The ongoing conflict in the Middle East has reached a critical juncture, as Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, takes center stage in the escalating tensions. In the wake of an unprecedented cross-border attack by Hamas on October 7th, Israel and Hezbollah have engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange, raising concerns about the potential for a larger conflagration.
The situation intensified on Thursday when Israel responded with a broad assault following Hezbollah’s simultaneous attack on 19 Israeli positions. Rockets also struck the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the border, claimed by the Lebanese section of Hamas’s armed wing. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has warned that the region is a “powder keg,” and the situation could spiral out of control if Israel continues to target Gaza.
The international community is closely monitoring the situation, with US President Joe Biden dispatching two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean and urging Hezbollah and others to stay out of the conflict. “We’ve got significant national security interests at play here,” emphasized US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. However, the decision on Hezbollah’s involvement may ultimately lie with Iran, a key player in the regional “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes groups from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s upcoming speech is highly anticipated and could have far-reaching implications for the region. Scheduled for Friday at 3:00 pm in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the speech will be broadcast in memory of fighters killed in Israeli bombardments. The conflict has already taken a toll, with over 70 casualties on the Lebanese side and nine in Israel, including soldiers and civilians.
Hezbollah’s role in the conflict has raised questions about its intentions. Some experts argue that Hezbollah may be hesitant to fully engage in a conflict that could potentially devastate Lebanon. However, Amal Saad, a Hezbollah expert at Cardiff University, emphasized that Hezbollah is not a mere proxy of Iran but an ally, capable of making independent decisions.
Thus far, Hezbollah has primarily targeted Israeli observation posts, military positions, and vehicles near the border, using advanced weaponry. In response, Israel has conducted airstrikes along the border and deployed drones to target Hezbollah fighters.
The current border tensions evoke memories of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, which resulted in significant casualties in both Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has significantly bolstered its arsenal since then, leading to concerns that its involvement could further escalate the conflict.
As the region watches and waits, the outcome of Nasrallah’s speech will hold the key to the direction this crisis takes. Lebanon is at a critical crossroads, and the decision to escalate the conflict will have profound consequences for the country and the entire Middle East. While some hope for decisive action against Israel, others fear the devastating impact of a new war on an already beleaguered Lebanon.