War Drums Grow Louder Along The Israel-Lebanon Border

There are fears that an all-out conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon is becoming increasingly likely and, with them, concerns that a broader conflict could draw in Iran and other Iran-aligned militants. While U.S. officials are warning both sides against an expansion of the current lower-intensity fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border, they are also making it clear that they won’t be able to support Israel in the same way as they have in recent months.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah group began attacking Israel from the north soon after Hamas launched its October 7 assault on southern Israel, starting the war in Gaza. Since then, Hezbollah has said it won’t stop its attacks until there’s a ceasefire in Gaza.

In recent days, there has been an uptick in artillery bombardment on Israel’s northern border. This has led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from areas on both sides of the border. In Lebanon alone, 90,000 civilians have fled their homes in the south.

AL KHIAM, LEBANON - JUNE 21: Smoke rises after Israeli army carries out attacks on al Khiam region of Nabatieh Governorate, in southern Lebanon on June 21, 2024. (Photo by Ramiz Dallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Smoke rises after Israeli forces carry out attacks on the al Khiam region of Nabatieh governorate, in southern Lebanon on June 21, 2024. Photo by Ramiz Dallah/Anadolu via Getty Images Anadolu

At the same time, the rhetoric on both sides is also ramping up.

Leader of the Israeli National Unity Party leader, Benny Gantz, the former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), warned today that the Israeli military could completely defeat Hezbollah in “days.”

In response to the reports about the Hezbollah threat to bring down Israel’s electrical grid, Gantz responded, “We can bring Lebanon completely into the dark, and take apart Hezbollah’s power in days.”

Earlier this month, an Israeli airstrike killed one of the senior Hezbollah field commanders, Taleb Abdallah, along with three other operatives.

In response, the Lebanese militants launched their biggest salvo of rockets at Israel since the war in Gaza began. On June 12, the IDF said that more than 170 projectiles were fired from Lebanon in three barrages. While several rockets were intercepted, others struck towns and military sites inside Israel, causing fires in parts of the north.

Today, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant was in Washington to discuss the hostilities on the border with Lebanon as well as the next phase of the Gaza war. He departed Israel with the statement: “We are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon, and in more areas.”

In welcoming Gallant to the Pentagon, Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated the importance of diplomacy in reaching a solution.

“I am extremely concerned about the rise in rocket attacks on Israel’s north from Lebanese Hezbollah and the recent surge in tensions,” Brown said today. “Hezbollah’s rocket attacks mean more suffering for the more than 60,000 Israelis now displaced from their homes, and for tens of thousands of displaced Lebanese. Hezbollah’s provocations threaten to drag the Israeli and Lebanese people into a war that they do not want, and such a war would be a catastrophe for Lebanon, and it would be devastating for innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians.”

“Another war between Israel and Hezbollah could easily become a regional war with terrible consequences for the Middle East, and so diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation. So we’re urgently seeking a diplomatic agreement that restores lasting calm to Israel’s northern border and enables civilians to return safely to their homes on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border,” Brown said.

In terms of a regional war, it’s been clear since the start of the Gaza campaign that there’s a potential for the situation to become much worse should Hezbollah become more deeply involved, or Iran — its major backer — decide that it needs to come to its aid. As well as direct links with the Iranian regime, Hezbollah has a major footprint in Syria. All this could see the conflict extending well beyond Israel and southern Lebanon and becoming a regional conflagration.

Brown had issued earlier warnings that a large-scale IDF offensive targeting Lebanon could “drive up the potential for a broader conflict,” drawing in Iran and/or its proxies in the wider region.

“Hezbollah is more capable than Hamas as far as overall capability, number of rockets and the like. And I would just say I would see Iran be more inclined to provide greater support to Hezbollah,” Brown said at the weekend.

Already, Iran has launched a major drone and missile barrage against Israel directly, and if the IDF were to significantly increase the pressure on its most prized proxy, an even greater response wouldn’t be all that surprising.

“All this could help to broaden the conflict in the region and have Israel not only be worried about what’s happening on their southern part of the country but also now what’s happening in the north,” Brown added.

