The Israel-Hamas war has already forced the US into military action. Is war with Hezbollah next?

Pro-Iranian Hezbollah fighters shout slogans as they walk at the start of the funeral procession of the party’s top commander Wissam Tawil in the southern Lebanese village of Khirbit Selem.

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Is a wider war in the Middle East — extending beyond the borders of Gaza and Israel — inevitable?

The question is at the fore after a series of dramatic escalations in the region in recent days: targeted killings of Hamas and Hezbollah commanders in Lebanon, a powerful Hezbollah attack on an Israeli Air Force base and US and UK airstrikes against the Houthis targets in Yemen after Iran-backed rebels attacked dozens of ships in the Red Sea.

Washington has sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other key diplomats to the region for several high-stakes meetings with Arab and Israeli leaders.

“This is a moment of deep tension for the region,” the head of the State Department told reporters in Doha on January 7. “This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and suffering.”

An all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah — the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group designated as a terrorist group by the US and the UK — would be disastrous for both sides.

Hezbollah, considered one of the most heavily armed non-state groups in the world, is estimated to have ten times the military capability of Hamas, and previous wars between the two have ended without a clear victory for either side.

Lebanon, meanwhile, is in the midst of an economic and political crisis, with its infrastructure completely unprepared for another war.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gestures as he arrives in Tel Aviv on January 8, 2024, during his week-long trip aimed at easing tensions across the Middle East.

Evelyn Hockstein | Afp | Getty Images

For Charles Freilich, Israel’s former deputy national security adviser, war between Israel and Hezbollah is practically a given.

“A major escalation is possible at any time, either by design or miscalculation,” Freilich said He wrote in an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

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But, he warned, “The war in Gaza pales in comparison to what a war with Hezbollah would look like. Hezbollah’s military capabilities far exceed those of Hamas, and Israel has yet to achieve its military objectives even against this smaller actor, despite three months of intensive warfare … It will be a war like Israel has never experienced.” .

Risk increases ‘with each passing hour’

A man waves a flag of the Hezbollah movement as its leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech in Herbe Selm in southern Lebanon on January 14, 2024, marking the one-week commemoration of the assassination of top field commander Wissam Tawil.

Mahmoud Zayyat Afp | Getty Images

Unwilling to risk the possibility of a surprise attack like the Hamas-led rampage on October 7, some in Israel are advocating for Israel to start a war with its northern neighbor — and some observers suspect that a key goal here is to draw the US into battle.

“It seems clear that there is a significant faction in the Israeli war cabinet that wants to expand the war in an effort to crush and degrade the military power of Hezbollah, its most powerful direct rival,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at The Gulf Arab Institute in Washington, D.C. told CNBC.

“The Israeli hawks who want a war with Hezbollah primarily want to degrade and damage Hezbollah’s missile and rocket arsenal and its combat capability.”

“But,” he added, “I also think there is an underlying desire to set in motion a cascade of events that logically lead to a U.S. confrontation with Iran and the desired U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

CNBC has reached out to the Israel Defense Forces for comment.

However, many in Israel are also acutely aware of the dangers of a two-front war – especially when the stated Israeli goals of destroying Hamas’ military capabilities in Gaza and freeing the remaining hostages have not been achieved.

“Starting another big adventure in Lebanon seems crazy even to a number of Israelis, not to mention the Biden administration,” Ibish said.

US diplomats are hard at work, with US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein holding several meetings with Lebanese and Israeli officials to try to find diplomatic footholds. Since January 11, Israeli shelling has killed 25 Lebanese civilians and 140 Hezbollah fighters, while at least nine Israeli soldiers have been killed in northern Israel.

“I firmly believe that the Lebanese people do not want to see an escalation of the current crisis into further conflict,” Hochstein told reporters in Beirut on January 11.

“I hope we can continue to work in this effort to arrive together … at a solution that will allow all people in Lebanon and Israel to live in guaranteed security and return to a better future.”

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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