Israel: The Inevitable War with Hezbollah?

International

Published on Tuesday 25 June 2024 Back to articles

The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and northern Israel – 18.06.24 – map by Institute for the Study of War

Since Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, Israel has been waging war in Gaza. At the same time, Israel has also entered what can be described as a low-intensity conflict with Hezbollah along its border with Lebanon. Hezbollah came short of joining Hamas’ onslaught against Israel, as it was expected to do by Hamas’ leaders. Instead, it had begun carrying out small-scale yet persistent attacks against Israeli towns, villages, and army bases in the North, reaching as far as Haifa. Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah said it will continue this until Israel stops its attacks on Gaza. In response, Israel has evacuated around 60,000 civilians from their homes in the north, with no end date to their plight. Additionally, Israel has maintained a certain balance of power against Hezbollah, attacking in response to Hezbollah’s aggression but coming short of escalating into a full-fledged war.

However, as the war reaches its ninth month and Israelis are yet to see any sign that they might be able to return to their homes, as Hezbollah’s nearly daily attacks continue, with sporadic casualties on the Israeli side, and with much of its military forces preoccupied in Gaza, Israel finds itself in a complicated situation – and, it appears, is nearing a point of no return against Hezbollah.

The public consensus in Israel is that war with Hezbollah is inevitable, with many estimating it will happen this summer. The Israeli public is justifiably demanding that Israel do something to defend its territory and find a solution for tens of thousands of Israeli refugees in their land. Israel is hesitating to launch a full-scale offensive to drive Hezbollah further into south Lebanon and away from the border (it was close to doing so soon after 7 October but was talked back by the US, which is eager to prevent a multi-front war). It is no secret that such an escalation against Hezbollah will have severe and unprecedented consequences for Israel – much more so than the current conflict with Hamas.

  • First, Israeli forces are stretched thin, exhausted after months of fighting in Gaza, reserve soldiers carrying out round after round with no breaks. 
  • Second, Hezbollah’s abilities far surpass Hamas; it is certain that Hezbollah’s ability to severely damage the Israeli home front, from the north to Tel Aviv, is far greater. A conflict with Hezbollah will cause massive devastation, many casualties, and serious damage to critical infrastructure. 
  • Third, the desirable outcome of such a conflict will presumably look like what the US and other Western countries are trying to achieve now via diplomatic means, and will not, could not, defeat Hezbollah entirely (Israel is struggling to do this with the much weaker Hamas). 
  • Fourth, a war with Hezbollah will further demean Israel’s dwindling credit in the international community, upon which Israel is reliant for ammunition and weapons.
  • Finally, a conflict with Hezbollah could mean another escalation with Iran, which will not let Hezbollah, its prized possession, be wiped out without putting up a fight.

Overall, Israel is facing an unenviable conundrum. The current situation is not sustainable. The north of Israel has de facto been seized by Hezbollah, which is dictating the rhythm and intensity, prompting Israeli response with precision and deliberation. Israel is aware that the longer this continues, its surrender of a sizable part of its territory and letting Hezbollah set the tone, Israel is losing whatever deterrence it has left after 7 October and the war in Gaza. The choices are running out for Israel.

Possibly, the only way to avoid war with Hezbollah is if Israel understands that in doing so it will be playing directly into Iran’s hands, involving itself in yet another unwinnable war that will leave it deflated, shaken, and alienated from its allies.

Shay Zavaro
Managing Director
Monfort Advisory 

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