Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah exchanged fire across the Israel-Lebanon border this week, sparking fears of a wider conflict breaking out. The clashes come after Israel allegedly carried out an attack in Beirut last week that killed a senior Hamas official.
Israel Strikes Hezbollah Sites After Rocket Barrage
On Friday, Hezbollah fired several rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon in what it called an initial response to the killing of a senior militant allied with the Palestinian Hamas group.
Israel’s military said its missile defenses intercepted many of the rockets. Several homes were damaged, but no serious injuries were reported.
In response, Israel struck several Hezbollah military sites in southern Lebanon, including a “hub of activity” near the border town of Marjayoun.
“We struck operational posts along the border and the hub of Hezbollah’s activity in Marjayoun,” said Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesperson.
Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed in Israel’s retaliation strikes.
Killing of Hamas Official in Beirut Sparks Crisis
Last Sunday, a massive explosion in Beirut killed Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chief of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. While the cause of the blast remains under investigation, Hamas quickly blamed Israel for carrying out a targeted assassination.
Al-Arouri was seen as an important link between Hamas and its main backer, Iran. He spent over 15 years in exile between Turkey and Lebanon, orchestrating Hamas militant activity in the occupied West Bank.
His killing puts renewed pressure on Iran-backed groups like Hamas and Hezbollah amid Israel’s crackdown on militants in the West Bank and Gaza.
Hezbollah Vows Response to Al-Arouri’s Death
The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said responding to the death of al-Arouri was “inevitable.”
“The response is in the hands of the resistance, which will determine the appropriate time, place and manner that achieves the desired deterrent equation,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech Wednesday.
He accused Israel of carrying out the attack that killed al-Arouri, calling it a “major, dangerous development” that warranted retaliation.
Nasrallah also said Lebanon was now “exposed” to attacks like this and the government needed to provide better security. Critics argued the incident showed Hezbollah wields more power than the state in parts of Lebanon.
Escalating Violence Raises War Fears
As Hezbollah and Israel traded fire this week, there were rising concerns the clashes could spiral into another war.
The two bitter enemies fought a month-long conflict in 2006 which killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Observers have warned repeatedly that any major conflict between Israel and Hezbollah would likely be far more devastating than previous wars.
Hezbollah is believed to have an vast arsenal of advanced missiles and rockets capable of striking deep inside Israel. Meanwhile, Israel has upgraded its military capabilities dramatically in recent years.
International Efforts to Restore Calm
With tensions dangerously high, international leaders called for restraint and stepped up efforts to prevent further escalation.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made emergency calls to officials in Israel and Lebanon urging de-escalation. The Biden administration also said it deployed a guided missile destroyer, the USS Nitze, off Lebanon’s coast.
“We are urging all sides to avoid any retaliatory action,” Blinken said. “The United States stands ready to help facilitate discussions to restore calm.”
The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon said it was working with both sides to restore stability and prevent an outbreak of hostilities.
But previous mediation efforts have struggled to resolve the long-running tensions between Israel and Hezbollah or achieve a lasting ceasefire arrangement.
Background and Analysis
The latest violence is yet another chapter in the long and bitter rivalry between Israel and Hezbollah, which have clashed repeatedly in recent decades.
Hezbollah was formed in the 1980s as a Shiite Muslim militant movement aimed at combating Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. Backed by Iran and Syria, it has grown into Lebanon’s preeminent military force, more powerful than the national army according to many analysts.
Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 but fought a catastrophic war with Hezbollah six years later. While the conflict was politically disastrous for Israel’s leadership at the time, Hezbollah successfully claimed it had achieved a “divine victory” by surviving a protracted fight with a far superior military foe.
In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria aimed at preventing Iranian arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah and disrupting the group’s efforts to develop precision missile factories. Israel has vowed to continue its “war between wars,” thwarting Hezbollah’s military capabilities in an ongoing shadow conflict.
But the killing of al-Arouri on Lebanese soil marks a dramatic escalation that brings new unpredictability. Hezbollah facing intense pressure to retaliate forcefully even at the risk of all-out war.
At the same time, the Gaza conflict remains active in the background. Israel claims to have degraded Palestinian militant capabilities in recent months through near-nightly arrest raids across the West Bank. But rocket fire and clashes at the Gaza border have continued.
This complex regional dynamic means the potential for miscalculation is high. And while neither Israel nor Hezbollah may actively seek a major conflict at the moment, the risks of one breaking out by accident remains uncomfortably high.
Timeline of Recent Israel-Hezbollah Tensions
|Explosion kills Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut
|Hezbollah chief Nasrallah says response is “inevitable”
|Hezbollah fires rockets into Israel from Lebanon
|Israel carries out retaliatory strikes on Hezbollah posts in Lebanon
|One Hezbollah fighter reportedly killed in Israeli strikes
|U.S. deploys warship off Lebanon amid de-escalation efforts
What Comes Next
In the coming days and weeks, much depends on Hezbollah’s response and the possibility of the group unleashing its large missile arsenal toward Israeli cities and critical infrastructure.
Nasrallah and other Hezbollah officials have warned repeatedly that if a senior leader is killed, the group will retaliate harshly. Now that such an assassination has apparently occurred, the group faces intense internal pressure from its base to strike back hard despite the risks.
Israel in turn must decide how forcefully to respond to any further attacks from Lebanon, while being cautious not to ignite an uncontrollable escalation cycle. Previous flare-ups have usually ended with one or two rounds of targeted strikes, but the current crisis feels more ominous.
If cooler heads prevail, this week’s clashes could conclude the immediate crisis. But they seem unlikely to resolve the deeper instability across Israel’s frontiers.
Without progress on political solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dispute between Iran and Western powers over Tehran’s nuclear program, the stage is set for further eruptions of violence.
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