Is Israel nearing war with Hezbollah?

In recent weeks, both Israeli and Hezbollah leaders have upped their threats, warning each other against launching a war.
Supporters of Hezbollah gather at al-Ashoura square in the suburbs of Beirut to listen to the speech of the Secretary-general of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah on November 3, 2023 in Beirut, Lebanon. (Photo by Marwan Tahtah/Getty Images)

For the past few months, you’ve been following the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, and in recent weeks, the headlines about the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. But what is going on with Hezbollah in the north?

Hezbollah continues its daily attacks on soldiers and civilians, launching rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon toward Israel. In response, Israel has targeted sites belonging to Hezbollah, as well as terrorist cells and senior members of the terrorist organization.

Read more: What is Hezbollah?

In recent weeks, both Israeli and Hezbollah leaders have upped their threats, warning each other against launching a war. Here’s the latest on the situation.

Escalating tensions and rhetoric between Israel and Hezbollah

On Saturday, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi warned that “Hezbollah may turn the entire country of Lebanon into a combat zone,” adding that “this will have a heavy price.”

“We are prepared for war even today, and are constantly improving our capabilities. We are committed to changing the security situation in such a way that will allow the residents to return to their homes in complete safety — in the north and the south,” he added.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has warned in several speeches in the past two weeks that his movement will continue its attacks against Israel as long as the war in Gaza continues.

Alongside the escalating rhetoric, the intensity of attacks by Hezbollah and retaliatory strikes by Israel have increased as well.

On Sunday, Barak Ayalon and his 70-year-old mother Mira were killed by an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon toward Kfar Yuval. Ayalon’s father was also severely wounded in the attack.

In Lebanon, the IDF has assassinated several senior members of Hezbollah in recent weeks, including Wissam al-Tawil, a senior commander of Hezbollah’s Radwan Force, a special operations force focused on infiltrating Israel.

The IDF also assassinated Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in a suburb of Beirut at the beginning of January. Nasrallah had warned in the past that assassinations of that type in Lebanon would be seen as crossing a “red line.”

A few days after the assassination, Hezbollah launched dozens of rockets toward a base for the Israeli Air Force’s 506th Regional Control Unit in northern Israel, saying that this was an “initial response” to the assassination.

Are Israel and Hezbollah heading toward a full-on war?

That remains unclear. While each day is bringing more intense violence along the border, neither Israel nor Hezbollah appear to be eager to enter what would be a devastating conflict for both sides.

In a full-on war with Hezbollah, the terrorist movement is expected to launch about 4,000 rockets each day for at least the first few days of the war, before dropping to between 1,000-2,000 rockets per day. Hezbollah also has a limited arsenal of guided missiles it could use to more precisely target strategic facilities in Gaza.

In comparison, in the 100 days since the war with Hamas began, a little over 11,000 rockets have been fired altogether from both Gaza and Lebanon. This means that the amount of rockets fired by Hezbollah in just three days of a full-on war would surpass the total number fired over the past 100 days.

In Lebanon, the IDF would likely launch sweeping attacks on Hezbollah infrastructure, much of which is embedded in civilian areas. The damage in Lebanon is expected to be unprecedented, especially as the country is already suffering from an unprecedented economic, civil, and political crisis which has devastated much of the country.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned recently that Israel could “copy-paste” the level of war in Gaza to Beirut.

During a recent visit to Beirut, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna warned that “if Lebanon is plunged into war, it will not recover.”

Despite the hesitancy to risk the destruction a Third Lebanese War would bring, both sides are also finding it hard to “climb down the ladder” and de-escalate.

On Israel’s side, it is seen as untenable to allow a situation in which Hezbollah keeps its forces anywhere near the Lebanese-Israeli border, due to fears that Hezbollah could infiltrate over the border and commit an attack similar to Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7.

Leaders of communities in northern Israel have demanded that the military and government ensure that Hezbollah cannot pose a threat along the border. Many local residents have also said that they will not return to their homes until Hezbollah no longer poses a threat and the security situation along the border is significantly improved.

Is a diplomatic solution possible?

The question remains how to create safety along the border without a war since Hezbollah is unlikely to voluntarily withdraw from the border area.

Nasrallah may have hinted toward room for a possible solution in his recent speeches.

Alongside threats of war and escalation, Nasrallah has repeatedly mentioned that once the war in Gaza ends, there will be room for diplomatic solutions along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

U.S. special envoy Amos Hochstein, who was central in bringing about an agreement setting the once-disputed maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, has been pushing for an agreement concerning disputed points along the Lebanese-Israeli land border as a solution to de-escalate tensions.

The disputed points along the border were at the center of tensions between Israel and Hezbollah last year before the war, when Hezbollah organized repeated disturbances along the border, set up tents staffed by armed terrorists in the contested Shebaa Farms area along the border, and either organized or facilitated a roadside bombing carried out by a Lebanese infiltrator near Megiddo in northern Israel.

Earlier this month, Nasrallah may have shown signs that Hezbollah would accept such an arrangement as an achievement, stating, “We are facing a real opportunity to liberate every inch of our Lebanese land and prevent the enemy from violating our borders and airspace.”

However, Nasrallah has also said that Hezbollah would not end its attacks along the border until the war in Gaza is ended, despite the fact that the war in Gaza is expected to continue for at least several more months. Some analysts have noted, however, that Hezbollah might consider Israel’s shift to more precise operations in Gaza as sufficient to de-escalate tensions.

The Lebanese Nidaa al-Watan newspaper reported ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken‘s recent visit to Israel that he would pressure Israel to officially declare a shift to a low-intensity “third phase” of the war in Gaza in order to give Nasrallah an opportunity to de-escalate.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have stated publicly that the IDF was beginning to shift to lower-intensity, more focused special operations in Gaza.

In the meantime, Israeli officials have been publicly pessimistic about the likelihood of diplomatic efforts working.

Earlier this month, Gallant told Hochstein that while Israel preferred a diplomatic solution to the fight with Hezbollah, the window for such a solution was short.

While both sides are issuing severe threats and insisting that they are “ready for war,” both Israel and Hezbollah are also clearly hesitant to take the step that would plunge the region into further chaos.

When it comes to the Middle East, even a situation seemingly on the brink of war can end up de-escalating, but it can also ignite on the turn of a dime, sometimes from something seemingly unrelated. A lot of this only becomes clear in hindsight.

In the meantime, the fight between Israel and Hezbollah is only escalating and the two sides appear to be getting closer to the brink of war, but there are also the first signs of a possible exit ramp to avoid the extensive destruction a full-scale war would bring. Which path the two sides will take remains to be seen.

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