Israel and Hezbollah Play a Risky Tit-for-Tat, Leaving Region on Edge


As the war has raged in Gaza, another battle has unfurled in parallel along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon — a risky game of tit-for-tat that has intensified in recent weeks, with a far stronger foe.

In a measure of the danger of a full-scale war erupting, President Biden dispatched one of his senior aides, Amos Hochstein, to Israel on Monday and to Lebanon on Tuesday to press for a diplomatic solution.

Unlike Hamas, the Palestinian militia fighting Israel in Gaza, Hezbollah has troops who are battle-hardened combatants, and the group possesses long-range, precision-guided missiles that can strike targets deep inside Israel.

Despite apparent efforts by both sides to keep the cycle of strikes and counterstrikes from spiraling into a full-blown war beyond the one raging in Gaza, civilians in Israel and Lebanon have been killed, and more than 150,000 people have been forced from their homes along the border.

But as the fighting in recent days has intensified, so too have fears that a miscalculation could draw the sides into deeper conflict. Hezbollah has said it will not negotiate a truce until Israel ends its military campaign in Gaza, which is likely to continue for weeks or months.

Israeli military officials had long anticipated that well-trained gunmen might one day tear across their border, heading for towns and military bases, as Hamas did on Oct. 7. But they tended to look to the north, fearing Hezbollah’s elite fighters rather than the relatively weaker Palestinian armed group.

In the wake of the Hamas-led attack, the Israeli military began rushing forces by convoy and helicopter to cover its northern border, fearing that Hezbollah would take the opportunity to invade. The following day, Hezbollah began launching strikes on northern Israel in a show of solidarity, leading Israel to counterattack in Lebanon.

Analysts say Hezbollah is much stronger now than it was in 2006, the last time the group fought a major war with Israel. That war, which lasted about five weeks, killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and more than 160 Israelis, and displaced over one million people. But a war between the two sides today, they said, could devastate both Israel and Lebanon.

During the 2006 war, Hezbollah fired roughly 4,000 rockets, mostly toward northern Israel, over the course of five weeks, said Assaf Orion, a retired Israeli brigadier general. The group could now likely fire just as many, including heavy missiles that cause serious damage, all over Israel within only a day, he added.

Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a former top Israeli military strategist, said the sheer number of munitions in Hezbollah’s arsenal — particularly its cache of drones — could overwhelm Israel’s formidable aerial defenses in the event of a full-scale war. Hezbollah’s troops are also experienced fighters; many of them fought in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime, which is also backed by Iran.

“In a no-holds-barred war, there will be greater destruction both on the civilian home front and deeper inside Israel,” General Brom said. “They have the ability to target more or less anywhere in Israel and will aim for civilian targets, just as we will target southern Beirut,” he added, referring to capital districts known to be Hezbollah strongholds.

For Hezbollah, a major escalation is similarly concerning. The Lebanese economy was slumping even before the current crisis, and many Lebanese have little desire for a reprise of the 2006 war. Moreover, analysts say Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, may not be interested in an escalation, preferring to deploy its proxy at a more opportune moment.



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