Why the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has not sparked a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon — so far

Lebanon has witnessed pro-Palestine rallies organized by Hezbollah since the launch of the Israeli war on Hamas in Gaza on Oct. 7. (AN photo/ Marwan Tahtah)
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Updated 21 November 2023

Why the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has not sparked a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon — so far

  • Exchange of fire among the heaviest since war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006
  • Analysts say Biden administration’s strategy for preventing a regional war is working, at least for now

DUBAI: The latest spike in border violence between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel has prompted concern that the war in Gaza could still ignite a broader conflict in the Middle East.

On Saturday, Israel reportedly struck an aluminum factory in southern Lebanon some 15 km from the border, while Hezbollah claimed to have shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone and launched five other attacks.

These recent exchanges of fire were among the heaviest since the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, which left the Beirut government with a colossal reconstruction bill and entrenched the Iran-backed militia in the country’s fabric.

Hezbollah members inspect the wreckage of a vehicle in which civilians were killed during an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel, on Nov. 6, 2023. AFP

Black smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of Aita al-Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel, in south Lebanon, on Nov. 4, 2023. AFP

“It’s very clear right now that Hezbollah and Iran both have a preference to avoid a larger direct confrontation with Israel,” Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News.

“They are instead sort of managing what can be referred to as ‘gray zone warfare,’ short of a complete ceasefire or stalemate, but also short of a full-on war.”

This is something Iran and Hezbollah, with their paramilitary allies across the region, excel in, according to Maksad.

“They have the ability to dial this up or dial it down depending on the circumstance and what the situation in Gaza is, but it is not a full-on war,” he said.

“One of the main reasons for that is that Hezbollah is the single largest investment Iran has made outside of its borders.”

That investment has seen Hezbollah attacking Israeli troops since Oct. 8, a day after Hamas attacked Israeli towns killing 1,200 people and taking another 230 Israelis and foreigners hostage, according to Israel.

Israel fought a five-week war with Hezbollah in 2006 after the group’s fighters kidnapped two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid.

The conflict left an estimated 1,200 Lebanese and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, dead; displaced 4.5 million Lebanese civilians; and caused damage to civil infrastructure in Lebanon totaling $2.8 billion.

UN Resolution 1701, which was intended to resolve the 2006 conflict, bars Israel from conducting military operations in Lebanon, but Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah of violating the resolution by smuggling arms into southern Lebanon.


• 90 People killed on the Lebanese side in cross-border hostilities since last month, at least 10 of them civilians.

• 9 People killed on the Israeli side, including six soldiers and three civilians, according to authorities there.

• 1,200 Number of Lebanese, mainly civilians, killed during the 2006 war with Israel.


“Hezbollah is the first line for deterrence and defense for the Iranian regime and its nuclear program if Israel decides to strike, and it is not going to waste that to try and save Hamas,” Maksad said.

While tensions along the Blue Line (policed by a UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL) separating Lebanon and Israel have not escalated beyond sporadic exchanges of fire, any miscalculation could potentially spark a regional conflict between Israel and Iran’s proxies.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has said “all options are open” but stopped short of declaring war. In Maksad’s opinion, it all indicates a clear preference from the relevant parties to avoid regional escalation.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Lebanese political analyst told Arab News: “The Americans, playing the role of mediator, don’t want a war, especially in a re-election year. The Gulf states are focused on economic growth and the price of oil, and so don’t want one. Neither does Iran or its proxies.”

Buttressing this impression, Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, has publicly stated several times that Iran does not want the Israel-Hamas war to spread.

“Iran achieved most of its objectives, such as disrupting Israel-Saudi diplomatic normalization and shattering the myth of Israel’s invulnerability, on Oct. 7,” Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at Arab Gulf States Institute, told Arab News via email.

“Hezbollah’s small provocations against Israel serve the purpose of complicating the calculations of the Israel Defense Forces, but as apparent in the Lebanese militia’s low fatalities in Lebanon and Syria since Oct. 7 (only 72 according to my database), Iran has no interest in sacrificing Hezbollah for the sake of the more expendable Hamas.”

