Israel-Hamas War Live Updates: Latest News on Gaza and Hezbollah

As war rages on in Gaza, another battle has been raging in parallel along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon – a high-stakes game of tit-for-tat that has intensified in recent weeks, with an enemy much stronger.

To gauge the risk of an all-out war, President Biden sent one of his senior aides, Amos Hochstein, to Israel on Monday and to Lebanon on Tuesday to push for a diplomatic solution. deliver.

Unlike Hamas, the Palestinian militia fighting Israel in Gaza, Hezbollah has an army of battle-hardened fighters and the group possesses long-range, precision-guided missiles that can strike targets deep inside. in Israel.

Despite clear efforts on both sides to keep the cycle of strikes and counterstrikes from escalating into a full-blown war beyond the one raging in Gaza, civilians in Israel and Lebanon have been killed and more than 150,000 people were forced from their homes along it. border.

However, as the fighting in recent days has intensified, there are also fears that a miscalculation could plunge the sides into deeper conflict. Hezbollah has said it will not negotiate a ceasefire until Israel ends its military campaign in Gaza, which is likely to continue for weeks or months.

Smoke rose from Israel’s border with Lebanon during cross-border attacks between Hezbollah and Israel on Tuesday.Credit…Avi Ohhayon/Reuters

The armed militia is stronger and better

Israeli military officials have long predicted that highly trained gunmen could one day overrun their border, advancing on towns and military bases, as Hamas did on September 1. October 7. But they tend to look north, fearing Hezbollah’s elite fighters more than Israeli military forces. Palestinian armed groups are relatively weaker.

After the attack led by Hamas, the Israeli army began massing forces with convoys and helicopters to protect the northern border for fear that Hezbollah would take the opportunity to invade. The next day, Hezbollah began launching attacks in northern Israel in a show of solidarity, prompting Israel to counterattack in Lebanon.

Analysts say Hezbollah is much stronger today than it was in 2006, the last time the group fought a major war with Israel. That war, which lasted about five weeks, killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and more than 160 Israelis and displaced more than a million people. But they say a war between the two today could devastate both Israel and Lebanon.

Assaf Orion, a retired Israeli major general, said that during the 2006 war, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets, mainly toward northern Israel, within five weeks. He added that the group can now fire many similar missiles, including heavy missiles that cause serious damage, across Israel in just one day.

Brig. General Shlomo Brom, Israel’s former top military strategist, said the huge amount of ammunition in Hezbollah’s arsenal – especially its drone warehouse – could overwhelm its formidable air defense system. Israel’s strength in the event of a full-scale war. Hezbollah’s troops are also experienced fighters; many of them fought in Syria’s civil war on the side of the Assad regime, which is also backed by Iran.

“In an unrestricted war, there would be greater devastation both on the civilian home front and deeper inside Israel,” General Brom said. “They have the ability to target more or less anywhere in Israel and will target civilian targets, just like we will target southern Beirut,” he added, suggesting refers to capital districts known to be Hezbollah strongholds.

For Hezbollah, a major escalation is similarly relevant. Lebanon’s economy was in recession even before the current crisis, and many Lebanese have little desire for a repeat of the 2006 war. Furthermore, analysts say Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, could is not interested in escalating tensions but wants to deploy its proxy force at a more appropriate time.

Soldiers carry the coffin of Taleb Abdallah, a senior commander of Hezbollah, in Beirut last Wednesday, a day after he was killed in an Israeli attack in southern Lebanon.Credit…Wael Hamzeh/EPA, via Shutterstock

Last week, an Israeli strike killed senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Abdallah, prompting Hezbollah to step up attacks on Israel in retaliation. Over the next few days, Hezbollah fired hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel in coordinated attacks, injuring several soldiers and civilians.

“Both sides continuously challenge each other’s red lines. Right now it seems that neither side wants total war,” General Orion said.

“But you can easily stumble upon it, even if in principle it’s not what they want,” he added.

Despite the risks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has faced growing domestic pressure to intensify the country’s military campaign against Hezbollah. After the October 7 attack, Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense Minister, advocated a preemptive war in Lebanon but was overruled. On Tuesday, the Israeli military announced that top commanders had approved operational plans for a potential strike in Lebanon, without specifying when or whether the plans would be used. .

Tens of thousands of Israelis from northern border communities remain scattered across the country with no timeline for returning to their homes. And far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition have called for stronger action, including the creation of an Israeli-run “security zone” inside Lebanon.

Shlomi Madar, 58, was greeted by a deserted city when he visited his border hometown, Kiryat Shmona, on Tuesday. He has been living in a hotel in Tel Aviv for the past eight months, hoping to return home but not sure if he feels safe enough to do so.

“You can feel the tension in the air. It’s crazy,” said Mr. Madar, a bus driver. “We won’t be going back any time soon – who would want to go back? Who will trust it?”

According to statistics from the United Nations and the Israeli government, since October, more than 80 Lebanese civilians and 11 civilians in Israel have been killed in fighting. According to the group, about 300 Hezbollah fighters were killed, along with at least 17 Israeli soldiers, according to the Israeli government.

America’s diplomatic efforts

Mr. Hochstein, a senior adviser to President Biden, met with senior Lebanese officials in Beirut to push for a diplomatic solution on Tuesday, the day after the meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Israel has asked this group to withdraw its forces north of the Litani River in Lebanon, in accordance with regulations. resolution of the Security Council ended the 2006 war – a demand that Hezbollah is unlikely to meet. The resolution stipulates that only United Nations forces and the Lebanese Army will be allowed into the area, but both sides accuse the other of violations.

While in Beirut, Mr. Hochstein did not meet with leaders of Hezbollah, a group that the United States and European Union consider a terrorist organization. Instead, he met with members of the Lebanese government – including prime minister Najib Mikati – who have limited influence over Hezbollah.

Amos Hochstein, left, senior adviser to President Biden, with Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese National Assembly, in Beirut on Tuesday.Credit…Bilal Hussein/Associated Press

“The situation is very serious,” Mr. Hochstein told reporters in Beirut. “We have seen an escalation over the past few weeks and what President Biden wants to do is avoid further escalation into a larger war.”

For Lebanese civilians whose homes lie along the border, many of whom have been displaced by the violence, Mr. Hochstein’s visit offers only a faint glimmer of hope that the fighting may soon end.

“Every time we hear about these visits, we pack up to return,” said Taghrid Hassan, a teacher from the hinterland border community of Aitaroun, Lebanon, who now lives in the coastal city of Tyre. go home”. “Then our hope will vanish before these empty promises.”

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