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20:41

21 JUL 2024

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  • Uri Pilichowski

Is a War on Two Fronts Too Much For Israel To Handle?


War between Israel and Hezbollah could break out if Israel - but what would that mean?  


Israel tank

Image by MathKnight This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


While Israel battles Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist entities in the South, it has been fighting a much quieter tit-for-tat battle with Hezbollah in the North. The situation in the North could escalate and explode into full war with one wrong move. Hezbollah and Israel have been trying to avoid any escalation, but if war broke out, could Israel fight two simultaneous wars? 



  • There is a legitimate concern that Israel would not be able to fight two wars on different fronts.


 

  • A second war would test the foreign support Israel has enjoyed until this point, especially if Israel was perceived as having initiated the war. 


  • A war with Hezbollah could be perceived by Israeli critics of the current government as a “wag-the-dog” move to elongate their stay in power. 


 

What Is Hezbollah?


Stationed in Southern Lebanon on Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization sponsored by Iran. As the American State Department reported, “Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its support for terrorist-related activity in 2021, including support for Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various terrorist and militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East.”


Hezbollah is a force that is much stronger than Iran’s other proxies that regularly attack Israel: Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or the Houthis of Yemen. Experts and Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claim that Hezbollah possesses over 100,000 rockets. These include precision-guided missiles and missiles that can hit targets anywhere in Israel. Hezbollah would be a formidable enemy. 


Since the October 7 attacks, Hezbollah has been attacking Israel with small rocket and drone attacks. Although war is usually intentional, and Israel is capable of thinking that since it is already at war and has called up its soldiers for reserve duty, it is efficient to take out “two enemies with one war,” there is a possibility of war breaking out by accident as well. The US and other countries share a concern that the longer Israel and Hezbollah keep attacking each other, the greater the chance an accidental attack could occur that could spark a war



There Is Legitimate Concern That Israel Can’t Fight Two Wars on Different Fronts


Israel’s military is currently split into three different areas. Israel’s main fighting force is battling Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist forces in the Gaza Strip. Its secondary force is on its Northern border fighting Hezbollah as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon fires rockets at Israel on an almost daily basis. Israel’s third group of soldiers is in the West Bank, ensuring that the Palestinians in the area do not conduct terrorist attacks against their Israeli neighbors. 


A war between Israel and Hezbollah would likely be devastating for both sides, with risks for both Israel and Hezbollah. While Israel out guns, out mans, and would likely beat Hezbollah in battle, it would not be an easy victory for Israel. Even though Hezbollah is a non-state terrorist group, it is considered 10 times the size of other terrorist groups and better equipped and trained than many state armies around the world. Reports indicate that Hezbollah can draw on some 20,000 full-time fighters, with tens of thousands of reservists as well as a huge arsenal of potent weapons - far more powerful than anything Hamas has.


Israel is hesitant to go to war with Hezbollah while it is fighting a war with Hamas in Gaza. Israel and Hezbollah have fought a war before. After Israel disengaged from its occupation of Southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah filled in the vacuum and moved into Southern Lebanon. In 2006 Israel and Hezbollah went to war, and Hezbollah proved to be a much more formidable foe than expected. The memory of that war is still fresh in Israel’s mind and knowing that Hezbollah is stronger and more equipped than it was 15 years ago, gives Israel pause about starting a second conflict. 



Israel’s Second War with Hezbollah Could Mass Civilian Deaths 


Since October 7, fighting has escalated along the Lebanese border. Hezbollah and Israel have traded fire on an almost daily basis. As Hezbollah fires rockets at previously evacuated towns in Israel’s northern district, air raid sirens sound, and uninhabited houses are struck and destroyed. In cities such as Kibbutz Manara, tens of homes have been damaged or destroyed. Manara is not the only kibbutz hit by Hezbollah rocket fire that has been largely ignored by the international community and scarcely reported. The damage these rockets have caused indicates the damage Hezbollah could inflict in a future war. 


Unlike previous confrontations with Hezbollah when their rocket fire was limited to northern Israel, Hezbollah’s arsenal has not only increased in quantity but also in quality. The precision-guided missiles they now possess can hit specific targets. Hezbollah’s Fateh-110 rocket and Zelzal-2 rockets have a range of between 210 and 300 kilometers, allowing them to strike as far South as the Negev, even below Be’er Sheva. As Haaretz reported, “The military and Defense Ministry estimate that Hezbollah may fire several thousand rockets on the first few days of war and continue with 1,500 a day for the rest. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah fired approximately 200 rockets a day.” 


In addition, Hezbollah’s Radwan Force is expected to spearhead the attack in any war with Israel. The force would aim to take over cities in Israel’s north and conduct attacks like those witnessed during Hamas’s October 7 massacre. Between the rocket fire and the armed forces that would attempt to enter Israel, Israel could expect up to hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. 



A War with Hezbollah Would Test Foreign Support for Israel 


As the war with Hamas has expanded, a constant flow of American officials, including the President of the US and the Secretary of State, has arrived in Israel. While most of these trips are made with the stated intent to confer with and support Israel, the officials have arrived with a second important message as well. American officials have pressured Israeli leaders not to attack Hezbollah. 


While Israeli officials relay warnings that they won’t sit by and simply accept constant rocket fire from Hezbollah, American officials are telling Israeli leaders to “pump the brakes” and not go to war. American intelligence sources are telling Israel that in their assessments, fighting on two fronts would spread Israeli resources too thin and prevent victory. 


To limit the possibility of war, President Biden has dispatched Amos Hochstein, a senior negotiator who brokered the U.S.-Israel-Lebanon natural gas deal, to the region. Hochstein is tasked with lowering the tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. If Israel ignores America’s insistence that it not escalate tensions in the region by going to war now with Hezbollah, it risks losing American diplomatic and military support. 



A War with Hezbollah Could Be Perceived as Israel Pulling a “Wag-The-Dog” Move 


As Israelis reflect more on the immense intelligence and military failure that allowed the attacks on October 7 to occur, they increasingly point their figures at Israel’s leadership. In a growingly accepted narrative across the political spectrum in Israel, the assumption is there will be an inquiry into the failures and that many leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, will be forced to resign their offices. 


There is a concern among US officials that Israeli decisions on the war are being made with political considerations – especially political survival – as a driving factor in the decision process. That concern is multiplied among American officials when it comes to Netanyahu’s stance on going to war with Lebanon. American officials are worried that Netanyahu will start a war with Hezbollah as a way to help him stay in power. 


In summary, almost all experts agree that not only is Israel capable of fighting two wars on two fronts simultaneously, but they would likely win both wars against Hamas and Hezbollah. The major caveat to their analysis is that the two wars, and especially one against Hezbollah, would exact a heavy toll on both Israel’s military and civilians. 


 

Sources


U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Iran” 


Reuters, “Lebanon's Hezbollah: What weapons does it have?” October 30, 2023












The Washington Post, Israel’s talk of expanding war to Lebanon alarms U.S. January 7, 2023


Foreign Policy, “Inside Biden’s Push to Head Off an Israel-Hezbollah War” January 11, 2024


Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu Fights for His Political Survival, October 23, 2023

 

Uri Pilichowski

Uri Pilichowski


Uri Pilichowski is an author, speaker, and senior educator at institutions around the world.

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