Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are engaged in a deadly war of words and artillery exchanges as the two trade fire and threats across Israel’s northern border. The confrontation is becoming increasingly intense and threatens to open a new front of active war for Israel and jeopardy for Lebanon.
Ever since the outbreak of Israel’s war in Gaza on Oct. 7, Hezbollah fighters have targeted Israeli posts and villages along the northern border with rockets and drones. In response, Israeli tanks, artillery and aircraft have directed retaliatory strikes at areas on the Lebanese side of the border. Although the engagements are relatively brief, they occur almost daily — and they are lethal.
According to the IDF, more than 1,700 rockets have been fired from Lebanon, killing 15 Israelis, including nine soldiers, and more than 150 Israelis have been injured. In addition, more than 60,000 Israelis have been evacuated from more than 40 northern communities. On the Lebanese side, reports indicate that more than 160 people have been killed by Israel’s artillery response, including at least 19 civilians, and some 75,000 people have been displaced.
As the daily exchanges continue and intensify, Israeli officials are ramping up threats against Hezbollah, warning that Israel is running out of patience and will respond more forcefully and much more lethally. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, warned last week that if the international community and the Lebanese government don’t rein in Hezbollah, Israel will. And Israel’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said the IDF is in a state of high readiness and has approved plans in case it becomes necessary to open a second front in the north. Hezbollah has demanded an Israeli cease-fire in Gaza or has threatened increased attacks on Israel.
Hezbollah and its political allies lost their majority in Lebanon’s Parliament last year, but the group remains a formidable political force that continues to exercise de facto control over parts of the country, including southern Lebanon on Israel’s northern border.
Hezbollah and its leaders face a difficult choice. On the one hand, Hezbollah wants to remain relevant and credible among its anti-Israel peer group. If it stays fully on the sidelines while Hamas battles with Israel, Hezbollah’s credibility would be compromised. And, maybe even more importantly, a Hamas defeat would be a serious blow to Iran — the benefactor and sponsor of the Middle East terror network of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis.
On the other hand, by joining Hamas in its war on Israel, Hezbollah risks dragging Lebanon into a war it doesn’t want, cannot afford and cannot win. Lebanon is in the fourth year of a crippling economic crisis. The country is bitterly divided between Hezbollah and its opponents. If Lebanon is pulled into war with Israel, the resulting upheaval could tear the country apart.
Unfortunately, Iran seems to be calling Hezbollah’s shots. And if Iran sees Hamas slipping further, it will likely call upon Hezbollah to enter the fray to distract Israel’s military efforts. Although heightened Hezbollah engagement with Israel will almost certainly fail, the likely human toll and other losses from the conflict are frightening. No one will “win.” But maybe that’s what Iran wants.