Headline: “Israel Nears Brink of War with Hezbollah Amid Escalating Tensions”
Subheading: “Ongoing Clashes Raise Concerns of Regional Conflict”
As tensions continue to mount between Israel and Hezbollah, a senior Israeli official has declared that the two adversaries are “closer to war” than ever before, with the specter of a potential regional conflict looming large.
Over the past three months, Israeli and Hezbollah forces have engaged in a series of exchanges across the Lebanese-Israeli border, resulting in a toll of approximately 15 lives on the Israeli side, including civilians and members of the Israel Defense Forces. Hezbollah claims that 171 of its members have lost their lives in the clashes since October 8, as reported by The Times of Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces reported a recent strike on Hezbollah infrastructure in southern Lebanon, marking the latest development in the ongoing conflict. Strikes from both sides have been reported, with the IDF claiming to have targeted and purportedly killed four Hezbollah members in a recent operation.
The northern region of Israel is currently under heightened military readiness, with tens of thousands of regular troops and approximately 60,000 reservists stationed, according to an IDF official. Additionally, nearly 100,000 Israelis have evacuated northern towns, and tens of thousands of Lebanese residing near the border have fled the conflict zone.
Accusations have emerged that Israel is attempting to create a de facto buffer zone by destroying tens of thousands of trees along the border, a claim refuted by Israeli authorities.
During a war cabinet meeting on October 11, there was reportedly a push for a preemptive strike on Lebanon, but dissenting voices, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dissuaded such action.
Israel is “closer to war” with Hezbollah than ever, senior Israeli official says. https://t.co/yT3aOllJKL
— ABC News (@ABC) January 29, 2024
In an interview with ABC News, Defense Minister Gallant emphasized Israel’s efforts against Iran, accusing Iran of supporting and funding proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Houthis, while disrupting freedom of navigation.
Amid escalating rhetoric, Maha Yahya, director of the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, noted the heightened signals of war from Israel and Hezbollah’s attempts to control the conflict. Both parties are cognizant that a Hezbollah-Israel conflict could rapidly escalate into a broader regional war.
The Israeli official revealed that back channels have been used to communicate with Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, cautioning him against provoking Israel and warning of massive retaliation.
Israel’s assessment suggests that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, is reluctant to engage in a full-scale war, viewing the tens of thousands of missiles pointed at Israel as a deterrent against potential Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Efforts are underway to broker a deal through U.S. Special Envoy Amos Hochstein, engaging with the Lebanese government to press Hezbollah to withdraw from the Israeli-Lebanese border in exchange for minor Israeli territorial concessions. However, any progress is contingent on a cease-fire in Gaza, where Israeli forces continue to operate with intensity.
In Gaza, the focus remains on pressuring Hamas, with Defense Minister Gallant stating that the future of Israel hinges on victory in the region. The definition of victory has evolved from the initial goal of eliminating every Hamas member involved in the conflict to complete demilitarization of Hamas and the Gaza Strip.
While the intensity of airstrikes on Gaza has diminished, questions persist regarding the accuracy of reported casualties. The Gaza Health Ministry claims over 25,000 deaths in Gaza since October 7, while the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office reports over 1,200 Israelis killed in the same period.
Allegations of incidents, such as the United Nations accusing Israel of firing shells into a U.N. facility in Khan Younis and a U.K.’s ITV team capturing video footage of Israeli snipers allegedly shooting an unarmed man carrying a white flag, further intensify the complexity of the conflict. Israel denies firing shells at the U.N. facility and disputes the authenticity of the ITV video.