Israel-Hamas Conflict Spills Over: A Look at Lebanon-Israel Border Escalation

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Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Clashes along the Lebanon-Israel border have steadily escalated. In recent days, Israel has attacked more profoundly into Lebanon with a series of airstrikes that have targeted Hezbollah fighters, some of them senior officers, and several Lebanese civilians.

On February 19, Israel launched airstrikes against two warehouses in Ghaziyeh, just south of Sidon and some 50 kilometers north of the border. Israel stated they were Hezbollah arms stations and that the strikes came in reaction to an apparent suicide drone that crashed and blasted earlier in the day near Tiberias, some 28 kilometers south of the border. If Hezbollah sent the drone from Lebanon, it would have been the most profound attack on Israel since the clashes began along the Lebanon-Israel border on October 8, 2023, a day after Hamas launched its devastating attack on Israeli communities and military bases bordering the Gaza Strip. Lebanese media reports stated that the targets in Ghaziyeh were a cement factory and an oil production plant.

On February 14, an Israeli soldier died, and eight others were injured when rockets were fired from south Lebanon and smashed Safed and the surrounding area. Safed is home to the command of the Israeli military’s Northern Command and has been targeted before by Hezbollah. In reaction, Israeli jets carried out attacks deeper than usual into south Lebanon, which left a mother and two children dead in the village of Sawwaneh and killed at least five members of a family when their house was partially demolished in the town of Nabatiyeh. 

Almost 268 Lebanese, most of them Hezbollah fighters, have been killed since clashes broke out more than four months ago. Ten soldiers and six civilians have been killed on the Israeli side. Tens of thousands of Lebanese and Israeli civilians have escaped the fighting.

Hezbollah threw its campaign under the rubric of offering “support to the Palestinian people and the resistance in Gaza” and declared its actions are directly tied to the Gaza conflict.

“When the war on Gaza ends, we will stop our offensive,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah stated on February 13. “If the enemy resumes its hostilities, we will act in light of the rules and formulas.”

Despite the intensifying brutality of recent weeks, the battle between Hezbollah and the Israeli military still falls well short of achieving a threshold that could precipitate war. Hezbollah’s actions indicate that it and its patron, Iran, have no desire for a full-scale war with Israel. In general, Hezbollah is in a reactive mode, escalating only in reaction to an increase in the tempo of Israeli attacks or when there are Lebanese civilian casualties.

Mostly, Hezbollah’s invasions—averaging around five or six a day, considering Hezbollah’s daily statements—have become common. Hezbollah’s targets are mostly Israeli border posts. Hezbollah primarily operates anti-tank weapons, most of them legacy strategies, including 106-millimeter recoilless rifles and wire-guided AT-3 Sagger missiles, both of which date back to the 1960s. Even the more contemporary AT-14 Spriggan is a second-generation model dating back to 2006. Hezbollah units are vulnerable to Israeli drones prowling overhead in the skies of the south Lebanon border district. Hezbollah faced comparatively heavy casualties in the opening weeks of the conflict. 

Israel does not desire a war with Hezbollah, an enemy far more challenging than Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But it has steadily escalated its aggression against Hezbollah in frequency, range of targets, and depth into Lebanon. At the commencement of the conflict in October 2023, Israeli artillery and air power were employed to retaliate for Hezbollah attacks along the border. Now, the day often starts with Israeli preemptive shelling and air attacks against areas from which Hezbollah mounts attacks. 

The strip along the border between 1–3 kilometers has become an Israeli free-fire zone, residents and officers fitting with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a peacekeeping mission, have told. Most residents of Lebanese border communities have moved north, leaving behind only Hezbollah fighters and a few civilians who have nowhere else to go.

The Israeli administration is under pressure from some eighty thousand residents of northern Israel who have evacuated their residences and are refusing to return unless Hezbollah is moved away from the border. There is no possible military solution for dealing with Hezbollah beyond gaining a temporary tactical setback. Israel could opt for a narrow ground conflict restricted to the area south of the Litani River to eliminate as much Hezbollah infrastructure and kill as many fighters as possible. 

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