analysisIsrael at War

Israel must make a fateful decision regarding Hezbollah

While the risk involved is significant, Israel has been given a rare opportunity to fundamentally change the situation in the north.

An anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from Southern Lebanon, as it seen from the northern Israeli town of Safed on June 27, 2024. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
An anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from Southern Lebanon, as it seen from the northern Israeli town of Safed on June 27, 2024. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
Shachar Kleiman

As the Israel Defense Forces approaches the final stages of its major ground operations against Hamas in Rafah, Hezbollah is ramping up its threats in an attempt to deter Israel from launching a large-scale military operation in Lebanon. 

In a recent speech, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah pulled no punches. He hinted at the possibility of the terrorist organization attacking Cyprus, boasted of a force of 100,000 fighters and threatened to invade the Galilee.

Nasrallah threatened that if Israel were to use bases or airports on the island nation, Hezbollah would attack it. While Cypriot officials denied such cooperation, the message seemed directed at the entire Western world: Hezbollah is prepared to turn the war with Israel into a regional conflict. This appears to have been a response to U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein, who has warned the Lebanese of escalation if they don’t progress toward a settlement.

Nasrallah may be hoping that the U.S. and the European Union will exert diplomatic pressure on Jerusalem, but in any case, he has only served to remind the world of the threat his organization poses to many countries. One need only mention Hezbollah’s drug trafficking operations, that stretch from the Middle East to South America. As such, it seems the United States might actually support a measured expansion of the offensive.

From Israel’s perspective, the goal on the northern front is crystal clear—pushing Hezbollah and its capabilities away from the border to allow residents to safely return to their homes.

Israel’s options seem poor 

On the surface, all of Israel’s options seem poor: While Hezbollah has withdrawn to about 8 kilometers (3 miles) from the border, without more significant action by Israel, the terror group could easily return. Lebanon has been run by a caretaker government for the past two years, that will struggle to reach a diplomatic settlement. Israel cannot afford to rely on the Lebanese army or an international force to ensure its citizens’ security. 

Finally, a war carries many risks that Israel’s Security Cabinet must carefully consider. One can only hope that more experienced voices will prevail regarding the nature of the operation.

Nevertheless, it’s doubtful that Israel will have a better opportunity to fundamentally change the situation in the north. The Israel Defense Forces could take advantage of the current international window of opportunity to destroy Hezbollah’s strategic assets. 

As revealed in 2020, Hezbollah maintains precision missile production sites in neighborhoods in the heart of Beirut. A central part of its air defense system is located in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. The infrastructure of its drone unit was attacked last week in the Tyre area. 

In the south of the country, the organization has built an enormous tunnel network that facilitates the movement of its fighters. This labyrinth was also intended to hide hostages in the event of an invasion into Israeli territory. However, Hezbollah lost the element of surprise on Oct. 7.

In fact, in the nine months since the war began, Nasrallah has discovered that his organization has been infiltrated to a far greater extent than he expected. That Israel has the ability to eliminate a division commander sitting in a house in the Tyre area serves as a warning to Hezbollah’s entire command and leadership echelon.

Just this past week, one of Hezbollah’s regional operations commanders was killed while driving in one of the villages in the Tyre area. It’s no coincidence that Arab sources report Hezbollah has issued guidelines prohibiting the use of cell phones. More than 430 of the organization’s fighters, equivalent to half a battalion, have already been eliminated.

Beyond that, many Lebanese fear war and watch helplessly as a radical Islamist organization drags them to the brink of Gaza-like destruction, without being able to do anything about it. One after another, they lament that Lebanon has been hijacked by Nasrallah, and anger toward him will grow in the event of a wider confrontation.

A decision needs to be made

“For all the rockets Hezbollah has, its capabilities are limited,” Lebanese MP Riad Yazbeq recently told Arab media. “It has the ability to cause casualties and damage on the Israeli side, but it cannot change reality. Israel is a country that receives support from the United States. It’s a powerful country economically, militarily and technologically, that can return Lebanon to the Stone Age.”

In this context, Dan Naor, a Lebanon researcher and lecturer at Ariel University, believes that Hezbollah “does care about Lebanese public opinion, and that’s also the reason it hasn’t escalated to an all-out war.”

According to Nor, “Hezbollah is attentive and maintains rules of engagement because most of the public in Lebanon doesn’t want war. It needs to maneuver between Iranian needs and Lebanese needs, and the Shi’ite community is paying the price, with many having to leave southern Lebanon.”

With the completion of the main IDF maneuver in Rafah in the Gaza Strip and the diversion of military resources to the north, Israel faces a fateful decision regarding Hezbollah. 

Along with continuing to eradicate Hamas in Gaza and pursuing a hostage deal, difficult years lie ahead. In these times, Israel needs internal unity, patience and righteousness. Through these, we can prove to our enemies that we are here to stay.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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