Israel “Prepared for Very Intense Operation” in Lebanon: the Possibility of War

Tensions are rising on the Israeli-Lebanese border after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated earlier on June 5th that Israel was “prepared for a very intense operation” in Lebanon.

“We are prepared for a very intense operation in the north. One way or another, we will restore security to the north” -Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

These statements came as the Prime Minister toured northern areas of Israel, where rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon started a number of fires in recent days that have burned thousands of acres of land, and fuelled calls for increased action against, or open conflict with, Hezbollah.

Escalating Clashes and Sharpening Rhetoric

Shortly following Hamas’ initial attack upon Israel on October 7th, Hezbollah and Israel have clashed on a nearly daily basis. Hezbollah has launched a myriad of rocket, mortar, and other attacks into areas of northern Israel, including Israeli military sites, and in turn Israel has launched air strikes, drone strikes, and artillery strikes against various areas of southern Lebanon, including Hezbollah launch sites and other Hezbollah military installations.

Lebanese soldiers stand on a hill overlooking the Israeli town of Metula as a man waves the Palestinian and Hezbollah flags at the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern village of Kafr Kila, Lebanon, on Oct. 9. (Photo from MOHAMMED ZAATARI/AP).

The clashes have displaced approximately 173,000 people, 93,000 in Lebanon and 80,000 in Israel (according to Human Rights Watch), as border regions have become no longer safe for civilians. Clashes have steadily increased in intensity and frequency, with several altercations taking place each day.

In total, Israeli strikes in Lebanon have killed 455 people over the course of the war. While the majority of these are fighters from Hezbollah, 88 of those killed were civilians. In contrast, Hezbollah’s attacks upon Israel have killed 14 Israeli soldiers, and 11 civilians.

Strikes have again grown in severity since Israel’s invasion of Rafah began on May 7th.

One such strike from Hezbollah took place on June 5th in northern Israel, where two Hezbollah drones injured 11 people.

After October 7th, Israel mobilized tens of thousands of reservists. A number of those mobilized were sent to the north, on the border with Lebanon, as it seemed unclear if Hezbollah would join in on the war. While action in Gaza has seized the attention of most, the possibility of a second front opening in the north has remained at the back of everyone’s minds.

However in recent days, as mentioned, Hezbollah’s rockets have created well over a dozen fires in areas of northern Israel, putting Lebanon and a second front at the forefront of everyone’s minds. While most of these areas were already evacuated due to the clashes between Israel and Hezbollah, the fires have spanned to over 3,500 acres, and hospitalized 11 people due to smoke inhalation.

A photo of some of the fires in northern Israel that were created by Hezbollah rocket fire on June 3rd, 2024 (Photo from Jalaa Marey/AFP).

The severity of the fires caused by Hezbollah has been met with calls by some prominent Israeli politicians to carry out a large operation against Hezbollah, including a potential ground invasion of Lebanon.

Ben Gvir, Israel’s Minister of National Security, stated on his Telegram “they burn us here, all Hezbollah strongholds must be burned, destroyed. War!” Gvir further added that “the IDF’s job is to destroy Hezbollah.”

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich expressed a similar sentiment, but even further went on to call for an Israeli occupation of areas in southern Lebanon.

“We must move the security strip from inside Israeli territory in the Galilee to southern Lebanon, including a ground invasion, occupation of the territory and distancing Hezbollah terrorists and hundreds of thousands of Lebanese among whom Hezbollah hides to the other side of the Litani river” -Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich

These words from Smotrich are notably akin to Israel’s previous occupation of areas of southern Lebanon, which began during their 1982 invasion of Lebanon and continued until 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon due to mounting casualties and decreased public support that resulted directly from attacks by Hezbollah.

Following this withdrawal, Israeli forces withdrew to behind what is called the ‘Blue Line’, which spans from the Israeli-Lebanese border demarcation, up to the Litani river that Smotrich mentioned in his statement. As per UN resolutions which created the blue line, the only military forces allowed within this zone are the Lebanese Armed Forces, and UNIFIL, the UN’s mission in Lebanon, meaning neither Hezbollah nor Israeli forces are permitted to be within these areas.

