between Political Game and Political Violence. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 35(11), 741–759.
  • Barnea, N. (2006). Israel vs. Hezbollah. Foreign Policy, 157, 22–28.
  • Baylouny, A. (2006). Al-Manar and Alhurra: Competing Satellite Stations and Ideologies. 27.
  • Hoffman, F. G. (2007). Conflict in the 21st century: The rise of hybrid wars (p. 51). Arlington: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
  • Hoffman, F. G. (2009). Hybrid vs. compound war. Armed Forces Journal.
  • Libiseller, C. (2023). ‘Hybrid warfare’ as an academic fashion. Journal of Strategic Studies, 1–23.
  • Paul, C., Clarke, C., Schwille, M., Hlavka, J., Brown, M., Davenport, S., Porche, I., & Harding, J. (2018). Lessons from Others for Future U.S. Army Operations in and Through the Information Environment. RAND Corporation.
  • Piotrowski, M. A. (2015). Hezbollah: The Model of a Hybrid Threat. PISM Bulletin, 24.
  • Schleifer, R. (2006). Psychological Operations: A New Variation on an Age Old Art: Hezbollah versus Israel. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(1), 1–19.
  • Seliktar, O. (2021). Iran’s Geopolitics and Revolutionary Export: The Promises and Limits of the Proxy Empire. Orbis, 65(1), 152–171.
  • Suchkov, M. A. (2021). Whose hybrid warfare? How ‘the hybrid warfare’ concept shapes Russian discourse, military, and political practice. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 32(3), 415–440.

[1] Department of the Army. (2011). United States Army Field Manual 3-0, Operations, Change 1. US Government, Washington, DC.

[2] Al-Moqawama Al-Islamiya – Loubnan (Islamic Resistance – Lebanon) (

[3] Hezbollah’s media empire. (2019). The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

[4] Jorisch, A. (2004). Al-Manar: Hizbullah TV, 24/7. Middle East Quarterly.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hezbollah – Capabilities And Role In The Middle East (Full Documentary). (2017, November 25). South Front.

[8] Addis, C. L., & Blanchard, C. M. (2011). Hezbollah: Background and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service.

[9] Prohibited organisation in Russia.

[10] Stickings, T. (2021, June 29). Iran “giving Hezbollah cyber training” as it embraces digital warfare. The National.

[11] Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog | CISA. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2023, from

[12] ‘Lebanese Cedar’ APT. (2021, January 28). ClearSky Cyber Security.

[13] Кровавый счет Имада Мугнии: 62 гражданина Израиля. Полный список. (2008, February 15). NEWSru.Co.Il.

[14] Brenner, N. (2012, April 10). IDF officer who spied for Hezbollah released from prison. Ynetnews.,7340,L-4214573,00.html.

[15] Terrorism and Conventional Weapons. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2023, from

[16] Hezbollah – Capabilities And Role In The Middle East (Full Documentary). (2017, November 25). South Front.

[17] Rekhess, E. (May 1995). The Terrorist Connection – IRAN, The Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Justice, 5.

[18] Psephos – Adam Carr’s Election Archive. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2023, from

[19] Ibid.

[20] Chehayeb, K. (n.d.). Lebanon’s pro-Hezbollah bloc loses parliamentary majority. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from

[21] Wintour, P., & editor, P. W. D. (2023, March 10). Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to restore ties after China-brokered talks. The Guardian.

[22] S. Nasrallah Speeches – Al-Manar TV Lebanon. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2023, from