Sought after or not, fighting continues to erupt on multiple fronts. This has included the hijacking of an Israeli-linked cargo ship and its more than two dozen crew members on Nov. 19 by Yemen’s Houthis, another Iranian proxy. Per reports, the militia claimed the ship was targeted over its connection to Israel.

Furthermore, American forces in Iraq and Syria have been subjected to 61 attacks by Iranian-backed militants since Oct. 17, according to the Pentagon.

A car belonging to Qatar's Al-Jazeera media network burns after it was hit by Israeli shelling in the Alma al-Shaab border village with Israel, in south Lebanon, on Oct. 13, 2023. AFP

Keen to walk a tight line, the US has struck back just three times, but it has bolstered its regional military presence. In late October, it deployed 2,000 non-combat US troops, two aircraft carriers with around 7,500 personnel on each, two guided-missile destroyers, and nine air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea region as a deterrent force.

Some are asking how long the US can afford to keep its aircraft carrier strike forces and nuclear submarines in the Middle East to deter a regional war while at the same time supporting the war in Ukraine.

“I do not believe there is a clear time limit,” Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States in Washington, told Arab News by email. “These aircraft carrier strike groups are designed to be at sea for long periods of time. I think they can stay there for a tremendously long time.”

The consensus view of these analysts seems to be that the Biden administration’s strategy for preventing a regional war is working, at least for now.

A shell that appears to be white phosphorus from Israeli artillery explodes over a house in al-Bustan, a Lebanese border village with Israel, in south Lebanon, on Oct. 15, 2023. AFP

“American efforts at deterrence have worked,” Maksad said. “Whether it is (via) the aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean or in the Gulf or the quiet diplomacy via messages that have been sent to Iran via various interlocutors warning of the consequences that America would very much get involved if the war spreads.”

He believes all the above elements have yielded a result and are managing the fighting so that it remains short of an all-out war or confrontation.

But what would change that equation? For one, might Israel turn toward Lebanon after settling scores with Hamas?

“Lebanon has dodged a bullet — so far,” said Maksad.

But a miscalculation could see Lebanon dragged into a larger war. In 2006, neither Hezbollah nor Israel wanted a war, but they ended up fighting for 34 days. And there is also a risk on the Israeli side, which has made it clear that it would not spare Lebanon were Hezbollah to join the war.

“What we are doing in Gaza, we can do in Beirut,” Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said on Nov. 11 in a warning to Hezbollah against escalating the violence along the border.

Gallant has reportedly shared with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken his desire to strike Hezbollah preemptively, but he has evidently been overruled by his Israeli colleagues.

If Hezbollah were to join the war, said Ibish, while Israel might be “badly hit with tens of thousands of casualties at a minimum,” Lebanon would be “utterly decimated and set back in generational terms.”

One turning point that could see Hezbollah dragged into the fighting would be Hamas’ impending destruction as a military organization.

“Hezbollah would then have a tough choice to make: whether to sit back and watch the Palestinian leg of the alliance being dismantled or try and throw in their lot in an effort to save them,” said Maksad. “I think that they wouldn’t. They would stick to the sidelines.”

Were Hezbollah to be sucked into the conflict more fully, though, the result would be devastating.

“What Hamas did on Oct. 7 is kindergarten stuff compared to what Hezbollah can do if it were to get involved more fully and it can at any time, but it doesn’t want to,” a Lebanese political analyst based in the country’s south told Arab News.

“Hezbollah’s job is to be a deterrent. Occupied Palestine wants to set a trap for Hezbollah to fall into. Hezbollah hasn’t fallen for it yet.”

Still, according to Ibish, an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied Jerusalem could see Hezbollah dragged in.

Hezbollah members inspect the wreckage of a vehicle in which civilians were killed during an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel, on Nov. 6, 2023. AFP

“That would be a different story, but if the war remains contained to Gaza, I think Hezbollah will be able to stay out of it,” he said.

“Indeed, one of the few things that all four actors who had the ability to make this a regional war — Israel, Iran, the US and Hezbollah — could agree upon from Oct. 7 is that this war must not spread to include Hezbollah or anything of the kind.

“That is the main reason why it has not spread and why it probably will not spread.”

This then leaves the actions of third parties — such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions — operating inside Lebanon.