A photo of Ghanian peacekeepers of UNIFIL, the UN’s mission in Lebanon, securing the ‘Blue Line’ in southern Lebanon (Photo from UNIFIL).

Still, Hezbollah operatives within this area have fired towards Israel on a number of occasions, in violation of the resolution. An Israeli ground invasion, and subsequent occupation (assuming an Israeli victory in such a circumstance), would also be in violation of the UN’s resolution.

In addition, Herzl Halevi, the IDF’s Chief of the General Staff who was also visiting norther Israel, stated that Israel was “approaching the point where a decision will have to be made” on the conflict with Hezbollah, before adding that the IDF was “prepared and ready to move to an offensive.”

Israeli government spokesman David Mencer stated that the clashes were “not a sustainable reality,” adding that “it is up to Hezbollah to decide if this can be accomplished by diplomatic means or by force. We are defending this country and no one should be surprised by our response.”

On the other side, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, Sheikh Naim Qassem, has said that while they do not seek war, that “any Israeli expansion of the war on Lebanon will be met with devastation, destruction and displacement in Israel.”

“If Israel wants to fight an all-out war, we are ready for it” -Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General, Sheikh Naim Qassem

Hezbollah, upon announcing their strikes in Israel, announces them to be in “solidarity” with Gaza and Palestine.

Alleged Warnings of Attack

Notably, these statements from Israeli officials, most notably Netanyahu, come as Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar claimed that Lebanon had been warned by the UK, among other nations, of an Israeli attack upon Beirut that will take place in mid-June.

Al-Akhbar’s report described the threats as credible, and added that the UK had warned Lebanon to make necessary preparations for war.

“The most prominent messages came from the British side, which set a date for the Israeli strike in mid-June, with advice on the necessity of carrying out the necessary supply measures for the war, the extent of its expansion nor its duration of time will not be known” -An excerpt from Al-Akhbar’s report

Both the UK and Lebanon have denied such a warning, with a spokesperson of the UK Embassy in Lebanon stating that “we reject reports that the UK has suggested, let alone sent diplomatic message to Lebanese authorities that Israel will conduct military operations in June.” They further added that it was not the UK’s position to “comment on Israel’s military planning.”

“The UK continues to work towards de-escalating tensions between Israel and Lebanon. Our engagement with both sides is focused on generating the conditions for stability and security on the Blue Line. We are clear a conflict is not in anybody’s interest” -A Spokesperson of the UK’s Embassy in Lebanon

The office of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati also denied the existence of the warning.

“News and leaks are circulating about warnings received by the Prime Minister that the Israeli enemy may launch a wide-scale attack on Lebanon. These reports and leaks are unfounded, and they fall within the framework of the pressures being exerted on Lebanon” -An excerpt of a statement from Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office

The statement further stated that the Prime Minister was in “extensive diplomatic contacts” in an attempt to “halt the ongoing Israeli aggression on southern Lebanon.”

Al-Akhbar, while not directly espousing any political affiliation with Lebanese parties, has generally been perceived to be pro-March 8th Alliance, a political party coalition in Lebanon that is headed by Hezbollah. This is due to their general lack of criticism towards both Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary General.

In their report, Al-Akhbar did not name any sources directly, claiming the information to be from “prominent sources.”

Following the denial by both the UK and the Lebanese Prime Minister, Al-Akhbar published an acknowledgement of the denial. While they did not walk back the claims, they stated that a publication about the warnings does not mean they will be fulfilled, nor is it an acknowledgement of their credibility.

“It was necessary to clarify that Publishing warnings and threats that have not stopped since the start of the war, which include dates and times, does not mean in any way the inevitability of these threats being fulfilled, nor does publishing them constitute an acknowledgment of them and their sincerity, as they usually do not deviate from the framework of intimidation that the Israeli enemy has been practicing for eight months” -An excerpt from Al-Akhbar’s ‘clarification’ on the claims

With Al-Akhbar not providing their sourcing, it is difficult to determine any sense of validity from their claims, validity which is dampened by the denial of both the UK and Lebanon. Regardless, their report comes at a time when tension between Hezbollah and Israel is particularly heightened.

