Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have dramatically escalated after Israel conducted an airstrike in southern Lebanon, killing a top Hezbollah commander. This comes amid an ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Israel Confirms Airstrike Killing Hezbollah Commander
Israel has confirmed it conducted an airstrike in the town of Janta in southern Lebanon on January 8th, killing Hezbollah commander Hajj Khalil Tawil, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Tawil or “Wissam al-Tawil”.
Tawil was a senior figure in Hezbollah and headed the group’s so-called “Radwan Unit”. He had fought for Hezbollah for decades and participated in many battles against Israel. His death is considered a major blow to the Iran-backed militant group.
Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for the strike, but officials indicated it was intended to prevent Hezbollah from developing precision-guided missiles that could pose a significant threat.
The airstrike threatens to open a new front between Israel and Hezbollah, who fought a bloody 34-day war in 2006. It also risks drawing in Iran and Syria, key allies of the Lebanese militant group.
Hezbollah Vows Revenge After Commander’s Death
Hezbollah quickly confirmed Tawil’s death and vowed to retaliate, saying he would be replaced by “someone even more dedicated”.
The group fired a barrage of rockets toward Israeli military positions near the Lebanese border in an initial response. Most rockets landed in open areas, though some were reportedly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.
Hezbollah said the rocket attack was only an “initial response” and that it “still had accounts to settle” over Tawil’s death.
The escalation has raised fears that the two enemies could slide into a full-blown war, their first major conflict since 2006. That conflict killed around 165 Israelis troops and hundreds of Lebanese civilians.
Ongoing Israel-Hamas Fighting in Gaza
The airstrike comes against the backdrop of rising tensions between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. In recent days, violence has soared to levels not seen since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
Over 30 Palestinians have been reported killed by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, including at least 13 children. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets at civilian areas in Israel, causing damage but relatively few casualties due to Israel’s air defenses.
The fighting broke out in late December after Israeli forces conducted raids in the West Bank to arrest Hamas members. Rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes have intensified since.
International Appeal for De-escalation
The escalating conflict has prompted international calls for calm and restraint.
UN Secretary General António Guterres said he is “gravely concerned” by the recent violence and loss of civilian lives. He urged “an immediate ceasefire and cessation of violence across Gaza and Israel.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken conducted emergency meetings with Israeli and regional Arab leaders over the weekend. He pressed them to take steps to prevent further loss of civilian life and reduce tensions.
However, the spiraling violence has dimmed hopes of a ceasefire being reached soon. Israeli PM Netanyahu has signaled the military campaign in Gaza could last weeks. Hamas officials also said they are preparing for a “long battle.”
Background to the Israel-Hezbollah Conflict
Israel and Hezbollah have clashed repeatedly over the last several decades, making the recent escalation the latest in a long history of tensions.
Hezbollah emerged during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s as a resistance group aimed at expelling Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. It was backed by Iran and gradually expanded into a powerful political and militant force.
Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 2000 but clashes continued along the Israel-Lebanon border. Tensions boiled over into open warfare in mid-2006 after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid.
Over the ensuing 34 days, Hezbollah battered northern Israel with nearly 4,000 rockets while Israel pummeled targets across Lebanon with airstrikes and artillery.
The war was widely seen as a stalemate but boosted Hezbollah’s standing in Lebanon and the region. Since then, the arch foes have avoided major fighting but remained bitter enemies.
Prospects for Wider Conflict
The possibility of the latest clashes spiraling into a larger conflagration remains a real concern for the region and beyond.
Hezbollah could seek to carry out additional attacks targeting Israeli territory in retaliation for its commander’s death. This risks triggering an even more forceful Israeli response and greater escalation.
Iran has vowed to support Hezbollah in any confrontation with Israel. If Iran directly enters the fray, it would greatly widen the dimensions of the conflict.
However, neither Hezbollah nor Israel likely desires an all-out war at the moment. Both have domestic troubles they would prefer to avoid a major distraction from. This could motivate restraint despite the inflamed tensions.
Most analysts argue a return to the 2006 war is unlikely, barring even more significant triggers like high Israeli civilian casualties from Hezbollah rocket attacks.
But with hostility and unpredictability characterizing the situation, the dynamics could shift rapidly toward more extensive fighting. This will ensure the region remains on edge as the crisis continues unfolding.
Timeline of Key Recent Events
Below is a timeline of notable events in the current crisis:
|Dec 28, 2022
|Israel conducts raids in West Bank, Hamas fires rockets in response
|Jan 2, 2023
|Israel strikes Gaza over New Year’s weekend after Palestinians launch burning balloons at Israel
|Extended clash with over 30 Palestinians killed in Gaza, sides exchange rocket fire
|Jan 8 afternoon
|Israel airstrike kills Hezbollah commander in Lebanon
|Jan 8 evening
|Hezbollah fires rockets at Israeli army base in response, no casualties reported
This story is still developing and further updates will be needed as the situation evolves in the coming hours and days. But the current escalation marks a worrying turn that threatens to unleash more bloodshed in an already volatile region plagued by lengthy conflicts.
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