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Is all-out Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon inevitable?

Brush fires sparked by rockets from Lebanon blaze in north Israel
Source: Video Screenshot

Israeli leaders have increased their warnings to Lebanon’s Hezbollah Islamist movement as cross-border violence escalates by the day, but experts believe that the risk of all-out war remains limited.

Hezbollah says it is fighting in support of its ally Hamas, which is battling Israel in an eight-month-old war in the Gaza Strip triggered by the Palestinian Islamist group’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah has made intensive use of drones in recent days to attack Israeli military positions, triggering significant forest fires in northern Israel.

On Thursday evening, the Islamist group used anti-aircraft missiles against Israeli planes for the first time.

“There has been a real escalation in recent weeks, with a much higher number of rocket launches,” said Michael Horowitz, a geopolitical analyst for Le Beck International, a Middle East-based security consultancy, adding that the number had tripled in May compared with January.

“Hezbollah is also making use of effective new weapons, notably ‘kamikaze’ drones, while expanding its operational area to new towns,” Horowitz said.

However, the group has refrained from striking deep inside Israel, and its chief Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly warned that Hezbollah has used only a fraction of its powerful arsenal.

Israel has intensified its strikes targeting Hezbollah inside Lebanon, both close to the border and in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon where Hezbollah has a network of bases and tunnels.

After eight months of violence there have been at least 455 people killed in Lebanon, including around 90 civilians and nearly 300 Hezbollah fighters, more than the losses it suffered during its last war with Israel in 2006.

On the Israeli side, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.

There have been more and more bellicose declarations coming from Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week Israel was “prepared for a very intense operation” on its northern border.

His extreme-right ally, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, has said Israel should invade Lebanon and push “hundreds of thousands of Lebanese” out of the border area.

Israel’s army chief, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, meanwhile, has said Israel is “ready to go on the offensive in the north”.

Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem, however, said this week that “our decision is to not widen the battle, and we do not want a total war”.

Nevertheless, he added, “if it is imposed on us, we are ready”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed on Thursday for an end to hostilities, saying there was a risk of “a broader conflict with devastating consequences for the region”.

He spoke on the same day heads of state and government from Britain, France, Germany, and the United States signed a joint declaration calling for “maximum restraint to avoid further regional escalation”.

Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Center for the Middle East, said that so far both Israel and Hezbollah have engaged in “controlled escalation”.

He said he saw “not so much preparations for war — although war remains always a possibility — but more preparation for negotiations”.

Young said both sides were anticipating an end to the fighting in Gaza, “and therefore that a solution must be found for the Israeli-Lebanese border”.

“As we get closer to negotiations the possibility of an escalation will increase because both Israel and Hezbollah want to impose their conditions on any negotiation outcome,” he added.

Horowitz, meanwhile, said “internal tensions play a role in the statements by Israeli leaders”, as does public opinion, which is impacted by the thousands of Israelis displaced from the north of the country by the violence.

“Despite these belligerent statements, I believe that Netanyahu knows a war with Hezbollah would be an extremely risky gamble,” Horowitz said.

The war in July 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah caused nearly 1,400 deaths over 34 days, including 1,200 on the Lebanese side, most of them civilians.

Hezbollah struck deep into Israel before a ceasefire, concluded under the auspices of the United Nations, established a fragile peace.

Previously, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and besieged Beirut to force out Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation.

It then occupied southern Lebanon, with the help of local militias, withdrawing only in 2000.

However, the departure from Lebanon of the PLO gave rise to an even more formidable enemy for Israel in the form of Hezbollah.

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AFP

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.







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