Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Israel war at risk of spreading after defence minister pledges to stop Hezbollah

The Israeli Defence Minister suggested his country may open a second front in northern Israel to push back an Iran-backed group.

Almost two months after a war erupted in Gaza, Yoav Gallant met mayors and municipal leaders from northern Israel.

The Israeli government, Mr Gallant said, does not yet encourage the thousands of people evacuated from their homes threatened by Hezbollah rocket attacks and incursions to return to their villages and cities.

Israel, he added, is hoping to drive back the militants backed by Iran beyond the Litani River in southern Lebanon.

Speaking in Nahariyya, Israel’s northernmost coastal city, Mr Gallant said his government was hoping to achieve this goal through diplomatic means.

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He said: “We aim to reinstate security for the residents via an international political arrangement to push Hezbollah beyond the Litani, in accordance with UN Resolution 1701.”

The 1701 resolution by the United Nations Security Council brought the 2006 Lebanon war to a close and saw Israel agreeing to end hostilities and withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon in exchange for Hezbollah maintaining no presence south of the Litani River.

The river runs some 18 miles north to the Israel-Lebanon border. Over the years, Hezbollah militants returned southern of the river and intermittently exchanged fire with Israeli forces.

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Mr Gallant added that, should diplomacy fail, the government would “act with all the means at its disposal”, hinting launching a military operation against Hezbollah was not off the table.

In the wake of the beginning of the war, sparked by Hamas’ horrific terror attack on October 7, Hezbollah militants started launching missile strikes inside northern Israel in support of the Palestinian group.

The skirmishes between Hezbollah – a proscribed terror group in the UK – and the Israeli military were limited to military targets at first, but escalated as the war continued to threaten also civilians.

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This led to the evacuation of some 80,000 residents living close to the border with Lebanon.

A wider conflict with Hezbollah could end up sparking a wider regional conflict, given the group is supported by Iran, which shares with both the Lebanese group and Hamas the goal of Israel’s destruction.

Opening a second front in northern Israel could prompt other groups, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to launch new attacks, for example in Golan Heights, which separates Israel from Iran-aligned forces.

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