Australia/Israel Review

Editorial: After Hamas, Hezbollah?

Jul 2, 2024 | Colin Rubenstein

Smoke and fire cover the area near Kiryat Shmona, Israel, close to its border with Lebanon, on June 3, 2024, following rocket attacks from Lebanon (Image: Reuters/Ayal Margolin)
Smoke and fire cover the area near Kiryat Shmona, Israel, close to its border with Lebanon, on June 3, 2024, following rocket attacks from Lebanon (Image: Reuters/Ayal Margolin)

The Israel Defence Forces are currently completing their highly targeted operations to dismantle Hamas’ last remaining organised battalions in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. However, some 200 kilometres north, the low-intensity war between Israel and another Iranian terror proxy, Hezbollah, that’s been bubbling away for nearly nine months along Israel’s border, appears to be approaching a moment of decision. 

Hezbollah’s unprovoked daily rocket, drone, and anti-tank missile attacks began on October 8, 2023 – the day after Hamas invaded southern Israel and massacred more than 1,100 people and took more than 200 hostages. Hezbollah openly says it is attacking Israel daily out of solidarity with Hamas, and as part of a multi-front war against Israel’s existence by the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” – aided by attacks on Israel from Iran’s other proxies, like Yemen’s Houthis and Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, as well as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Approximately 70,000 Israelis living in communities within a few kilometres of the northern border had no choice but to quickly evacuate after October 7, and still cannot go home. Their houses and fields in places like historic Metulla, or the working-class city of Kiryat Shmona, have been ravaged by missile fire and the bushfires such attacks often ignite. 

In recent weeks, Hezbollah has escalated further, upping the rate of missile fire into Israel from an average of 12 per day in April and 20 per day in May, to 44 per day from June 1 through 20. Recent attacks have also been hitting cities ever further inside Israel, affecting the ancient cities of Safed and Akko.

October 7 collapsed the Israeli security conceptzia that the Jewish state’s enemies could be deterred from initiating wars by demonstrating Israel’s superior firepower, and thus the build-up of ever more frightening military capabilities along Israel’s border could be tolerated. 

Today, displaced northern Israelis have understandably sent an unequivocal message to Jerusalem that any return to the pre-war status quo on the border – which in recent years has meant brazen Hezbollah activity right up to the internationally-recognised “Blue Line” in blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war – is inconceivable. They cannot return to their homes and fields in safety with Hezbollah on the border surveilling their every move, looking to harass constantly, while preparing their own October 7 for whenever their masters in Teheran think such a move would be advantageous. 

Essentially, a large depopulated security zone has been carved out of Israel’s tiny territory by Iranian aggression – an untenable situation that no country in the world could accept. 

The US approach is to seek to broker an agreement to finally implement the broken promises of Resolution 1701, pushing Hezbollah forces north of the Litani River, some 20km from the border. However, not only is reaching such an agreement looking doubtful, such a deal also proved not to be worth the paper it was written on after 2006. UN forces were unable to even monitor Hezbollah’s moves into the border region, much less prevent them, so this time enforcement arrangements would have to be more robust.

Yet the only other choice appears to be an IDF ground offensive to physically push Hezbollah north of the Litani and vastly degrade its military capabilities. But Israeli military analysts estimate Hezbollah to be roughly ten times more powerful, better trained and better armed than Hamas. 

Such a war would almost certainly see all of Israel’s home front and vital infrastructure rocked by lethal air barrages the likes of which it has never seen before, while the IDF also takes huge losses. Israeli anti-missile defences are the world’s best, but there simply aren’t enough interceptors to thwart an arsenal the size of Hezbollah’s.

On the Lebanese side, the country’s infrastructure – already on the verge of collapse from decades of mismanagement – will likewise be in the crosshairs, especially since Hezbollah has turned numerous civilian villages into vast missile storage and launching sites. 

This is why Israel is rightfully giving diplomacy every chance to work, and US Special Middle East Envoy Amos Hochstein has been feverishly trying to find a diplomatic solution through Lebanese intermediaries. 

To increase the chances of this happening, Israel has recently announced it has all its plans for war with Hezbollah prepared if necessary, while the US is telling Hezbollah it cannot restrain Israel if the current attacks continue and there is no agreement. 

These are signals which reflect the reality that the only way to stop the rush to another bloody war is to convince Hezbollah to agree to retreat in order to retain the capabilities it has built up over decades. 

However, if a new war even more devastating than the current one in Gaza is indeed to be avoided, a new policy toward Iran urgently needs to be part of the mix. Hezbollah is Iran’s most important and most formidable proxy. It is a central part of Iran’s theologically driven strategy of surrounding Israel with fanatical terrorist groups, arming them to the teeth with missiles and drones and seeking to use constant attrition to cause Israel’s gradual collapse and destruction. 

The Hezbollah danger, and the likelihood of war, cannot be addressed without factoring in the reality that Teheran currently feels less constrained than ever. Yet, as Bret Stephens notes in this edition, the US Biden Administration today appears to have no real Iran policy at all, after its plans to restore the woefully inadequate 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal floundered in the face of Iranian rejection. The Administration occasionally imposes sanctions on Iranian bad actors, but is staunchly refusing to actually enforce the serious energy sanctions that remain on the books. The result is the Iranian regime is illegally selling vast amounts of oil, mostly to China, while illegally arming Russia in its war on Ukraine – and also rushing toward full nuclear weapons capabilities. Iran’s leaders are feeling very confident both economically and diplomatically – and are thus likely to urge Hezbollah to stand its ground. 

Avoiding a bloody war in Lebanon in the short term by convincing Hezbollah to accept a deal, and eventually neutralising the Hezbollah threat in the longer term, require policies that actually curtail the Iranian regime’s growing wealth and feelings of confidence. Without such policies, the chances to avoid an Israel-Hezbollah war, or indeed to increase Middle East stability or move towards Israeli-Palestinian peace, appear slim.


This placard expresses the ultimate purpose of the anti-Zionist movement – a world without the collective Jew (Image: X/Twitter)

Essay: The Placard Strategy

Jul 4, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
A far-right graphic makes caricatured Jews responsible for everything the far-right hates

Deconstruction Zone: The conspiracy trap

Jul 4, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
The “encampment” at the University of Sydney (Image: X/Twitter)

The Last Word: What is a university?

Jul 4, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah: Threatening not only Cyprus but all maritime activity in the Eastern Mediterranean (Image: X/Twitter)

Cyprus and the Hezbollah maritime threat

Jul 4, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
IDF Lt. Col. Dotan Razili, a home front brigade commander, guarding the evacuated northern community of Kibbutz Eilon (Image: Charlotte Lawson)

On the frontlines in Israel’s north

Jul 4, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens speaking to AIJAC in Melbourne: “There will never be any long-term peace in the region as long as the Islamic Republic rules Persia”

Bret Stephens on Israel’s War for Survival

Jul 4, 2024 | Australia/Israel Review