Israel and Hizbollah’s dangerous slide towards all-out war

News

Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free

After months of cross-border clashes between Hizbollah and Israel, the rhetoric between the two foes has escalated to worrying new levels. Israel says it has approved “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon”; Hizbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group, says it would fight “without rules” and “without limits”. The threats may be bluster, but they raise the risk of a miscalculation that could lead to all-out war. The reckless baiting should stop.

The sabre-rattling underlines the dangerous game both sides have been playing for months. Clashes first erupted after Hamas’s October 7 attack and Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza. Hizbollah launched rockets at Israel the following day. The Lebanese group and Israel have since traded fire with increasing ferocity, striking ever deeper into each other’s territory and pushing the boundaries of traditional red lines.

At any other time, this would already have been deemed a full-blown conflict. Israeli strikes have killed more than 300 Hizbollah fighters and dozens of civilians. Hizbollah’s attacks have killed more than two dozen soldiers and civilians. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces pressure to expand the military campaign against Hizbollah, drive its fighters back from the border and reassure Israelis living in the north that it is safe to return to their homes. Armed with a large arsenal of sophisticated missiles, Hizbollah is the most powerful Iranian proxy in the Middle East.

But the last thing Israelis need is to be sucked into another, deeper conflict. Months of Israeli strikes have already changed the dynamics on the ground and pushed some Hizbollah fighters back from the border. Previous Israeli wars in Lebanon have failed to tame or weaken Hizbollah — in 2006 Israel suffered a bloody nose in a month-long war with the militant group.

Moreover, after eight months of devastating conflict in Gaza, Israel has yet to achieve Netanyahu’s key goals — eradicating Hamas and securing the release of all the Israeli hostages seized in the October 7 attack. Hamas’s fighting capability has been severely depleted. But even senior Israeli military figures now acknowledge that it is impossible to destroy Hamas, citing its militant ideology and roots in Palestinian society.

Hizbollah presents a far more daunting foe: it is the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor with a vast arsenal of rockets, drones and missiles aimed at Israel.

Yet it too cannot afford a war. Contained attacks and stunts — including the release of footage said to be gathered by its surveillance drones of areas of Israel, including the strategic port of Haifa — are designed to show that Hizbollah has the ability to pressure Israel and help bring an end its offensive in Gaza. But Hizbollah is also a key political party in Lebanon, a country that is mired in deep economic and political crisis and at risk of total collapse in the event of an Israeli invasion.

An off-ramp is available to the parties, in the shape of US-led efforts to broker an agreement. This would lead to Hizbollah pulling its fighters back from the border, Israel halting air incursions into Lebanon, and the resolution of long-standing disagreements over disputed territory.

US officials have been working on an Israel-Lebanon deal to put into action when a ceasefire is eventually declared in Gaza. But the US and its allies must redouble efforts to contain the Lebanon front even without an end to the fighting in Gaza. Another catastrophic war in the Middle East must be averted.

Articles You May Like

It’s not just CrowdStrike – the cyber sector is vulnerable
Investment bosses call for ‘radical’ Isa overhaul to boost UK equities
Californians tell pollsters climate is key to bond, presidential votes
How security failings let a would-be assassin shoot Donald Trump
Top Wall Street analysts are pounding the table on these 3 dividend stocks