Report: Warns of escalation in Middle East if Gaza ceasefire fails

Report: Warns of escalation in Middle East if Gaza ceasefire fails

Shafaq News/ If a ceasefire in Gaza is not achieved soon, a larger and more dangerous conflict in the region, involving several countries, including Iraq, will erupt. The Newsweek warned.

The Magazine said, "As yet another push for a ceasefire in Gaza appears to stumble, Israel is already preparing to take on an even more powerful foe across the border in Lebanon in a conflict that could bring untold devastation to both countries and prove to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's greatest challenge yet."

Israeli forces have a lengthy history of fighting Hezbollah, long considered the mightiest and most well-armed of Iran's allies in the Middle East. But former Israeli officials warn the current march toward war, fueled by intensifying cross-border clashes and fiery rhetoric, could steer the region into entirely uncharted territory.

"It's very hard to see how this war can be won quickly, or at all," Eran Etzion, who served as deputy head of Israel's National Security Council during the last major Israel-Lebanon War in 2006 and later as head of policy planning at the Israeli Foreign Ministry under Netanyahu, told Newsweek.

"From my perspective, I think it's going to be a war that Israel will lose within the first 24 hours," he added, "simply because of the pictures we will see of mass destruction in very sensitive areas within Israel on a scale we've never seen before."

The Newsweek poonte out that Israel is still reeling from the unprecedented attack led by the Palestinian Hamas movement that took the nation by surprise eight months ago, sparking what has become the longest and deadliest war in Gaza. And yet, "attention is increasingly being drawn to the escalating battle in the north between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah, which has dramatically improved its arsenal since the last full-scale war fought 18 years ago."

Amid that monthlong war, which erupted after a deadly cross-border raid conducted by the Lebanese movement, the group was estimated to have around 10,000 rockets and other forms of weaponry. As of the onset of the present hostilities that accompanied the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, IDF officials have told Newsweek the group is believed to possess some 200,000 rockets, as well as mortars, drones, surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles, precision-guided munitions and other armaments.

"Iran built Hezbollah's arsenal of long-range missiles for one strategic purpose: to serve as a forward defense to deter Israel from attacking its nuclear facilities," Shemuel Meir, former head of the Arms Control Branch of the IDF's Strategic Planning Department, told Newsweek.

"This explains the Iranian activity and the frequent visits by senior officials to Beirut," he added, "to ensure that Hezbollah does not 'waste' its arsenal of missiles as it did in the 2006 Lebanon War."

"Many of these weapons have already found their way onto the battlefield, with Hezbollah now waging a more sophisticated border war than ever before, even claiming the first-ever destruction of one of Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket system batteries earlier this week. The IDF has yet to confirm the strike but has acknowledged recent hits from explosive-laden drones and rocket barrages that have sparked massive wildfires across a largely evacuated northern Israel."

Israeli officials have told Newsweek that some 80,000 people have been displaced from communities across Israel's north since October 7. Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has placed the number of those displaced from southern Lebanon at nearly 93,000 as a result of the fighting.

"The IDF has counted around 420 killed throughout extensive operations against Hezbollah's ranks, which are thought to exceed 100,000, nearly three times Israel's estimate for Hamas' pre-war strength, though both groups have frequently disputed Israeli figures. At least dozens of civilians have also reportedly been killed on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border." The Newsweek said.

"In southern Israel, around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the initial Hamas-led attack, and nearly 300 IDF troops have since died in the fighting, according to Israeli officials. Palestinian officials in Gaza have estimated the death toll on their side to have exceeded 36,600, the majority of them women and children. However, the figure does not distinguish between combatants and civilians."

According to the Magazine, even in the face of this staggering casualty count, unmatched throughout the decadeslong Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a new conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has the potential to exceed these numbers given the level of firepower and manpower that both sides would likely employ.

Meir called it "a war that neither side can win because of the balance of mutual massive destruction of population centers."

"An extensive IDF attack and invasion into Lebanon, as demanded by some politicians, would result in a Hezbollah retaliation of massive missile attacks on Haifa and Tel Aviv," he said.

