Naad-e-Ali Sulehria – South Asia Fellow, PoliTact
The ongoing cross-border military escalation between Hezbollah and Israel has taken a more aggressive and provocative turn, bringing them dangerously close to an imminent and highly destructive all-out war and a wider regional conflict. In a recent incident, an Israeli drone strike in Southern Lebanon resulted in the deaths of two more Hezbollah fighters with a total of 140, and over 195 Lebanese civilians causalities since October 7.
With ongoing tensions, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, has conditioned any negotiations with Israel on ending the Gaza war, linking the ongoing escalations to the situation in Gaza. Last Friday, Hezbollah issued a stern warning that Israel “would receive a real slap in the face,” asserting its readiness to counter Israeli aggression endlessly. On the other hand, Israel has threatened to replicate its Gaza offensive in Lebanon.
If hostilities reach that point, it could potentially draw the US and Iran into the conflict. For Biden’s administration, a full-scale Israel-Hezbollah war would be a significant diplomatic and political failure with repercussions for his upcoming presidential elections. For Iran, the stakes would be too costly, as it would not only lose its strategic deterrence asset in the form of Hezbollah, but may also bring a full-scale war home, which it cannot afford to fight.
Recognizing the sensitivity of the situation, the U.S. is engaging in diplomatic efforts to avert war, proposing a preliminary solution involving Hezbollah withdrawing its fighters from the border with Israel and the Lebanese army establishing a buffer zone. However, Hezbollah has rejected this proposal, as sheltering its fighters near the Israel border has given it strategic leverage. Notably, Israeli authorities have managed to evacuate over 96,000 residents who live near the Lebanon border. Most of these individuals are hesitant to return to their homes, fearing the possibility of Hezbollah crossing into Israel and taking hostages.
With all signs indicating the expansion of the conflict and apparently no bargaining chips for negotiations in hand, the likelihood that Hezbollah and Israel would come to a peaceful agreement on Gaza in the coming days is diminishing,
According to the latest reports, Hezbollah is expanding its footholds in the region and has its forces on the ground in Yemen, helping to direct and oversee Houthi confrontations with Israel in the Red Sea. Through its regional expansion, Hezbollah has demonstrated its capability to open several war fronts against Israel. Siding with the Houthis, Hezbollah has delivered a message that they would not stop confronting Israel until it ends its offensive in Gaza. Israel has indicated that the window for diplomacy is closing, and if no negotiated agreement is reached by the end of January, it will escalate its confrontation with Hezbollah. This undesirable scenario could result in widespread destruction and civilian suffering, regardless of who claims victory.