As Gaza ‘winds down’, is Lebanon next in Israel’s crosshairs?

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the end of the “intense stage” in the war on Gaza, with a pull-out of troops from the devastated Palestinian enclave toward Israel’s border with Lebanon, where clashes with Hezbollah have been ongoing for eight months.

The comments sparked fears that Lebanon could be next in Israel’s crosshairs, with a build up of troops in the border region coinciding with chilling remarks by Israeli politicians about plans for a military assault on the country, and shuttle diplomacy by US officials to try prevent an escalation in the Middle East conflict.

Despite some intense clashes along the border, many analysts believed an Israeli assault on Lebanon will not be possible unless the war on Gaza ends.

Netanyahu said on Sunday, however, that fighting on a second front would not be an issue for Israel, and that despite his Gaza ‘wind-down’ comments the war there was not coming to an end.

“We can fight on several fronts and we are prepared to do that,” he said.

Hezbollah clashes

Fighting between Hezbollah and Israel broke out on 8 October, a day after Hamas’s assault on southern Israel which saw around 1,160 people killed.

While Hezbollah was not part of any coordinated military agreement with Hamas, the Iran-backed movement said its actions are, in part, to relieve pressure on Gaza, with Israel’s ‘genocidal’ offensive on the enclave killing at least 37,658 Palestinians since October.

The clashes have been largely kept within the confines of a semi-official agreement between Israel and Hezbollah to prevent a major escalation, although extremist Israeli ministers have been pushing for a wider war with the Lebanese Islamist group.

This has coincided with a recent up-tick in the frequency and intensity of the fighting with both Israel and Hezbollah using increasingly sophisticated weaponry in the low-scale conflict.

Last week, Hezbollah deployed a drone which hovered over Haifa, pointing out potential targets in the Israeli port city if a full-scale war broke out.

Israel has meanwhile pounded Lebanese towns and villages, including areas well-outside the unofficially agreed zone of conflict along the border.


Netanyahu’s comments are not the only worrying sign of an escalation, with Israel accused of using ‘psychological warfare‘ to heighten fears in Lebanon to bear pressure on Hezbollah.

Israel has warned it would deploy “never used before” weapons in the event of a conflict with Hezbollah, following the use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus in the south, while Netanyahu has threatened to “turn Beirut into Gaza”, a territory reduced to rubble following just under nine months of bombing.

This has coincided with an increased focus on a potential attack on Lebanon in Israeli media, amid a controversial story in British daily The Telegraph, citing an anonymous source, with no byline, claiming Beirut airport was being used by Hezbollah to import weaponry, a claim rubbished by most serious analysts. 

Hezbollah, meanwhile, has flexed its considerable military muscles, showing off never-seen-before weaponry and techniques, including the use of anti-aircraft missiles which forced an Israeli fighter jet to retreat from Lebanese airspace.

Most analysts believe the scale of the clashes so far would be small fry compared to the devastation a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah would result in.

What next?

Hezbollah remains a much more formidable opponent than Hamas, and the movement has proven to be an equal to the Israeli military on numerous occasions over the past decades, including in 2006 when 121 Israeli soldiers were killed during a brief invasion of southern Lebanon.

With Israel tied down in Gaza and Hamas still not defeated, many assume Israel is unable to afford a potentially devastating war with Hezbollah, which could see thousands of rockets rain down on northern Israeli towns and cities.

What analysts expect instead is an Israeli policy of “mowing the lawn” to allow Israel to re-establish its deterrence equilibrium with Hezbollah.

However, as Israel has shown in Gaza, a bloody and drawn-out offensive on Lebanon cannot be ruled out, one which would likely have a more pronounced implication for stability and power dynamics in the region.

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