A Second Front: the Possibility and Feasibility of War

It is incredibly difficult to properly analyse whether or not Hezbollah and Israel will go to war. The last time Hezbollah and Israel went to war, in 2006, the war began due to a Hezbollah operation which kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, and killed several others. The war lasted 34 days, and killed well over 1,000 people, mostly Lebanese civilians.

The spontaneity with which the war began proves that a conflict could feasibly erupt at any moment, though the war did begin after several years of small clashes between Israel and Hezbollah.

That being said, this is not 2006.

Hezbollah’s strength has increased exponentially, with their rocket stockpiles having increased approximately tenfold and their arsenal of weaponry becoming more advanced, and further widened. Furthermore, Hezbollah has spent an extensive amount of time constructing a wide array of defensive infrastructure in Lebanon, a territory that is already favourable to defenders.

Hezbollah is considered to be the largest non-state military in the world, with rocket stockpiles ranging from 120,000-200,000. Further, Hezbollah has claimed to have 100,000 “trained fighters,” though the real number likely lies somewheres between 20-30,000 active fighters, with approximately 20,000 reservists.

A photo of a funeral procession in Lebanon for a Hezbollah fighter killed during clashes with Israel in Southern Lebanon, on November 6th, 2023 (Photo from AP/Hassan Ammar).

This, paired with their significantly higher level of training and legitimate combat experience, puts Hezbollah’s capabilities far above that of Hamas.

However, Israel has also increased its strength, and boasts some of the worlds most advanced weaponry, while maintaining significant advantages above Hezbollah, namely in air power.

Both Hezbollah and Israel have reason to go to war, and to avoid it at all costs.

Netanyahu is under increasing pressure to deal with the threat of Hezbollah, and has espoused promises to return security to the north and allow the return of those displaced, by force if necessary, particularly as deterrent strikes have been evidenced to not be working.

For Hezbollah, they have presented themselves as a resistance group, and have an unspoken obligation to intervene in what is taking place in Gaza. In addition to this, opposition to Israel, and the dismantling of the Israeli state, is core to Hezbollah’s ideological basis, and has been since their founding (which was in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982).

Yet any war between Hezbollah and Israel is set to be incredibly costly, both in lives and in damage to infrastructure, each nation’s economy, and more.

Part of Hezbollah’s military strategy in the event of a war against Israel is to maintain a steady stream of rocket fire against Israel.

On October 7th, Hamas and associated militant groups launched approximately 5,000 rockets into Israeli territory. In total, across the entire war, over 10,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza. This total, across eight months, is less than 10% of the low estimate of Hezbollah’s rocket capacity. Hezbollah’s strikes against Israel have proven to be damaging to infrastructure, and in some cases deadly, with the limited manner that they have been acting in.

Any war between Hezbollah and Israel would lead to a myriad of civilian casualties on both sides, and for the IDF would likely lead to far more casualties than they have suffered in Gaza, as Hezbollah is a better equipped, better trained, better prepared, and better motivated enemy.

Such a war would also be intensely costly for Hezbollah and, most notably, Lebanese civilians.

Hezbollah has engrained itself into certain aspects of Lebanese society, as well as into the Lebanese government. Their ability to exist within Lebanon does not come out of fear for their military strength, but rather high levels of support across Shiite Lebanese society, and in portions of the government.

As such, Hezbollah holds a responsibility to the people of Lebanon if it wishes to continue this permitted existence. A war with Israel, which would almost certainly lead to high casualties amongst the Lebanese civilian population, would likely tarnish this support.

For Israel, while the government holds a responsibility to its people and to holding security in the north, they are not blind to Hezbollah’s strength. When the two sides went to war in 2006, Hezbollah proved its operability, killing 121 Israeli soldiers in the span of just over a month. In contrast, just shy of 300 IDF soldiers have been killed since Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza began in October.

The extensive costs that would be incurred by such a conflict, which Hezbollah and Israel both are aware of, act as a massive deterrent for both sides to avoid a war.

In addition to this, international calls to avoid a regional expansion to the war add pressure to both Hezbollah and Israel to avoid any further escalations.

With all of these factors considered, it is again very difficult to properly assess if Israel and Hezbollah will go to war, though tensions are certainly rising.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.


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