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Is a War against Hezbollah Imminent?

March 21, 2024

by: Israel Kasnett ~ JNS

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An Israeli artillery unit stationed near the northern border with Lebanon.

Thursday, 21 March 2024 | The world’s attention is focused on Gaza, but if a war breaks out on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, it will be far broader and more destructive than the one Israel is waging against Hamas.

Hezbollah has so far refrained from launching a full-scale attack on Israel, though it has continuously fired rockets, mortars and drones at the Jewish state since October 8. Each increase in the intensity of Hezbollah’s attacks risks crossing the threshold into such a conflict.

Iran has reportedly authorized its Lebanese proxy to conduct a large-scale attack against Israel if Hezbollah is “certain” Israel will invade Gaza’s Rafah city, Hamas’s last remaining stronghold. Given Israel’s stated intention to enter Rafah, it thus appears war with Hezbollah is imminent.

US special envoy Amos Hochstein has been shuttling back and forth between the US, Lebanon and Israel in an effort to prevent the conflict from spreading. Hezbollah has violated United Nations [UN] Resolution 1701 since 2006, and then on October 8 additionally violated the 2022 Israel–Lebanon maritime border deal, which Hochstein negotiated.

According to JINSA’s  [Jewish Institute for National Security of America] Vice President for Policy Blaise Misztal, however laudable the US goal of preventing the conflict from spreading, “In pursuing it this administration has, unfortunately, forgotten what George Washington already knew: ‘To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.’”

“US officials seem to believe that the best way to preserve peace is to loudly disavow any intention of stopping adversaries’ use of force,” he told JNS. “That approach led to the death of US service members in Jordan and the disruption of shipping in the Red Sea as Iranian proxies took US reluctance as an invitation to escalate, ultimately forcing the administration to take a more aggressive approach.”

The US, he continued, “does not yet seem to have applied these lessons to Lebanon, where it hopes that its eagerness for a deal can keep increasing Hezbollah attacks from sparking a broader conflict.”

This approach might appear to be working in the short term—but the fact is that Hezbollah views the US focus on diplomacy as a weakness, he said.

Hezbollah will seek to exploit this perceived weakness to compel Israeli territorial and other Western concessions in any future US-backed agreement, he continued. Furthermore, the US’s perceived fear of escalation renders a military outcome more likely.

As Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted in July 2023, “What we did with the oil, gas and maritime border delineation, today also, through complementarity and cooperation between the state and the resistance…we can recover our occupied land in the town of Ghajar.”

On January 5, Nasrallah boasted, “We now have an opportunity to return to us Lebanese territories that Israel took over, such as Shebaa Farms, thanks to our standing on the side of Gaza and its people, but any talk about this should only happen after the end of the war on Gaza, and this is our official position.”

And in February, Nasrallah said that the terror group’s attacks against Israel would continue until Israel ceases its “aggression” in Gaza.

Then there is the matter of Israel’s evacuees. Since Hezbollah began its cross-border attacks on October 8, tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from their homes in the north. This situation is putting huge pressure on the Israeli government.

As Israeli Minister Benny Gantz put it, “The stopwatch for a diplomatic solution is running out; if the world and the Lebanese government don’t act to prevent the firing on Israel’s northern residents and to distance Hezbollah from the border, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will do it.”

A diplomatic solution might involve a Hezbollah evacuation 8–10 kilometers [5–6 mi.] from the border. Hezbollah would be replaced with 10,000 to 12,000 Lebanese Armed Forces [LAF] troops. Israel would also be required to cease flights over Lebanese airspace and to withdraw troops from its side of the border partially.

But Hezbollah has already rejected a recent French proposal that would have obligated it to withdraw 10 kilometers [6 mi.] from the border.

Nor is any help to be expected in this regard from the Lebanese government, which seems unwilling or unable—or both—to prevent the Iranian proxy from dragging the crisis-plagued country into a costly war.

“Countries cannot allow their territories to become bases from which non-state groups like Hezbollah can attack other states,” said David Daoud, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Lebanon appears either unwilling or unable to restrain or disarm Hezbollah,” he told JNS.

Instead, and similar to the way it behaved during the maritime border demarcation negotiations, “Lebanon is exploiting Hezbollah’s ongoing attacks and the international community’s aversion to a Hezbollah–Israel war to extract concessions from the Israelis and the international community,” he added.

In Misztal’s view, “The best way to ensure that Hezbollah does not—or cannot—launch a devastating attack on Israel is for the US to do as President Washington advised: Make clear that the US is prepared for war, alongside its partner Israel, if anyone threatens the security of either state.”

However, Daoud emphasized that such backing must not extend to US “boots on the ground.”

“Israel’s military can handle the battle against Hezbollah on its own,” he said. “Israel cannot be perceived as requiring American boots on the ground to confront Hezbollah,” he said, as this would “irreversibly” damage Israeli deterrence.

“Israel will need time to prosecute a war against Hezbollah until victory—and it will be fighting against two different clocks: the Israeli Home Front’s ability to persevere in the face of an unprecedented war, and [that of] the UN Security Council.”

Posted on March 21, 2024

Source: (This article was originally published by the Jewish News Syndicate on March 20, 2024. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Ayal Margolin/Flash90/