Fears grow in Israel of war with Lebanon's Hezbollah

AFP , Thursday 29 Feb 2024

With Israel's war on Gaza raging in the south, Israeli fears are growing that months of cross-border clashes in the north could escalate into a bigger conflict.

This picture taken from Israel along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing above the Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil during Israeli bombardment on February 28, 2024. AFP


"It's a big question," said Ditza Alon, pondering whether Israel should fight another major war against Lebanon's armed movement Hezbollah.

She argued there is a risk either way and considered the dilemma.

"We understand that if there won't be a war... then what happened in Gaza could happen again," she said, referring to the Hamas offensive and ensuing Israeli invasion of Gaza.

"On the other hand, we know that if there will be a war... there's going to be a big war and a lot of soldiers and civilians will die."

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said this week that a Gaza truce won't stop Israeli military operations in the north -- and many fear a Gaza ceasefire may in fact allow Israel forces to step up northern operations.

Experts say Hezbollah, which has waged past wars against Israel, has many battle-hardened fighters and a formidable arsenal of rockets and missiles -- most of which it has held back from using so far.

'It will happen'

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said Thursday more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the besieged territory since the war began in early October.

As the Gaza war has raged, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Israeli army have traded almost daily fire.

On the Lebanese side, at least 280 people have been killed, mostly Hezbollah fighters and their allies, along with 44 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

On the Israeli side, the army says 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, while tens of thousands of residents on both sides have been displaced.

On Monday, for the first time in years, Israel launched strikes against the city of Baalbek, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the border.

The Lebanese resistance group responded with a barrage of rockets against northern Israel.

Gallant, on a visit to the army's Northern Command this week, said a Gaza ceasefire would not change Israel's objective of pushing Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

The United States and France have called on both sides to resolve the issue through diplomacy.

Gallant warned that if this is not possible, "we will do it by force".

"If anyone thinks that when we reach a deal to release hostages in the south and the firing stops it will ease what is happening here, they are wrong," he said.

Amir Avivi, a former brigadier general in the Israeli army, also argued that a Gaza truce would change nothing.

"They might respect the truce, but we are not going to respect the truce with Hezbollah," he told AFP.

Toward the south, Israel insists it will invade the border city of Rafah, sheltering some 1.4 million Palestinians, displaced by Israel's war that has reduced most of the Gaza Strip to rubble.

After Rafah, said Avivi, the focus would be on Hezbollah.

If a diplomatic solution fails "then war is imminent," he warned.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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