Foreign Policy: War between Israel and Hezbollah is inevitable

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Open war between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah is inevitable, during the upcoming six to eight months, and “it’s important that we be as clear about this matter as possible,” according to Steven Cook who wrote on the Foreign Policy.

According to Cook; So far, almost all of the analyzes written on this subject conclude that neither Israel nor Hezbollah want to expand what is taking place between them from an exchange of attacks into an open war.

These are analyzing that read the future based on current circumstances, but developments in the Middle East are characterized by high dynamism.

It’s time to stop wishful thinking and start looking at the facts.

It would be wise for analysts and government officials to reconsider their assumptions and update their forecasts.

It’s true that Israel and Hezbollah have kept the confrontations between them, until now, below the threshold of comprehensive war, and have preferred the method of mutual responses to continuing to provoke each other, but this restraint doesn’t mean that they don’t want war.

There is great pressure exerted on both parties that has so far curbed the expansion of the conflict.

There are also a group of factors that contribute to keeping matters under control and preventing the expansion of the conflict, such as: Iran’s strategic calculations; The determination of the administration of US President Joe Biden to avoid any regional conflict and its position on managing the war; Field developments in Gaza and the situation of the Hamas movement in particular.

But no one should rely on these factors for too long, because they have already begun to collapse.

The defeat of Hamas is an Iranian red line.

The assumption that Hezbollah doesn’t want war depends on another assumption that Iran doesn’t want its ally to engage in an open conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah, first and foremost, was and remains a crucial element in Iran’s external deterrence system.

Hezbollah has an arsenal of accurate and advanced missiles (estimated at more than 100,000 missiles), and this, for Iran, constitutes a guaranteed ability to direct a second strike.

Meaning that if its nuclear program is subjected to any attack by Israel or the United States, Hezbollah will deal a devastating blow to Israeli population centers, for example.

It’s true that the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in particular the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are committed to the destruction of Israel, but they are also committed to the survival of the regime in Tehran, and therefore they do not want to lose the deterrence capacity that they have invested in Hezbollah.

However, it’s not difficult to imagine the moment when the Iranians decide to ease the reins on their primary proxy.

As Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah explained in a speech in early January; Recalling the biography and achievements of the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, Major General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated by the Americans in 2020.

The Iranians have spent a lot of time, effort, energy and resources to develop the “axis of resistance”.

Hezbollah isn’t the only important element in this “axis”, but also “Hamas”.

Although the fighting in Gaza may stop in the coming weeks, the Israelis are determined to arrest and/or liquidate Hamas leaders, and completely paralyze the movement so that it no longer poses any threat to Israel in the future.

The Iranians will never accept the defeat of Hamas.

If the Israelis come close to implementing their threats, Tehran will likely abandon some of its reservations and ease the restrictions and controls under which Hezbollah has operated until now… and it seems that this day is approaching.

Israel is an American red line; Iran controls Hezbollah’s “restraint,” and America does the same with Israel.

The Biden administration is consistent on two issues related to the Israeli war on Gaza:

First, Hamas must be defeated.

Second, a large-scale war with Hezbollah must be avoided.

American fears of the war expanding to a regional level were clearly conveyed by US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, to his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Galant, in a frank conversation between them that took place last November.

Biden also personally asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to expand the war to include Lebanon.

It’s very clear that the Americans are convinced that the expansion of the war between Hezbollah and Israel will quickly turn into a regional conflict that will put the United States in direct confrontation with Iran.

The administration’s concerns are legitimate and logical, but Biden’s ability to influence Israelis on how they handle their northern border is diminishing.

Despite all the American warnings, the Netanyahu government decided to extend the evacuation of the Israeli border settlements and evacuate about 80,000 Israelis from northern towns as a precautionary measure in preparation for a major escalation.

From the point of view of the Israelis, this part of their country is no longer habitable, and is almost outside Israeli sovereignty.

This is unacceptable for any Israeli government, which means that the situation requires a strong and decisive response.

Because the Israelis were preoccupied with the Gaza War, they were forced to adapt; Grudgingly; With diplomatic efforts led by Washington and Paris.

But these efforts have not yet produced any plan that satisfies the Israelis, not even Hezbollah.

The Israelis are demanding that Hezbollah withdraw to the north of the Litani River, that is, a distance of at least 30 kilometers from the border between Lebanon and Israel, in accordance with International Resolution No. 1701, which Hezbollah rejects in its entirety.

The security of the north is an existential issue.

For its part, Hezbollah demands that Israel reduce the size of its forces on the border; This is what the Israelis reject – also completely – especially after operation “al Aqsa Flood”.

So, American and French diplomacy is proving day after day that it’s fruitless, and if the Israelis succeed in achieving the “victory” they want in Gaza, they will shift all their attention and attention to solving their security problem in the north.

The security of the north has become an “existential issue” for Israelis.

Therefore, despite pressure from the White House, the war is likely to spread to Lebanon next spring or summer.

The final constraint on Israel is the dysfunction within the US Congress.

Although this isn’t the case in general, the type of war Israel is waging now makes it decisively dependent on America.

There is no doubt that Israel has a sophisticated defense industrial base and an advanced military structure, but its response to Hamas attack and the type of war it has been waging on Gaza for five months is considered a major departure from the standard doctrine of the Israeli army, which is based on waging lightning, short, and devastating wars on the enemy territorial land.

In fact, with the war continuing for this long without achieving its goals, the Israelis need to replenish their stock of certain weapons.

When it comes to an open confrontation with Hezbollah, the Israeli army will need more and more precise and guided weapons, to ensure the elimination of Hezbollah’s missile platforms and other sensitive sites in record time.

The Israelis won’t obtain these weapons without an additional aid package from the US Congress, which means that the elements for the major military operations that Yoav Galant envisions to push Hezbollah away from the Israeli border aren’t yet available.

Changing the rules of the game Therefore, its highly expected that Congress will join forces, and Democrats and Republicans will approve the funding bill.

In the end, regardless of the circumstances and caveats, Israel remains very popular within Congress.

The debate over aid; Relatively uncontroversial; What is required to be provided to Israel intersects with the discussion about aid.

Controversial; What is required is to provide it to Ukraine – where the war affects the security of NATO’s borders.

This means that Israelis are left waiting while elected leaders in Washington sort out the other two issues, which have become more complex in a presidential election year.

However, Congress will approve the funding project, and there will be no restriction that prevents Israel from implementing its plan to wage a wide-scale war against Hezbollah as soon as its army is finished with the Gaza Strip.

With the lifting of the restrictions (Iranian and American) imposed on both Hezbollah and Israel, all indications on the ground indicate that open war is inevitably coming.

Mutual attacks are witnessing a continuous escalation, and each party has begun to target specific and unexpected targets deep within the other party’s territory.

The direction taken by field developments indicates that there is no diplomatic solution to the zero-sum relationship between Hezbollah and Israel, especially since the latter insists on the need to change the rules of the game between Israel and the “axis of resistance”.

Therefore, either Nasrallah will order his forces to withdraw to the north of the Litani River, or the Israeli army will force them to do so.

But Hezbollah won’t withdraw, and will continue to resist.

So, there is unlikely to be any way to prevent war, or even postpone it.

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