The US warns Israel against a war with Hezbollah

CNN

The warning comes amid mounting speculation that Israel may be considering launching a substantial operation against Hezbollah in the coming months, despite having been dissuaded by Washington from a similar move at the beginning of the war against Hamas eight months ago.
The chief of the armed forces suggested “preparations” were complete and that a decision to launch an offensive might be imminent.
In a grand irony of history, Israel – which has sought in various ways to create a security buffer zone in southern Lebanon since the 1980s either through war, occupation and diplomacy – has now woken up to the fact that since the war began Hezbollah has created a security zone of sorts in Israel’s north.
Hezbollah considers the conflict thus far as a success, despite IDF claims to have inflicted damage on the Lebanese militant movement.
The militant group’s losses have been relatively low for the scale of the impact on Israel it has achieved.
Equally worrying for Israel is that Hezbollah, long-regarded as an effective and highly adaptable military force, has been able to use the war to test and fine-tune its capabilities.
In recent days the Israeli media, both left and right, has focused increasingly on the prospect of a war with Hezbollah: what that would look like and whether it is now inevitable.
“The focus on the southern theatre diverts attention from the truly troubling theatre – Lebanon,” wrote Yoav Limor in the rightwing Israel Hayom on Friday.

NEGATIVE

Even though Israeli officials announced last week that they had finished preparations for an operation if necessary, the Biden administration has cautioned Israel that expanding its fight against the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah would run the risk of attracting attention from Iran.

The administration has informed Israel that it does not think “a limited war” in Lebanon or a “small regional war” is a realistic option because it would be difficult to end and likely to spiral out of control, according to an Axios report citing two unnamed senior US officials.

The warning coincides with growing conjecture that Israel, having been talked out of a similar move by Washington eight months ago when it started the war against Hamas, may be thinking of carrying out a significant operation against Hezbollah in the near future.

Since Hezbollah fire ignited images of widespread wildfires in the region, tensions have risen significantly in the last week as a procession of senior Israeli figures visited the country’s north to discuss war preparations in Lebanon.

According to the head of the armed forces, “preparations” were finished and an offensive decision might be made soon. A “intense campaign” could occur, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right security minister, made a call for the “destruction of Hezbollah” while on a visit to the mostly abandoned northern town of Kiryat Shmona. “.

The news last week that Israel is raising the cap on the number of reservists it can call up by an extra 50,000 people underscored that the recent wave of high-profile visits to the north may be more than just political posturing.

In the midst of all the conjecture, one thing is certain: the northern front situation in Israel is rapidly getting just as problematic as Gaza, where the Israel Defense Forces are stuck.

Even though Israel’s leaders entered the war with the intention of establishing a new strategic control over Gaza, the length of the fighting and the IDF’s ongoing inability to defeat Hamas have imposed their own reality.

In a historical irony, Israel has discovered that Hezbollah has established a sort of security zone in Israel’s north ever since the war started. Israel has attempted, unsuccessfully, to establish a security buffer zone in southern Lebanon since the 1980s through occupation, war, and diplomacy.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have left the north, either willingly from a larger area or as a result of evacuation orders from the areas nearest to the border.

About 40% of those who have left have expressed concern about their future in a region whose economy has taken a serious hit.

Israeli criticism of the government’s conduct of the broader war has mostly focused on its failure to achieve its declared war objectives in Gaza, but the situation in the north has also become more and more apparent.

The length of the conflict has created its own dynamics, despite Israel’s best efforts to manage the situation as long as the fighting in Gaza continues.

Although Israel’s strategic doctrine over the past ten years has called for fighting Hezbollah and Hamas in extremely brief, intense, and decisive wars, neither of these things have happened in the current conflict.

Though the IDF claims to have damaged the Lebanese militant movement, Hezbollah views the conflict as a success so far.

Given the magnitude of the impact the militant group has had on Israel, its losses have been negligible. Furthermore, the political fallout has not been evenly distributed, despite the fact that tens of thousands of Lebanese have been forced to flee their side of the border.

What is even more concerning for Israel is that Hezbollah, which has long been recognized as a highly capable and flexible military organization, has been able to test and refine its capabilities during the conflict.

It successfully used anti-tank missiles against Israeli armor in 2006. Hezbollah has used small kamikaze drones in the conflict with increasing effectiveness, as seen by the two times in the last week, seemingly outwitting Israel’s sophisticated border defenses.

All of this seems to have contributed to an increasing awareness among Israel’s political leadership and the IDF that they are being forced into a long-term trap.

A UN-mandated ceasefire agreement from 2006 that called for Hezbollah to withdraw from the border failed, which means that even if the war in Gaza were to end, the threat would have moved to the north barring a comprehensively negotiated deal over the border, which Hezbollah has stated it is open to in the long run.

The talk of a war with Hezbollah, including what it would entail and whether it is now inevitable, has dominated Israeli media in recent days, on both the left and the right.

Yoav Limor of the right-wing Israel Hayom wrote on Friday that “the focus on the southern theater diverts attention from the truly troubling theater – Lebanon.”.

Amos Harel, a columnist for the left-leaning Haaretz, provided an equally dire assessment, stating that while Israel is in danger of intensifying the conflict, it is “exhausted” and on the “edge of multi-dimensional failure.”.

Israel is likely to find itself fighting a war without international legitimacy, without strong backing from the US, and with an exhausted army that is finding it difficult to keep a steady supply of ammunition and spare parts in order. “.

On the eighth month anniversary of Hamas’s attack on October 7, the risks remain, regardless of whether the talk of a wider war is genuine or just a diversion from the unresolved ceasefire talks around Gaza and threats by Israeli Minister Benny Gantz to leave Netanyahu’s wartime coalition by the weekend.

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