Still, the pressure felt by Israel over the situation on the northern border has added an already mounting toll being paid by the nation over the war on Hamas. While Hezbollah has demanded an immediate end to the Israeli offensive in Gaza, Israel has called for the full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which was reached at the end of the 2006 war.

"The resolution sought to reinforce a buffer zone first established along the border after Israel's first invasion in 1978, which was followed by a larger-scale incursion in 1982 that marked the onset of the first major Israel-Lebanon War. That conflict was prompted by repeated Palestinian militia raids against Israel and resulted in an extended occupation of southern Lebanon amid the country's multisided civil war, from which the newly formed Hezbollah ultimately emerged as the most powerful force against Israel until the country's complete withdrawal in 2000."

Tensions persisted, however, and both sides continued to accuse one another of violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. While occasional outbreaks of violence occurred over the years, the raging battles today have prompted increasingly charged rhetoric from Israeli leadership regarding the prospect of a new offensive to be waged in southern Lebanon.

Speaking at an Israeli army base near the impacted border city of Kiryat Shmona on Tuesday, Netanyahu vowed to restore security in the area, asserting, "We are prepared for very intense action in the north."

Netanyahu's comments were accompanied by recent warnings from senior military officials, such as IDF Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, who declared Monday that "we are approaching the point where a decision will have to be made," and Northern Command chief Major General Ori Gordin who, during a ceremony remembering the 2006 war, stated Israeli forces "are prepared and ready, and when given the command, the enemy will meet a strong and prepared army."

Newsweek reached out to the Israeli army, the Israeli Defense Ministry, and the Israeli Prime Minister's Office for comment.

As Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials now openly discuss the possibility of a new war with Hezbollah, the group has both downplayed the rhetoric and broadcast its readiness to answer any threats.

"Since October 7, the Israelis have been threatening, but whoever has a loud voice cannot do anything," a Hezbollah spokesperson recently told Newsweek. "They have not emerged from their quagmire in Gaza after eight months with any achievement other than killing innocent civilians and children."

"Hezbollah is always ready for anything," the spokesperson added, "and will defend its citizens and its land without any hesitation."

While no official timeline for such an offensive has been announced, one key date that Israeli officials have repeatedly discussed is the beginning of the upcoming school year on September 1.

"Doron Avital, a former commander of the IDF's elite Sayerat Matkal unit who has experience conducting and overseeing past operations in Lebanon, also referenced this date. He conveyed a prevailing sense of skepticism among officials that the deadline could be met given the current trajectory of events."

"It's an insane situation," Avital told Newsweek of the present security situation at the border.

Still, Avital described certain advantages for the "IDF operating in the open terrain of southern Lebanon as opposed to the densely populated environment of Gaza." But he, too, acknowledged there would be a "price" to be paid by Israeli population centers such as Haifa due to Hezbollah's long-range capabilities.

"I think it's a major question, how strong is the Israeli society, given also the fact that it's so divided in terms of the forecast, the strategy of Israel ahead," said Avital, who expressed his hope that the Israeli public would rally behind their military in the event of a war.

To mitigate the toll on the homefront, he argued the war would have to begin with a "surprise attack" by Israel, targeting "all the weaponry caches, long-range missiles in Baalbek, in the south of Lebanon, and then consider a ground campaign in the south."

He cautioned, however, against going after Lebanese civil and military infrastructure given the international blowback Israel has already felt throughout its campaign against Hamas.

"I wouldn't want to go to war in Lebanon without being in sync with the U.S., which, of course, doesn't want it," Avital said. "We have to admit the devastation that we inflicted on Gaza. It would be hard for our allies to see this kind of devastation inflicted on Beirut."

U.S. support would be crucial, Avital argued, as even a limited operation could deteriorate into a bigger conflict, one that could also further drag in other factions of the broader Iran-aligned "Axis of Resistance" that have already claimed near-daily operations in Israel from Iraq and Yemen.

Newsweek mentioned that "Iran also launched a historic barrage of missiles and drones against Israel in April in response to the IDF's killing of senior Iranian military officials at an Iranian consular building in Syria."

Tehran, whose top diplomat met earlier this week with both Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has repeatedly stated that it did not seek a bigger war in the Middle East.