“Small groups might attack Israel with rockets or some such and have a ‘lucky strike,’ going further into Israel, well beyond the tacitly agreed upon one mile in each direction radius for contained skirmishing, and killing a significant group of Israeli soldiers, for example, 25 or more,” said Ibish.

“If that (were to) happen, Israel might retaliate with a great deal of force, unsure if Hezbollah was involved or it tacitly tolerated the action and needed to be blamed. Once rockets are flying and paranoia begins to set in, it is very common for armed foes to begin to misrecognize and misread each other’s intentions and actions. It can easily degenerate into a conflict that nobody wants.”

As if predicting a storm gathering on the horizon but whose course is still uncertain, the anonymous Lebanese political analyst said: “You can visit Beirut before the end of the year. I am sure there won’t be a war before then.”

Iran says it sent a capsule with animals into orbit as it prepares for human missions

Updated 22 sec ago

Iran says it sent a capsule with animals into orbit as it prepares for human missions

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran said Wednesday it sent a capsule into orbit carrying animals as it prepares for human missions in coming years.
A report by the official IRNA news agency quoted Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour as saying the capsule was launched 130 kilometers (80 miles) into orbit.
Zarepour said the launch of the 500-kilogram (1,000-pound) capsule is aimed at sending Iranian astronauts to space in coming years. He did not say what kind of animals were in the capsule.
State TV showed footage of a rocket named Salman carrying the capsule into space.
Iran occasionally announces successful launches of satellites and other space crafts. In September, Iran said it sent a data-collecting satellite into space. In 2013, Iran said it sent a monkey into space and returned it successfully.
It says its satellite program is for scientific research and other civilian applications. The US and other Western countries have long been suspicious of the program because the same technology can be used to develop long-range missiles.

Iran Revolutionary Guards seize two vessels smuggling 4.5 million liters of fuel — Tasnim

Updated 06 December 2023

Iran Revolutionary Guards seize two vessels smuggling 4.5 million liters of fuel — Tasnim

DUBAI: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Navy have seized two vessels smuggling 4.5 million liters of fuel, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Wednesday.
Tasnim said 34 foreign crew have been detained by the Guards in the operation.
Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the plunge in the value of its national currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighboring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.

Israel reviewing strike that harmed Lebanese troops, army says

Updated 06 December 2023

Israel reviewing strike that harmed Lebanese troops, army says

  • Lebanese army say the soldier, a sergeant, was killed when an army position was shelled by Israel on Tuesday

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army said on Wednesday it was reviewing a strike that harmed Lebanese troops in south Lebanon, an apparent reference to Israeli shelling that killed a Lebanese soldier and wounded three others the previous day.
“The Lebanese Armed Forces were not the target of the strike. The IDF expresses regret over the incident. The incident is under review,” the Israeli military said in a statement.
Israel and the heavily armed Lebanese group Hezbollah have been exchanging fire across the Lebanese-Israeli border since the start of the war between the Palestinian group Hamas and Israel on Oct. 7.
The Lebanese army said the soldier, a sergeant, was killed when an army position was shelled by Israel on Tuesday.
The Israeli army said its soldiers had acted in “self defense to eliminate an imminent threat that had been identified from Lebanon” from a “known launch area and observation point” used by Hezbollah.
The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon UNIFIL noted in a statement on Tuesday it was the first Lebanese army soldier killed during the hostilities, and that the Lebanese army had not engaged in conflict with Israel.

The Gaza Strip: Tiny, cramped and as densely populated as London

Updated 06 December 2023

The Gaza Strip: Tiny, cramped and as densely populated as London

  • Gaza has a population density of about 5,500 per square kilometer

GAZA: The war between Israel and Hamas has seen fierce Israeli bombardment that has flattened broad swaths of the Gaza Strip. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
And all that is happening in a tiny, densely populated coastal enclave.
Gaza is tucked among Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The strip is 25 miles (40 kilometers) long by some 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide. It has 2.3 million people living in an area of 139 square miles (360 square kilometers), according to the CIA Factbook.
That’s about the same land size as Detroit, a city that has a population of 620,000, according to the US Census Bureau. It’s about twice the size of Washington and 3½ times the size of Paris.
Gaza has a population density of about 14,000 people per square mile (5,500 per square kilometer). That’s about the same as London, a city brimming with high-rise buildings, but also many parks. Gaza has few open spaces, especially in its cities, due to lack of planning and urban sprawl.
Gaza’s density is even tighter in its urban cores like Gaza City or Khan Younis, where tens of thousands are packed into cramped neighborhoods and where density rates become more comparable to certain cities in highly populated Asia.
An Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the Hamas militant group seized power in 2007, has greatly restricted movement in and out of Gaza, adding to the sense of overcrowding.


