Israel attacks dense area of ​​Gaza and kills many people; He says he was targeting Hamas: live updates | ET REALITY


As Israeli troops advance into southern Gaza with the goal of destroying Hamas, the world is watching closely what is happening on Israel’s northern border, where its forces have been engaged for weeks in intense clashes with yet another enemy. powerful, Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, has found itself in an awkward position since its ally Hamas launched a deadly surprise attack on Israel on October 7. Now, after years of picking a fight with Israel, Hezbollah is torn between maintaining its credibility as a defender of the Palestinians and its hesitancy to engage in a full-scale war.

Throughout its 40-year history, Hezbollah has defined itself as a resistance movement dedicated to protecting Lebanon, fighting Israel, and supporting the Palestinians’ quest for a state. However, after three days of Israeli ground incursions into Gaza and as the Palestinian death toll surpasses 8,000, Hezbollah’s response so far has been worrying but moderate.

Hezbollah’s balancing act speaks to its enormous role in Lebanon, a small, dysfunctional country on Israel’s northern border. It is the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, meaning that not even the Lebanese government can control its decisions, even when they affect the entire country. Hezbollah is also the most powerful node in a network of Iranian-backed militias across the Middle East, which includes Hamas, meaning its calculations often transcend Lebanon’s borders.

But as Israel’s air force lays waste to entire swaths of Gaza, can Hezbollah maintain its reputation as the vanguard of the so-called resistance axis movement by staying out of the conflict?

Hezbollah’s last major war with Israel was in 2006, and the group now has more sophisticated weapons and a cadre of battle-hardened militants than it did then. But so far it has only participated in limited skirmishes with Israeli troops. It could squeeze Israel by expanding its attacks in the country’s north while much of the Israeli military is trapped in Gaza, Western and Arab officials say, but for now the group is holding back due to internal and regional calculations.

Israeli officials cordoned off a neighborhood in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona after it was hit by a rocket from Lebanon on Sunday.Credit…Jalaa Marey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Lebanon, there is little appetite for war as the country suffers from a crippling economic crisis. Regionally, if Hezbollah were to open a second front, it could prompt the United States to come to Israel’s aid.

“All of Lebanon, including Hezbollah, we do not want a war,” said Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, who is in regular contact with Hezbollah. “There is Western pressure on the Lebanese government to pressure Hezbollah not to go to war. We have spoken with Hezbollah and my impression is that they will not start a war. But will Israel start a war? We also need the same pressure on them.”

American officials have privately urged Israeli leaders not to launch a major attack on Hezbollah that could plunge the region into total bloodshed.

“We are not seeking escalation in the north,” Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said at a news conference on Monday. “Hezbollah may decide that they are going to escalate their situation and we will have to respond and we are prepared for it.”

“We hope they don’t make that mistake,” Dermer added. “I think they made a mistake in 2006. I think the leader of Hezbollah said that if he had known what the response was going to be, he would never have started it. Believe me, the current response will make what happened in 2006 look like child’s play.”

But, Bou Habib said, if the carnage in Gaza worsens or Israel intensifies its attacks in Lebanon, Hezbollah could feel more pressure to respond.

“If the situation really gets worse in Gaza, it will be really bad for the entire region, not just Lebanon and Israel,” Bou Habib said.

Hezbollah, like Hamas, has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries.

Some Hamas leaders have suggested they expect more help from Hezbollah.

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political leader until 2017, said the group’s regional allies could contribute more to the war effort.

“When such a heinous crime is perpetrated against Gaza, certainly greater things are needed,” Meshaal said in a recent interview with Al Arabiya, a news channel. “But we should not single out Lebanon and Hezbollah.”

While Hezbollah’s precise capabilities remain unclear, it is clear that it can cause damage inside Israel. The group is believed to have an arsenal of up to 150,000 rockets, as well as precision-guided missiles capable of hitting sensitive targets.

“Hezbollah today is in a position to inflict pain on Israel if it decides to enter this war,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

“The range of response Hezbollah can have is quite versatile,” Yahya said. “They don’t need to make a ground incursion into Israel. With Iran, they could start using the Syrian front and there could be attacks outside Israel, not necessarily inside Israel, against Israeli interests. “That has happened before.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been unusually quiet since the October 7 attacks that Hamas launched against Israel, killing about 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 230 civilians and soldiers hostage. Israel has responded with a vast bombing campaign on Gaza, a fuel blockade and a ground invasion. Nasrallah is scheduled to address his followers on Friday, leaving the region in suspense.

Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader seen on the poster, is scheduled to address his followers on Friday, leaving the region in suspense.Credit…Hussein Faleh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A Lebanese official who speaks to Hezbollah said the militants have said their red line for intervention is the destruction of Hamas, and that they will enter the war if the group is on its last legs. But Israel’s stated goal is the destruction of Hamas.

For the past three weeks, Hezbollah and Israel have fired rockets and shelled each other along the Israel-Lebanon border. The fighting is the most intense since 2006 and has forced tens of thousands of people on both sides to flee.

A regional diplomat in Beirut said Hezbollah appeared to be restraining its attacks, which peaked in intensity last week, to avoid triggering a broader war. The group has been quietly telling partners that it believes Hamas is in a good position and does not need Hezbollah’s help yet, the diplomat said.

Iran has spent years building a network of loyal, interconnected militias across the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to help it project power, influence the domestic politics of Arab countries and deter Israel from attacking Iran and its nuclear program. . Many of these groups have received training from Hezbollah and have already joined the regional fight in a limited way.

But as the Middle East’s most skilled militant group, Hezbollah is the most valuable chip Iran can play against Israel and one it aims to save, Yahya said. There is a lot at stake for Hezbollah to get involved, he said, given the two American aircraft carriers stationed in the Mediterranean, which could attack the group.

Despite Israel’s superior air force and ammunition, its army could fight Hezbollah’s well-trained guerrillas on the ground, experts said.

Israeli soldiers train near the Lebanese border. Some experts believe that the Israeli army could fight Hezbollah’s well-trained guerrillas on the ground.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

“Israel is still an army organized to defeat poorly trained conscript forces in Egypt or Syria, as they did in the 1970s. It is not an army that is organized to fight well-trained and motivated militias like Hezbollah and Hamas,” he said. Andrew Exum, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Middle East policy from 2015 to 2016.

At home, Hezbollah is increasingly unpopular outside its Shiite Muslim religious base. Many Lebanese see Hezbollah as part of the corrupt political class that has led the country to economic ruin. And they have stopped believing the group’s rhetoric that its weapons serve to defend Lebanon, instead seeing the group as pursuing its own agenda and endangering the nation.

However, none of those considerations could stop the group if it decided to launch a war with Israel.

Hezbollah may hope that Israel’s actions in Gaza and the large number of civilian deaths there will stir anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment throughout the Middle East, revitalizing support for armed action against Israel.

“What Israel is doing today in Gaza actually benefits Iran significantly,” said Yahya, the Carnegie director. “It will benefit from the global backlash against Israel and growing anti-American sentiment due to Washington’s overall support for Israel.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

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