After Iran’s attack on Israel, now fears over escalation at Lebanese border (2024)

BEIRUT — The Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend has refocused attention on the border with Lebanon where Iran’s ally, Hezbollah, has long been fighting a muted war that could be the target of an Israeli retaliation.

The Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah — which is both a military force and Lebanon’s strongest political party — have been regularly skirmishing since Hamas’s Oct. 7 blitz into Israel. Attacks have ebbed and flowed as the war in Gaza has dragged on, punctuated by U.S. attempts at negotiating a diplomatic solution to resolve long-standing security issues.

But the direct Iranian attack on Israel could upset the delicate balance of tit-for-tat strikes, with recent incidents suggesting the door could be open for an all-out conflict.

It is a war Hezbollah appears not to want: The group did not participate in Iran’s assault on Israel and delayed its statement congratulating Tehran for the attack.


Israeli officials, too, have said they want to avoid a full-blown war.

A conflict would also devastate Lebanon, already beset by an economic crisis, and weaken Hezbollah’s position as a result. That said, while the group has claimed it does not want a new war, it says it is ready for one.

In the days since Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel, a string of particularly violent attacks and retaliatory strikes has erupted on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Hezbollah on Monday claimed responsibility for a series of explosions just inside Lebanon that injured several soldiers from Israel’s Golani Brigade. A statement from Hezbollah laid out how its fighters, monitoring Israeli troop movements and anticipating an incursion, had sown the area with explosive devices.

IDF troops “are preparing the northern front,” a senior Israeli security official said, confirming the soldiers were injured inside Lebanon.


The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential military plans, said that after Israel strikes back at Iran, it is possible that “Iranian leaders will instruct Hezbollah to activate.”

“We have to be ready for next week,” the official said.

On Tuesday, Israeli strikes killed three Hezbollah members, including a field commander. The group then responded Wednesday with a drone and missile attack on the Israeli border community of Arab al-Aramshe. That attack wounded at least 14 Israeli soldiers, six of them severely, the IDF said.

Israeli jets soon responded with strikes deep into Lebanon, north of the city of Baalbek in the Beqaa Valley, some 60 miles inside the country, hitting what Israel said was Hezbollah’s air defense infrastructure.

“If we thought, before the Iranian attack, that we had time to deal with Hezbollah, now the clock is ticking faster,” the Israeli official said. “Israeli tolerance for Hezbollah is about to end.”

Hezbollah’s military capabilities dwarf those of Hamas, which Israel has been battling for the past six months with the avowed goal of dismantling the movement.

The war started after Hamas staged a brutal attack inside Israel, killing about 1,200 people and dragging 253 hostages back to Gaza. Since then, at least 33,970 people have been killed in the Palestinian enclave, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants but says most of the dead are women and children.

But Israeli officials say Hezbollah has been preparing for combat with Israel for years — and they estimate it has roughly 100,000 missiles in its arsenal, including mid- and long-range capabilities, as well as an extensive network of tunnels.

Since Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006, Iran has dramatically rearmed the group, Israeli military officials say. Hezbollah also gained combat experience in Syria, where it fought to help prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.


The IDF has also learned lessons from the war in Gaza, the Israeli official said, and would be sure not to let Hezbollah rebuild its forces, adding, “this time, it has to work.”

For Hezbollah, the current conflict is already deadlier than the 2006 war, when the group said it lost 250 fighters. Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah says 270 members have been killed, along with 60 Lebanese civilians.

In Israel, at least 11 soldiers and four civilians have been killed in Hezbollah attacks.

In Lebanon’s south, where Hezbollah draws most of its support, the region near the border has mostly been evacuated; the same is true in northern Israel. But near-daily bombardments are causing widespread destruction, raising fears residents won’t be able to return home.

For the past six months, the United States has been trying to head off any conflict by pushing through a deal between the two sides to demarcate the land borders, push Hezbollah forces away from the border and intensify the Lebanese army presence in the border area.


White House envoy Amos Hochstein has led the negotiation efforts to broker the deal, meeting with Israeli officials and negotiating with Hezbollah via Lebanese intermediaries.

Both sides have stymied negotiations: Israel has refused to budge on some sticking points, Western and Lebanese officials said, and Hezbollah has repeatedly publicly and privately asserted that it will not continue such negotiations until a cease-fire is reached in Gaza.

Rubin reported from Tel Aviv.

After Iran’s attack on Israel, now fears over escalation at Lebanese border (2024)
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