01/11/2023 | 07:20
Dr. Athanasios E. Drougos
Since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel, US regional and international diplomats have tried and are trying to prevent Israel’s ongoing retaliation in Gaza from spreading and causing a regional and not just a “conflagration”. Whether their efforts will succeed remains to be seen, but the future and course of the war may well be determined by the Lebanese Shiite extremist organization Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s most powerful and proxy ally. For now, Hezbollah appears to be operating through artillery exchanges, the use of small arms, armed drone missions, as well as limited ground raids, aiming to engage a significant portion of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Israel’s northern border. Presumably, Hezbollah is counting on this to prevent a massive and sweeping Israeli ground offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Hezbollah has not (to date) moved to “unleash” its substantial Iranian-supplied arsenal (up to 150,000 rockets and missiles, many of which are upgraded with precision-guidance capabilities, targeting Israeli cities). Nor did Hezbollah’s religious and political leaders order their hardened and elite forces (eg RADWAN), armed for eleven years and fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria, to launch a major ground invasion of the communities and border cities of Northern Israel.
However, there have been some escalating attacks. E.g. 4 days ago a Hezbollah rocket penetrated through Israel’s “Iron Dome” and hit a building in Kiryat Shimona in Northern Israel. A full-scale attack by Hezbollah would undoubtedly affect the course of the conflict by leading the IDF to fight on two fronts at once. Hezbollah has the ability to inflict critical hits on Israeli missile defenses, including Iron Dome, to a far greater extent than Hamas.
Iran has been able to put pressure on Israel (and the United States) by advertising its “sponsorship” to a broad “axis of resistance,” consisting of a variety of armed factions on Israel’s borders, as well as elsewhere in the wider region. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are key pillars of the axis of resistance, and the loss of Hamas would represent a setback for both Iran and Hezbollah. Additionally, a decision by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to stay out of the fighting would call into question Hezbollah’s identity as a “resistance movement” against Israel (an identity forged when Hezbollah’s founders fought Israel’s invasion in Lebanon in 1982). The claim that it represents Lebanon’s resistance to Israel serves as a justification for maintaining an independent Militia as a recognized “exception” to the Saudi-brokered Taif Accords of 1989, which called for the disbandment of all other Militias in Lebanon.
They calculate the threats from the US
On October 23, on the 50th anniversary of Hezbollah’s suicide attack on US Marine barracks in Beirut, Nasrallah met with senior leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). According to a Hezbollah statement, the three “agreed on the next steps” they, along with other Iranian-backed fighters, should take at this “sensitive stage” in the Middle East. But Hezbollah did not specify what steps the three had agreed to take, suggesting the movement did not want to issue threats it had no intention of carrying out.
Hezbollah leaders are taking seriously US warnings—backed by additional deployments of US aircraft carrier strike groups, troops, air defense forces and fighter jets—that “anti-Israeli actors in the region should not seek to expand the conflict. A battle with the Israeli military would destroy much of Hezbollah’s military infrastructure, while a battle with the United States—if it happened—could well prevent Hezbollah from remaining a major force in Lebanon and the region for the foreseeable future.
He has no support from the Shiites
Hezbollah also “suffers” from political challenges that do not necessarily apply to Hamas. Within Lebanon, Hezbollah has become the main representative of the Shia Muslim community, which contributes to a pluralism but is not the majority of the Lebanese population.
In the Shia community, many reject Hezbollah as their representative because of its close relationship with Iran, which is non-Arab.
During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, many Lebanese opposed Hezbollah’s action—without a vote of the Lebanese Parliament or authorization from the president or prime minister—to wage war with Israel, which resulted in widespread destruction of infrastructure. and Lebanon’s economic capacity.
IN THE GAZA STRIP
The battles are expanding in the underground tunnels
A ground operation by Israeli forces has now expanded into the underground tunnels of the Gaza Strip, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects calls for a ceasefire amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Tel Aviv announced yesterday that its forces attacked Hamas militants inside the Palestinian enclave’s labyrinthine complex of tunnels, which is considered key to the development of the conflict.
Some of the 240 hostages, according to the latest count, who were kidnapped during the bloody October 7 attack in southern Israel are also believed to be held there.
Nasem Abu Ajina, one of the “masterminds” of the massacres in the kibbutzim, was killed yesterday during the aerial bombardments that have continued uninterrupted for the 4th week.
The blood toll among Palestinian civilians, however, is many times greater. Over 8,000 dead, including approximately 3,500 children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
A child loses his life almost every 10 minutes, as long as the Israel-Hamas conflict lasts, points out the NGO Save The Children. This is a higher number than the total losses among children in war zones on an annual basis from 2019 to date.
Survivors among the 2 million trapped in the enclave are struggling to survive in “inhumane conditions”, UNICEF said in a statement yesterday, as humanitarian aid continues to trickle in.
The Israeli leader, however, insists that the time has not come for a truce, otherwise the wrong message of “surrender to terrorism” will be sent. It is still time for the war to destroy Hamas, he says, comparing the conflict to the Allies’ fight against Nazism in World War II.
“And the RAF in Copenhagen in 1944, instead of the Gestapo headquarters, accidentally bombed a school with 125 dead… No one told the Allies don’t wipe out Nazism,” Netanyahu said yesterday, trying to fend off criticism of the heavy death toll among of civilians.
Israel does not seem to have managed to convince European capitals for the time being and for the plan of “temporary accommodation” of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip in Egypt. At the last EU Summit, Austria and the Czech Republic floated the idea of lobbying Cairo, but Paris and Berlin rejected it, according to a report in the Financial Times.
At the same time, it will be difficult to convince the moderates of the Palestinian Authority to cooperate the day after the elimination of Hamas for the management of Gaza, when in the West Bank they are also counting dead and wounded from Israeli attacks for a month and economic strangulation is also being discussed.
On the home front, cheers for the release of a young hostage during an operation in Gaza yesterday were drowned out by calls for a hostage exchange with the 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. The former head of Israel’s National Security Council, Giorah Eiland, and the newspaper “Haaretz” joined the dance of the abductees’ relatives who have camped outside the Ministry of Defense with this request.
ISRAEL’S AMBASSADOR TO THE UN
Light it on fire “yellow star”
With a yellow star on his lapel, Israel’s envoy to the Organization, Gilad Erdan, chose to intervene in the UN Security Council yesterday, but the move probably backfired.
Trying to symbolically parallel the Nazi atrocity with today’s war against Hamas, he pinned on the star that Jews were required to wear before the Holocaust and declared that he and the entire delegation would wear it until “the sleeping Council wakes up and condemn the atrocities of Hamas”.
“Some of you haven’t learned a thing in the last 80 years. You have forgotten why this House was established,” Erdan said, criticizing the failure of the divided Council to pass a resolution on October 7.
However, among the first to react to the Erdan show was the head of the museum-memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem. “It’s a shame for the Holocaust victims and Israel,” said Danny Dayan.
“The yellow star symbolized the inability of the Jews to defend themselves. Today we have an independent country and a strong army. We are masters of our destiny. Today we place a blue and white flag on the lapel, not a yellow patch,” he commented.
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