Concern is growing about the risk of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon declaring all-out war with Israel.
Such a conflict would be of an order of magnitude far greater and deadlier than Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza given the size and capabilities of the Lebanese force.
A sudden escalation yesterday in strikes by Hezbollah against targets across the border in the north of Israel is an ominous sign.
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Shia Islamist militants in Lebanon have been ramping up deadly attacks into northern Israel since war erupted between Israeli forces and Hamas, another Iran-supported militant group, in Gaza after its 7 October attacks.
While alarming, the violence had remained within a certain level of escalation that could be understood by the Israeli side not to signal a precursor to full-scale war.
The sharp rise in hostilities yesterday, including the first use of an explosive suicide drone, could well be changing that calculation, however. The Israeli military responded to the attacks with airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon as well as tank and artillery fire.
Hezbollah’s latest activity pushed up tensions on Israel’s northern border to their highest level in the past nearly four-weeks of turmoil – which already marks the gravest crisis between the two sides since the 2006 Lebanon war.
Attention is now focused on a speech later today by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah – his first public comments since Israel’s war with Hamas began.
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Acutely aware of the risks of Hezbollah, supported by Iran, opening a new front against Israel, the United States has been doing everything within its power to deter escalation.
Two heavily armed aircraft carrier strike groups have been moved to the region, with the ability to strike against any perceived threat to US assets or allies.
Significant diplomatic efforts are also under way, with messages being relayed to Tehran and Hezbollah to caution against igniting a regional war.
Iran, which funds, trains and equips Hezbollah, as well as the militant group itself, will doubtless be balancing up the costly consequences of a regional war against the desire to hit Israel as its military is locked in conflict with Sunni Islamist Hamas.
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Israel not taking any chances
The Israel Defence Forces is not taking any chances, ensuring that its troops are mobilised at the border in the north, supported by significant air power, at the same time as fighting Hamas in the south.
Israel has by far the most powerful military force.
However, Hezbollah can draw on some 20,000 full-time fighters, with tens of thousands of reservists as well as a huge arsenal of potent weapons – far more powerful than anything Hamas has.
This includes rockets and missiles with a range of up to 430 miles as well as precision-guided missiles – far more accurate and deadly than the rockets launched by Hamas.
In addition, Hezbollah has huge stockpiles of shorter-range munitions as well as armed drones.
It means any war between Israel and Hezbollah would have the potential to be far bloodier and more dangerous than the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Hoping to deter the aggression, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, warned last week that Hezbollah would be making the “mistake of its life” if it chose to attack.
“We will strike it with a force it cannot even imagine, and the significance for it and the state of Lebanon will be devastating.”
The escalation by Hezbollah yesterday, however, could indicate that the group is choosing not to listen.