‘Living dead’: Tunisian villages suffer drought, climate change

Updated 06 December 2023

‘Living dead’: Tunisian villages suffer drought, climate change

  • About 300,000 of Tunisia’s 12 million people have no drinking water in their homes, according to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights

OULED OMAR, Tunisia: Tunisian villager Ounissa Mazhoud ties two empty jerry cans to a donkey and cautiously descends a stony hill toward the last local source of water.
The North African country, in its fourth year of drought, is grappling with its worst water scarcity in years.
Mazhoud — like other women in the remote village of Ouled Omar, 180 kilometers (110 miles) southwest of the capital Tunis — wakes up every morning with one thing on her mind: finding water.
“We are the living dead ... forgotten by everyone,” said Mazhoud, 57, whose region was once one of Tunisia’s most fertile, known for its wheat fields and Aleppo pines.
“We have no roads, no water, no aid, no decent housing, and we own nothing,” she said, adding that the closest source of water is a river about an hour’s arduous walk away.
Providing water for their families, she said, means that “our backs, heads and knees hurt, because we labor from dawn to dusk.”

The World Bank predicts that by 2030 the Middle East and North Africa region will fall below the “absolute water scarcity” threshold of 500 cubic meters yearly per person.
Tunisia, already the 33rd most water-stressed country according to the World Resources Institute, has dropped to 450 cubic meters per inhabitant.
Its dams — the primary source for drinking water and irrigating crops — are filled at just 22 percent capacity, despite brief showers recently, according to official figures.
Some 20 dams have already gone out of service, mostly in the most arid south.
Last spring, Tunisian authorities introduced water rationing to limit household use even in major cities.
But in remote villages, where water scarcity impacts crucial farming and livestock, the issue takes on even greater weight.
Ounissa’s 65-year-old husband, Mahmoud Mazhoud, said their village has become unable to support livestock, forcing him to sell half of his cow herd so he could afford to keep the rest alive.
Ouled Omar is home to 22 families who share the only remaining spring.
They say it yields only about 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of water per day in total, but that it is undrinkable.

Ramzi Sebtaoui, a stockbreeder in his thirties, brings water to his family every day by driving to the closest source, some 20 kilometers away in the city of Maktar.
“Two or three years ago, the situation was much better, with many natural sources of water that we could use for livestock,” he said.
“Today, due to climate change and other factors, almost all sources have dried up, and the roads are destroyed.”
Last week, Ouled Omar residents traveled almost 50 kilometers to the city of Siliana to protest outside governorate offices, demanding a paved road and access to clean water.
“They don’t have a source of drinking water, not even taps,” Houda Mazhoud, a researcher who has been advocating for Ouled Omar’s access to clean water for years, told AFP.
“As a result, they use a natural source. But with climate change, it’s starting to disappear.”

The only road that leads to the village is decrepit and hasn’t been paved in decades, and residents say this only deepens their sense of isolation.
Some villagers have felt pushed to move to urban areas or abroad.
About 300,000 of Tunisia’s 12 million people have no drinking water in their homes, according to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.
Ounissa’s cousin, Djamila Mazhoud, 60, said her son and two daughters had all left in search of better lives.
“We educated our children so that when we grow old, they take care of us, but they couldn’t,” she said.
“People are either unemployed or eaten by the fish in the sea,” she added, using a common phrase for migrants who attempt the dangerous sea voyages for Europe.
Entire families have already left the village, said Djamila.
“Their houses remain empty,” she said, explaining that elderly people feel they have no choice but to follow their sons and daughters.
“Can an 80-year-old go to the river to get water?“