Israel and Lebanon appear to be on the brink of another war, as tensions between Israel and the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah continue escalating after months of skirmishes and threats.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006 that caused massive destruction in Lebanon. Since then, the border region has remained relatively calm, though both sides have warned that another, more devastating round of fighting could erupt.
Over the past several months, tensions have been rising:
In October 2023, Israel struck over 50 Hezbollah targets in Syria. Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes against Iran-backed targets in Syria in recent years to prevent Iran from establish a military foothold.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has issued increasingly bellicose rhetoric, warning that Israeli strikes in Syria risk igniting war. In late January, he said Hezbollah fighters were “ready” for battle.
Israel has ramped up military drills and civil defense preparations in its northern communities. The Israeli military says it has struck over 3,400 Hezbollah sites in Lebanon and Syria as part of its long-running campaign, warning the group against aggression.
Arab intelligence sources have reportedly warned Hezbollah that Israel is preparing for a potential large-scale operation in Lebanon if provoked.
The latest tensions come as Israel continues battling Palestinian militants in Gaza – a conflict that is now entering its 5th month and has seen over 500 rockets fired at Israel just in February. Hezbollah could seek to open a second front to relieve pressure on Hamas.
On February 3rd, Israel issued an explicit warning to Hezbollah and the Lebanese government that it will hold the country responsible for any attack from Lebanese territory.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated Israeli troops are ready to “go into action” along the Lebanese border, warning Hezbollah not to test Israel.
“The State of Israel is ready for any scenario. I advise Hezbollah not to test the strength of the IDF or the State of Israel,” Gallant stated.
The comments come after Hezbollah-allied media reported that a convoy of 40 armored vehicles was moving towards the Israeli border. While unconfirmed, it highlights the charged environment.
Experts warn the escalatory dynamic risks spiraling out of control. With over 100,000 rockets aimed at Israeli cities, Hezbollah now poses a more formidable threat than ever before. Nasrallah has warned that all of Israel – not just border regions – would be a target in any future war.
Israeli authorities are preparing northern Israeli communities for potential evacuation in case of war. The memory of the 2006 conflict, when hundreds of thousands fled the north, looms large.
Home Front Command has told municipal leaders to prepare host families and public shelters across the country to absorb up to 300,000 civilians that could flee the northern border in case of conflict.
Hotels and guest houses are also preparing to take in evacuees. The small northern town of Metula only has a few thousand residents but has already prepared to absorb over 15,000 evacuees if needed.
At the same time, the Health Ministry is drilling hospitals for scenarios involving mass casualties and overwhelmed emergency rooms.
|2006 War Numbers
|Rockets per day
|Israeli civilians fleeing homes
|Up to 600,000
|159 Israelis, 1,191 Lebanese
“We understand that this time will be much more difficult and painful, both because of the larger number of rockets that are expected to fall and because of their increased strength and accuracy,” said one municipal official.
Israeli leaders have warned the civilian death toll would likely be significantly higher next time around given Hezbollah’s expanded arsenal.
The United States is scrambling to mediate between the sides to prevent another catastrophic war even as it continues fruitless efforts to broker a long-term Gaza ceasefire.
U.S. envoys have reportedly presented a proposal in which Israel commits to refrain from strikes in Lebanon and Syria while Hezbollah halts actions seen as provocations.
However, with trust severely lacking, the odds of a breakthrough seem slim. Israel insists any long-term arrangement must address Hezbollah’s weapons buildup.
Meanwhile, Egypt is attempting to broker another temporary truce in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Israel has said any Gaza ceasefire would not apply to its campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.
As tensions reach a boiling point after months of hostilities, the Israel-Hezbollah dynamic threatens to spiral out of control despite neither side actively seeking war at the current juncture. With Hezbollah fighters bogged down supporting Assad in Syria, Nasrallah is wary about opening another front at the present time. However, miscalculation could ignite a conflagration that quickly spreads beyond the border region.
The coming days will be critical in dialing down tensions even as both sides prepare their civilians and home fronts for the possibility of another brutal conflict in the near future.
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