Escalating clashes and rhetoric have raised fears that Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah may be on the path to all-out war. Over 76,000 civilians have been displaced in border areas as both sides vow retaliation for recent attacks.
Hezbollah Chief Threatens Attacks As Israel Evacuates Border Towns
In a televised speech on January 5th, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah stated that his group has conducted “around 670 military operations” against Israel since October, including sniper attacks, anti-tank missile strikes, and drone operations. Hezbollah will continue these operations, Nasrallah declared, “because it is our duty to defend our people.”
Nasrallah also threatened that Hezbollah has “an opportunity to return to us Lebanese territories that Israel took over,” possibly referring to the Shebaa Farms area which Lebanon claims but Israel considers Syrian territory. His bellicose rhetoric comes after suspected Israeli airstrikes killed multiple Hezbollah operatives in Syria and Lebanon in late December.
“Nasrallah and Hezbollah may believe they can replicate the “victory” they claimed in the 2006 war. But we will not allow threats to the safety of Israel’s citizens,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry responded on Twitter.
In recent months, Hezbollah has significantly stepped up attacks on Israeli positions across the Blue Line separating the two countries. The Israeli military has evacuated several towns along the northern border as tensions reach a boiling point. Over 30,000 Israeli civilians have fled the area.
“My family has lived here for generations, but now we are too scared to stay,” said Rina Greenberg, a resident of Metula who relocated further south. “The air raid sirens go off every night, and we hear explosions just across the border. We feel like sitting ducks.”
International Community Warns Of “Trap” As War Looms
With both Israel and Hezbollah threatening further escalation, Lebanon’s political leaders and international observers have warned the enemies may stumble into war despite neither side actively seeking it.
In late December, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati cautioned that rising tensions could spark an “all-out regional war” that would devastate Lebanon. His foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, traveled to Paris this week to urge French President Emmanuel Macron to intervene and restrain Hezbollah from retaliation.
“Israel has overwhelmingly superior military forces, but Lebanon would face utter ruination in an all-out conflict. Hezbollah must understand the need for de-escalation,” said Thomas Kessler, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
The international community is alarmed at the potential for miscalculation leading to further spiraling violence. “We are working urgently with Israeli and Lebanese officials to halt provocations on both sides,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre yesterday. “There is no military solution here.”
The Path To War
While the latest crisis remains on a knife’s edge, it did not arise suddenly. Israel and Hezbollah have been bitter enemies for decades, clashing repeatedly in southern Lebanon. Experts note, however, that recent events suggest a changed calculus that make further escalation increasingly likely.
Hezbollah’s role in propping up the Assad regime in Syria led Israel to adopt a more aggressive posture, with over 1,000 airstrikes against Hezbollah convoys and weapons depots across the border. This “shadow war” has occasionally spilled over into actual combat.
Last August, in a significant escalation, Hezbollah launched 19 rockets toward Israeli positions in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria that killed two of its fighters. While Hezbollah has long threatened retaliation for assassinations of its members, this incident marked its first rocket attack since the 2006 Lebanon War. It represented a crossing of a “red line” that Israel had warned would prompt harsh reprisals.
Rather than responding immediately, however, Israel exercised uncharacteristic restraint. Its military and intelligence services reportedly used the intervening months to map Hezbollah’s vast network of tunnels and bunkers in southern Lebanon, which would be crucial target data for any future conflict. Hezbollah likely interpreted Israel’s non-response as an invitation for further provocation.
Dueling Retaliations Raise Stakes
In late December, the shadow war finally turned hot.
On December 26th, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a convoy outside Damascus, killing Hezbollah operative Ali Ahmad dayyoub and at least 3 others. Two days later, more missiles slammed into an apartment in a Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut, assassinating Hezbollah technology expert Jamil Al-Ammouri.
Hezbollah immediately vowed retaliation, calling the assassination on Lebanese soil a “brazen attack” requiring consequences. Meanwhile, Israel raised its alert level along the northern border in anticipation of reprisals.
That retaliation arrived swiftly on December 31st. Hezbollah anti-tank squads fired guided missiles at an Israeli military outpost and vehicle near Zarit, destroying an unmanned drone apparatus. Israel returned fire with tank and artillery shells. The tit-for-tat shelling continued sporadically over the next week, wounding at least 3 Israeli soldiers.
Civilian Suffering As Both Sides Stand Ground
While Hezbollah and Israeli forces directly exchange fire across the border, civilians on both sides bear the deadly consequences.
Over 76,000 Lebanese in southern border regions have fled their homes to escape the violence, according to the UN refugee agency. Most are sheltering further north or in Beirut, but at least 8,000 are camping rough in the countryside.
Displaced Lebanese civilians face harsh conditions Credit: Xinhua/UNHCR
Inside Israel, the military has ordered the evacuation of all towns within 4 kilometers of the border. But municipal leaders in frontier communities like Metula are demanding the evacuations extend deeper or provide enhanced shelter for those who stay behind.
“A family was injured by shrapnel in a town 5 kilometers away last week. No one near the border is truly safe anymore,” said Metula mayor Ori Greenfeld.
What Comes Next?
With both Hezbollah and Israeli leaders refusing to back down after the latest escalations and casualties continuing to mount, the ingredients for a major war are in place despite the desperate efforts of international mediators.
Most concerning is Hezbollah’s need to retaliate forcefully on Lebanese territory after recent Israeli attacks on Beirut. This could prompt an overwhelming Israeli response and unleash a dangerous spiral toward full-scale conflict.
If war breaks out, Hezbollah is expected to immediately launch extensive rocket barrages toward Israeli border towns and critical infrastructure. Israel would likely respond by attempting to destroy Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal with waves of airstrikes across Lebanese territory.
“Unlike the conflict in 2006, we believe Israel may now see value in decisive strikes directly against Hezbollah to eliminate the threat to their citizens once and for all,” said Gregory Abou, an analyst at the Middle East Institute.
An Israeli ground incursion could also follow to clear border areas. Hezbollah would attempt to inflict casualties on Israeli troops using its network of bunkers and tunnels while also firing rockets deeper into Israeli territory with its expanded missile arsenal.
With neither side inclined to back down, a war could rage for weeks or months barring international intervention. But the costs to civilians trapped in the battle zone would be immediate and devastating. Securing an urgent ceasefire before the situation deteriorates further remains critical for regional stability.
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