What If Israel’s Real War Hasn’t Yet Started?

For years, Israeli security experts have warned of the dangers of Hizballah, which has deeply embedded its forces in southern Lebanon, subordinated the country’s government, and developed sophisticated military capabilities aimed at attacking the Jewish state. Now much of the country agrees that it is better to go to war soon than to wait for the Iranian proxy army to strike first. Matti Friedman reports from northern Israel, which has been emptied of most of its civilian population:

When I spoke to one veteran military observer of the northern front, he used the term 10X—by which he meant that to imagine an all-out war with Hizballah, take the current war with Hamas and multiply it by ten.

Like many Israelis his age, Friedman faced off against Hizballah when he served in the security zone the IDF had established in Lebanon in the 1980s:

In May 2000, facing rising casualties and a protest movement led by the mothers of Israeli soldiers, the army abandoned the security zone overnight and pulled back to the border. This seemed to me, and to most Israelis, like the right thing to do, but it didn’t end the war. Hizballah only grew stronger. We let it happen, as we did with Hamas in Gaza, because the alternatives seemed worse. An all-out war would have been so costly, both in lives and in the kind of disproportionate international frenzy that follows any Israeli operation, that we decided to live alongside Hizballah and to tell ourselves we’d contained them.

Fast-forward to early 2024, and Israel has a security zone again—except now it’s inside Israel.

I’ve been speaking to reserve soldiers, some still in uniform, others newly discharged from the alleys and booby traps of Gaza City. They know what it means if we go to war in Lebanon. But they don’t say “if,” they say “when,” and expect to be there in the spring.

Read more at Free Press

More about: First Lebanon War, Gaza War 2023, Hizballah, Lebanon

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy