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Israel and Hezbollah engage in a dangerous tit-for-tat, raising tensions in the region

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As fighting rages in Gaza, another battle is unfolding simultaneously on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon — a dangerous tit-for-tat game that has intensified in recent weeks and drawn more powerful adversaries.

In response to the danger of an all-out war, President Biden sent a top aide, Amos Hochstein, to Israel on Monday and to Lebanon on Tuesday to urge a diplomatic solution.

Unlike Hamas, the Palestinian militia fighting Israel in Gaza, Hezbollah has battle-hardened soldiers and long-range precision-guided missiles that can strike targets deep inside Israel.

Despite efforts by both sides to prevent the cycle of attacks and counterattacks from escalating into a full-scale war outside Gaza, civilians in Israel and Lebanon have been killed and more than 150,000 have been forced to leave their homes in the border area.

But as fighting has intensified in recent days, there are also concerns that miscalculations could plunge both sides deeper into conflict. Hezbollah has said it will not negotiate a ceasefire until Israel ends its military campaign in Gaza, which is likely to last weeks or months.

Israeli military officials have long anticipated that well-trained gunmen might one day cross the border and attack towns and military bases, as Hamas did on Oct. 7. But they tend to look north because they worry about Hezbollah’s elite fighters rather than the relatively weaker Palestinian militants.

After the Hamas-led attack, the Israeli military began sending convoys and helicopters to cover its northern border, fearing that Hezbollah would take advantage of the opportunity to invade. The next day, Hezbollah began to launch attacks on northern Israel in a show of solidarity, leading to an Israeli counterattack in Lebanon.

Analysts say Hezbollah is much stronger now than it was in 2006, the last time the group fought a major war with Israel. That war, which lasted about five weeks, killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and 160 Israelis and displaced more than a million. But they say a war between the two sides today could devastate both Israel and Lebanon.

Retired Israeli Brigadier General Assaf Orion said Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets in five weeks during the 2006 war, mostly into northern Israel. He added that the group could now probably fire as many rockets into all of Israel in a single day, including heavy missiles that could wreak havoc.

In the event of an all-out war, the vast arsenal of munitions in Hezbollah’s arsenal, especially drones, could overwhelm Israel’s powerful air defenses, said Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, a former senior Israeli military strategist. Hezbollah’s soldiers are also experienced fighters; many of them fought in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime, which is also backed by Iran.

“In an undefended war, there would be far greater devastation both within the Israeli civilian homeland and within Israel itself,” General Brohm said. “They have the ability to target almost anywhere in Israel and will target civilian targets, just as we will target south Beirut,” he added, referring to southern Beirut, a known Hezbollah stronghold.

For Hezbollah, a major escalation is equally worrisome. Lebanon’s economy was already in the doldrums before the current crisis, and many Lebanese do not want a repeat of the 2006 war. In addition, analysts say Hezbollah’s backer Iran may not be interested in escalating the situation, preferring to deploy its proxies at a more opportune time.

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