Middle EastAnalysis

Israel and Hizbullah have held back from a full-scale war, but pressure is mounting

A war in south Lebanon, that could bring Iran into the fray, raises the prospect of a dangerous regional conflagration

An Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in south Lebanon, near the border with Israel. Photograph: Rabih Daher/Getty Images

Barely a day goes by without Israeli politicians and generals threatening to invade southern Lebanon to push Hizbullah fighters from the border.

As an act of solidarity with Gaza, the Iranian-backed Shia militia fired rockets into the Galilee on October 8th, a day after the Hamas attack on southern Israel. Since then, there has been daily cross-border fire but both sides have so far held back from a full-scale war that could bring Iran into the fray, raising the prospect of a dangerous regional conflagration.

More than 60,000 Israelis fled their homes along the entire border zone as many communities suffered widespread destruction from the rocket and drone attacks, and huge areas of forest and vegetation were turned to scorched earth.

The destruction on the Lebanese side of the border, where an estimated 100,000 residents fled, is even worse and Israel continues to pound Hizbullah targets, mainly in the south but occasionally in Shia strongholds further north.


Both the US and France have presented peace plans but Hizbullah insists it will attack the Galilee as long as the Israeli military operation in Gaza continues.

Israel assumes that an end to the fighting in Gaza will enable a deal in the north, but as long as the impasse continues on a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, the danger exists for a big escalation in Lebanon, possibly due to a miscalculation by either side.

As displaced residents mount pressure on the Israeli government for a widespread military operation to push Hizbullah north of the Litani river, some 30km from the border, Israeli newspapers have run banner headlines reading “The North is Lost”.

Many Israeli residents have made it clear they have no intention of returning to their homes, fearing that even if a deal is reached it will not ensure long-term security. Children have already been registered for the next school year in areas of central Israel.

The Israeli army has been training for a war with Lebanon and last week announced that preparations were complete.

A war in south Lebanon would have devastating consequences for both sides. Hizbullah has an estimated arsenal of 130,000 rockets, including long-range, precision-guided missiles that can strike deep inside Israel.

Israel threatens ‘all out war’ against Hizbullah as cross-border conflict escalatesOpens in new window ]

The group released a nine-minute video on Tuesday night of drone footage over Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, 30km from the border, showing potential targets such as Haifa’s naval base and Iron Dome air defence batteries.

The message was clear, but Israeli minister for foreign affairs, Yisrael Katz, said Israel would not be deterred. “We’re very close to changing the rules of engagement against Hizbullah and Lebanon,” Katz warned. “In a full-scale war, Hizbullah will be destroyed, and Lebanon will be severely impacted.”