Geopolitics Strategy & Defence

Are Israel and Hezbollah on the Brink of the War?

Tomáš Iliev

On 13 June, the Lebanese Hezbollah fired more than 200 rockets and drones into Israel. The attack is believed to be the heaviest since the 2006 war, reinforcing fears of a possible flare-up of another large-scale conflict between the Lebanese armed group and Israel. Tensions between the two actors are rising over the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

According to the Hezbollah leaders’ statements, among others, the targets were Israeli military headquarters in Ein Zeitim and Ami’ad. Also, the attack was focused on an army air surveillance station in Meron and military objects in Sasa. The group declared that the attack on northern Israel was conducted as a retaliation for the assassination of Hezbollah commander Taleb Abdullah (also known as Abu Taleb). Abdullah was killed in an Israeli air raid on the southern Lebanese village of Jouaiya earlier during the week. In particular, Hezbollah launched 150 rockets and 30 explosive drones as a retaliation, targeting 15 Israeli positions, including some in the disputed Golan Heights.

In reaction to Hezbollah attacks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cautioned that Beirut could become like Gaza if Hezbollah chose to start a full-scale war. However, Finance Minister of Israel, Bezalel Smotrich, recently dampened expectations of a broader conflict. He stated that the IDF is not seeking to escalate and eliminate Hezbollah. He noted that military officials are currently hesitant to launch an offensive in the north, engage in a decisive battle with Hezbollah, or create a security zone. Still, during his recent visit to the northern city of Kiryat Shmona near the Lebanese border, Netanyahu affirmed that Israel is prepared for intensive actions in the north. However, Naum Qassem, Hezbollah’s second top commander, expressed that the group is not interested in a full-scale war. On the other hand, he also claimed that if Israel impose a full-scale attack on Hezbollah, his group will be ready to fight, adding that Hezbollah will stop all of its actions when Israel stops its actions in Gaza.

Many international leaders condemned the attack on Israel and expressed a fear of escalating the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Even though Hezbollah claims it is not interested in a larger-scale conflict, its actions could quickly trigger one. Despite the fact that Israel is not currently eager to get into open conflict with Hezbollah, heavy attacks from the terrorist group in Lebanon could push Netanyahu and Israeli leaders into the decision to conduct more frequent attacks by using heavier weapons, leading to war with Hezbollah. Especially when Prime Minister Netanyahu is under increasing pressure from the opposition to take immediate action against Hezbollah – also due to the displaced Israelis (around sixty thousand) in the north of the country, who had to leave their homes because of the threat from Lebanon. The conflict has also affected Lebanese people living in the border areas with Israel, as around ninety thousand of them have so far had to leave their homes.

As the Israeli government is under pressure, the escalation of the conflict with Hezbollah is possible practically anytime. Also, the administration of US President Joe Biden fears the escalation of violence between Israel and Hezbollah and has been working on de-escalating the situation. However, Israel and Hezbollah could easily fall into the trap of the conflict. Despite the assurances that terrorist group leaders do not have intentions to drag their group into the war with Israel, it is not only up to them to decide. The actions of Hezbollah and other militant groups in the Middle East are closely coordinated with Iran and its goals in the region. Therefore, Israel could be halted by the US for now, but if Iran decides to escalate the situation by using Hezbollah, Israeli leaders could be in a position where the war will be the only way out of the situation.

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