Israel’s Escalation With Hezbollah: Possible Scenarios – Analysis

Border tensions between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, have been rising over the past two months. Following Israel’s counteroffensive on Hamas in Gaza, after the latter’s actions on the 7th of October, Hezbollah has vowed to support Hamas in their war against Israel.

Despite Hezbollah’s statements during these two months, no actual support was provided to Hamas by Hezbollah. In fact, during one of its operations, the Israeli army reportedly found documents confirming that Hamas’s Sinwar was dissatisfied with Hezbollah and thought that Hezbollah and Iran would become more engaged in war, which was the complete opposite to what unfolded on the ground.

There are three arguments as to why Hezbollah and Iran have not become more directly involved in providing support to Hamas. Firstly, the presence of US forces in the Mediterranean has created enough deterrence to keep the zone of conflict from expanding, which is in line with reports indicating that Iran cautioned Hezbollah not to spark a full-scale war.

Secondly, reports have shown that Hezbollah was not fully aware of Hamas’s planned timing for the offensive that took place on the 7th of October, thus causing Hezbollah to reassess their involvement with Hamas.

Thirdly, it is believed that Iran did not build Hezbollah’s armed capabilities at a significant cost over decades to serve as a force multiplier for Hamas, but rather to act as the first line of defense and separate front against Israel should it engage in any direct attack on Iran or its nuclear facilities. This further emphasizes the fact that a full confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah would be a dangerous one.

While border tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are growing in the wake of October 7, both sides have so far mainly engaged in tit-for-tat attacks with a limited scope. Most of the reported Hezbollah missile and drone attacks landed in open areas with no reported causalities on the Israeli side; nevertheless, such attacks along the border have produced total casualties of 10 Israeli soldiers and and six civilians since the fighting began. On the other side, Israel’s counter-responses over the past month have been targeting Hezbollah’s attack launch sites, armament depots, and members of the Iran-backed militias in the south of Lebanon, with a total number of causalities reaching almost 270.

The sequence of incidents over the past two weeks reflects a heightened chance of direct armed confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah. Should this take place, the Middle East would risk an expanding regional war given because, unlike other Iranian proxies in the region, Hezbollah is generally accepted as very well trained and equipped, with resulting capacities that could be compared to conventional armies. Furthermore, Hezbollah’s direct confrontation with Israel will likely receive the full support of Shiite militias in Syria, Iraq, and ultimately Iran’s IRGC.

Full-scale armed confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah presents us with three possible conflict scenarios. In the first, in light of Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah, Hezbollah might choose to show self-restraint due to pressure from within the country, thus limiting its reaction. Given Lebanon’s current economic situation, it would not be able to withstand a conflict with Israel. Moreover, Lebanon is currently home to nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees who escaped the conflict in Syria, highlighting the potential for a significant humanitarian crisis if armed conflict erupts within Lebanese borders. Considering Israel’s advanced military strength and the risk of a destructive conflict, Hezbollah is expected to focus on avoiding a direct clash to safeguard their local concerns. Furthermore, Hezbollah has historically functioned as a proxy for Iran, and any choice to participate in armed conflict with Israel would be planned in conjunction with Tehran.

The unfortunate second scenario would be a full confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, which would have far-reaching consequences for the region and beyond. This scenario can easily be triggered by a major provocation or miscalculation on either side. A full-scale war in Lebanon would likely result in massive civilian casualties, displacement, and destruction in Israel and Lebanon, exacerbating an already volatile situation as well as further igniting an unprecedented level of violent attacks from Iran’s proxies in the region. There’s a risk of cascading conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, along with the possibility of Iran’s full armed support. Even the potential use of chemical and biological weapons cannot be ruled out in light of reports that Hezbollah has already been transporting chemical weapons from Syria.

Russia’s impact on such a conflict remains a big question mark given Moscow’s record of supporting the Assad regime in Syria. This lays the foundation for a third potential scenario, where external actors and foreign powers play a more direct role in the conflict, thus complicating the resulting dynamics and increasing the risk of unintended escalation. This scenario could further entrench the conflict, making it even more difficult to reach a sustainable resolution.

Thus, a full-scale confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah would certainly risk the ripple effects of a regional conflagration, potentially impacting international security, energy markets, maritime safety, and humanitarian efforts, and further underscoring the need for immediate de-escalation and diplomatic engagement, which is already facing its own set of challenges in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. While Israel possesses the military capabilities to flatten cities in Lebanon, it is very likely that Hezbollah also has the capability to strike Israel’s capital, Tel Aviv, and other critical locations, such as the port city of Haifa, which can prompt Israel to launch a major counteroffensive on Lebanon.

Amid the growing tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, it is crucial for the international community to engage in high-level diplomacy with all parties involved, including Lebanon and Hezbollah. France’s close ties with Lebanon position it to have a significant impact on diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Lebanon. However, concerned parties must also bear in mind Iran’s influence and attempt to maintain deterrence against it. The presence of US forces in the region, combined with the current US-led operation in the Red Sea, is helpful in achieving this goal.

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