Israel Weighs Escalation of War To Take On Hezbollah in Lebanon, as Biden and Netanyahu Squabble

As the Gaza war against Hamas winds down, Israel seems on the verge of dealing with another enemy.

AP/Bilal Hussein
President Biden's special envoy, Amos Hochstein at Beirut, June 18, 2024. AP/Bilal Hussein

Israel is preparing its most complex military confrontation yet: an all-out war against Iran’s strongest proxy army, Hezbollah, which could start as early as Monday. At the same time Prime Minister Netanyahu gets embroiled in a dangerous war of words with Washington.

As the Gaza war against Hamas is winding down, Israel seems on the verge of dealing with another attacking enemy, Hezbollah, Mr. Natanyahu is accusing President Biden of withholding arms from an ally. Even as the White House refutes the premier, it is withholding a Congressional-approved $18 billion sale of 50 F-15 fighter jets to Israel, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.  

Hezbollah launched a limited war against Israel on October 8, in solidarity with Hamas. Carefully calibrating attacks to maintain a tit-for-tat hostility level with Israel, Hezbollah initially only targeted northern Israel and minimized civilian casualties. Yet, as widely-publicized differences between Israel and Washington keep growing, Hezbollah is emboldened, widening missile, mortar and drone attacks. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony at the Nahalat Yitshak Cemetery in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. The ceremony marked the annual memorial for people killed in Israel’s Altalena affair -- a violent clash between rival Jewish forces that nearly pushed the newly independent Israel into civil war in 1948.
Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Nahalat Yitshak Cemetery, Tel Aviv, June 18, 2024. Shaul Golan/pool via AP

Last month the north-Israel Alma research center recorded 320 Hezbollah attacks, the largest such assault since October. Even if an all-out war is averted, this month is shaping up as even more impactful, with 193 attacks recorded until June 15. Slightly over a half of the Hezbollah launches, 52.6 percent, were directed at military targets, and the rest at civilians. 

“Hezbollah shoots exactly where it wants to,” Alma’s founder, Sarit Zehavi, tells the Sun at her office in the western Galilee. “If they wanted to hit military targets only, they would. They are deliberately targeting more and more homes, setting fields on fire, and aiming at other civilian targets.” 

Two years ago, a visitor to Alma saw a small office with a couple of researchers. It has now grown into a major operation, painstakingly tallying, analyzing, and reporting on major developments in Syria, Lebanon, and other parts of the Mideast. Ms. Zehavi, her top researcher Tal Beery, and other members of the organization, as well as Alma’s publications, are now a go-to media and research source in Israel and world-wide.

That is partly because all eyes are on the coming Israel-Lebanon war. Following a three-day lull during a Muslim holiday, Hezbollah is renewing its assaults on northern Israel. On Tuesday it released a video shot from a small drone that eluded Israeli defenses. It depicted live footage of goings-on in Israel’s largest port, at Haifa. 

Clearly meant to intimidate, the video was released as a White House mediator, Amos Hochstein, was at Beirut following meetings in Israel. His top interlocutor there was the commander of the Lebanese army, General Joseph Aoun. Washington is banking on the national army to deploy in the south and ensure that Hezbollah maintains a hoped-for ceasefire, which remains elusive for now.

A ceasefire deal can be reached, Ms. Zehavi says. Yet, she adds, “if you have a family where one brother is in the Lebanese army and another joins Hezbollah, would they fight each other? I don’t think so.” 

Mr. Netanyahu is reportedly telling Washington that unless Mr. Hochstein reaches a ceasefire agreement by June 24, the Israel Defense Force would launch a land invasion. Top IDF officials say plans for such an operation are completed. The army is awaiting a government order that could constitute a “strategic shift” in an untenable situation in the north.  

Mr. Netanyahu seemed to suggest that Washington is holding him up. “It’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he said in a video released Tuesday. “We generally don’t know what he is talking about,” the White House press secretary, Karin Jean-Pierre, retorted. 

As the rift widens, Washington canceled planned strategy meetings in which top Netanyahu advisers Tsachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer were scheduled to powwow with Secretary Blinken and the National Security Adviser, Jacob Sullivan, this week. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s scheduled visit to the Pentagon next week is also now in flux. 

The main benefactor of the rift is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which for years has financed, armed, and trained a “ring of fire” armies to surround Israel, hoping that years-long war of attrition would force besieged Israelis to leave the country. The mullahs’s dream of erasing the Zionist entity will then be realized. Hezbollah has up to 200,000 missiles, out of which at least 50,000 are extremely accurate and many can reach every point of Israel. 

Alma’s Ms. Zehavi unearthed a 2014 Iranian-produced propaganda video, in which it predicted an infiltration of southern Israel from Gaza, followed by missile attacks from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. This year, Hezbollah issued a similar video, using actual clips showing how that 10-year-old vision is now a Mideast reality.

Messrs. Biden and Netanyahu’s animosity is setting back the strategic goal of combating the Islamic Republic. While Iran mostly targets Israel for now, America’s interests will be set back if its plots are successful. 

The New York Sun

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