Mirroring the Hezbollah spokesperson's comments, the Iranian Mission to the United Nations has cast doubt on Israel's willingness to engage in a major war in Lebanon while at the same time “warning the IDF would ultimately fail if it chose to do so.”

"We do not lend any credence whatsoever to the rhetoric of certain Israeli regime officials who threaten a ground offensive in southern Lebanon," the Iranian Mission recently told Newsweek.

"Although Netanyahu might seek to escalate the crisis and expand the geography of the war to maintain his grip on power," the Mission added, "the rulers of the Zionist regime and its supporters are acutely aware that—having already failed against Hamas—they will undoubtedly face a more formidable defeat against Hezbollah, which boasts significantly superior military strength compared to Hamas."

The Mission also pointed to Hezbollah's strength as a factor that would negate the necessity of direct Iranian intervention.

"Our assessment indicates that Hezbollah does not desire such a conflict but stands prepared for any eventuality," the Iranian Mission said. "Hezbollah possesses sufficient capabilities to defend itself and Lebanon independently, without requiring assistance from Iran."

But Etzion, the former deputy head of the Israeli National Security Council, spoke to how events have a way of rapidly escalating. He used the example of an infamous PowerPoint slide drawn up by the Pentagon in 2010 to outline the countless interconnected factors that would necessitate a successful U.S. strategy in Afghanistan—from which the U.S. later withdrew, leaving the Taliban to return to power.

"You can imagine a similar slide in the Israeli cabinet that starts with the ongoing conflict in Gaza, leaps to a full-fledged war with Hezbollah, and then turns to direct Iranian involvement and extended involvement by other pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen," Etzion said. "But the two big leaps in this very complicated slide will be Hezbollah and Iran."

"The probability of further and further escalation rises with the entry of each phase," he added. "Once Hezbollah enters, the probability of Iran entering as well grows exponentially, and the degree of involvement of those other militias grows exponentially as well."

Such a scenario, however, was "not mandatory," Etzion said, nor was another war in Lebanon inevitable. Like Avital, Etzion expressed doubts over the ability of Israel to meet the September 1 deadline to resolve the northern border hostilities but said coordination with the U.S. was critical, particularly if a ceasefire in Gaza could be achieved to alleviate the Israel-Lebanon border crisis.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council referred Newsweek to remarks made by President Joe Biden when he unveiled his three-phase road map for an Israel-Hamas ceasefire and prisoner exchange last Friday.

"And once a ceasefire and hostage deal is concluded, it unlocks the possibility of a great deal more progress, including calm along Israel's northern border with Lebanon," Biden said during his speech.

Senior Biden administration officials have since echoed the U.S. leader's hopes for an arrangement that would bring stability to both Gaza and the Israel-Lebanon border. Officials from Hamas and Israel, however, have raised issues with Biden's plan, arguing there were inconsistencies between how the plan was presented and how it appeared on paper.

Still, efforts continue behind the scenes to avoid a potentially uncontrollable escalation. Meir, the former head of the IDF Strategic Planning Department Arms Control Branch, referenced reports of "back-channels of continuous communications between Iran and the U.S. via the Swiss embassy in Tehran and secret meetings in Oman" to this end.

"It turns out that the U.S. and Iran have a common goal," Meir said, "to contain and limit warfare on the Lebanon border, to prevent an escalation with unintended and undesired results."

Senior U.N. officials have also recently told Newsweek of the high stakes associated with halting the path toward another Israel-Lebanon war and their efforts to facilitate dialogue to do so. Eyeing the death and destruction wrought by the war in Gaza, Lebanese officials are also especially wary of the potential costs of a conflict on their soil that could have much further-reaching consequences for the Middle East.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one Lebanese official told Newsweek that "we are deeply concerned about any miscalculation that could drag the region into the abyss."

"Our efforts have been singularly focused on averting this conflict," they said, "urging all stakeholders to resist Israeli provocations that aim to expand the war—a war that, should it occur, would be unprecedented, with a broader geographical scope, multiple fronts, and extensive cross-border engagement."

Disclaimer: The views presented by the author do not necessarily reflect the official standpoint of Shafaq News Agency

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