Brown continued: “From our perspective, based on where our forces are, the short range between Lebanon and Israel, it’s harder for us to be able to support them in the same way we did back in April” — a reference to the U.S. contribution to almost completely blunting Iran’s unprecedented missile and drone attacks on targets in Israel.

Any U.S. military involvement would likely include its carrier strike groups. Today it was announced that the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) had arrived in Souda Bay, Greece, having earlier departed the Red Sea. Meanwhile, the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), currently in the Pacific, is headed for the Middle East to replace the Ike. While plans call for Ike to remain in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility only briefly before returning to the United States, that could still change depending on what happens in Lebanon.

Today, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said that the country would prefer to use diplomacy to resolve the conflict with Hezbollah.

Hanegbi said that Israel had been discussing with U.S. officials the possibility of reaching “an arrangement” with Hezbollah, once the current operations by the IDF in Gaza wind down.

“We and the Americans believe, and we will dedicate weeks now in an attempt to reach an arrangement,” Hanegbi said. “If there will not be an arrangement through diplomatic means, everyone understands that there must be an arrangement through other means. For now, we prefer to focus on the diplomatic campaign.”

GOLAN HEIGHTS - MAY 8: Israeli reserve combat soldiers of the 134th battalion take part at a training drill on May 8, 2024 in Golan Heights. The training exercise simulating operational scenarios on the Lebanese front and include live fire of tanks and infantry troops, amid the conflict simmering along Israel's northern border with Lebanon, where there has been regular cross-border fire between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant political group allied with Hamas. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)
Israeli reserve troops of the 134th Battalion take part in a training drill on May 8, 2024, in the Golan Heights. The training exercise simulated operational scenarios on the Lebanese front and included live fire of tanks and infantry troops. Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images Amir Levy

As Hanegbi hinted, diplomacy is just one path open to Israel.

Once the high-intensity campaign in Gaza ends, as expected, it will free up more IDF forces that can be deployed to the northern border with Lebanon for a bigger offensive there. This is a factor that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to at the weekend.

While there have been claims of IDF troop movements said to be related to the campaign against Hezbollah, it should also be noted that at least some of the footage presented is not related to current activities.

Should a wider conflict between Israel and Hezbollah develop, the IDF would be faced with the potential of an enormous barrage of standoff strike weapons, with the militant group having been identified as the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor. The variety of drones and missiles, including advanced long-range types, that Hezbollah can call upon have been examined in detail by TWZ in the past, as have the multilayered Israeli air defenses that would be called upon to counter them.

With Hamas’ rocket capacity deeply degraded, air defense systems — especially Iron Dome components — could be relocated to the north. This wasn’t previously possible and that fact alone could play a role in the timing of a major operation into Lebanon.

Despite talk of diplomatic efforts, there is still considerable uncertainty about the future course of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Today, Canada reiterated its call for its citizens to leave Lebanon as soon as possible, warning that the security situation in the country was becoming increasingly dangerous and unpredictable.

“My message to Canadians has been clear since the beginning of the crisis in the Middle East: it is not the time to travel to Lebanon,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement. “For Canadians currently in Lebanon, it is time to leave, while commercial flights remain available.”

Before this, Kuwait, too, called upon its citizens in Lebanon to leave the country as soon as possible. The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry also requested that its nationals not travel to Lebanon “at the present time in view of the security situation taking place in the region.”

One country that finds itself at risk of potentially being dragged into the conflict is Cyprus.

Last week, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah issued a threat to the island, which lies in the eastern Mediterranean and is the European Union member state closest to Lebanon.

“The Cypriot government must be warned that opening Cypriot airports and bases for the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon means that the Cypriot government has become part of the war and the resistance (Hezbollah) will deal with it as part of the war,” Nasrallah said.

For now, the situation between Israel and Hezbollah remains as tense as it has been at any point since the war in Gaza began. While a war of words rages between officials on both sides, it’s clear that the U.S., and other governments around the world, have serious worries that the conflict will only deepen — and threaten to draw in Iran in the process.

Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com