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Israel’s defense minister says his country’s troops have eliminated half of Hezbollah commanders in southern Lebanon. But analysts question whether Israel’s increasing use of targeted killings will weaken the militant group.

Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Iran’s most powerful regional proxy, has been involved in fierce cross-border clashes with Israeli forces since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. Diplomatic talks have yet to reach a ceasefire agreementIsrael has begun killing Hezbollah fighters in recent months in targeted strikesreflecting a clear shift in military strategy.

“Half of the Hezbollah commanders in southern Lebanon have been eliminated,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said Wednesday during a visit to Israeli forces along Lebanon’s northern border. “The other half are in hiding,” he added, without providing specific figures or evidence for his claim.

Galante’s data was denied Thursday by a Hezbollah official and a senior Lebanese intelligence official, both of whom spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive topic.

Some experts have expressed doubts that Israel’s targeted killings will achieve its goal of pushing Hezbollah north of Lebanon’s Litani River, thereby preventing cross-border attacks and allowing tens of thousands of Israeli civilians displaced by fighting return.

A funeral for a Hezbollah member in Nabatyeh, Lebanon, in October.Credit…Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

“This is psychological warfare,” said Qasim Kasir, a Lebanese political analyst and expert close to Hezbollah. He added that Galante’s statement was a means of “convincing the Israeli audience that the military was achieving its goals.”

In fact, the group admitted that among the approximately 270 members killed, 100,000 Hezbollah fighters were killed, with no more than 20 commanders among them, Kasir said.

Analysts said Galanter’s comments reflected a growing consensus among Israeli officials that Hezbollah posed the most obvious threat to its borders. On Sunday, Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s emergency war cabinet, declared that Israel’s border with Lebanon constituted its “biggest and most urgent challenge.”

The Israeli military has publicly named nine Hezbollah fighters it has eliminated since October 7, describing them as “commanders” on the Telegram messaging app.Some of them are described as high-ranking figures Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forcesand others reportedly involved in the group’s drone operations. These claims cannot be independently verified.

“They need this illusion of success, so they are promoting these assassinations heavily,” said Amal Saad, a lecturer in politics and international relations at Cardiff University in Wales who studies Hezbollah. “This is compensation for the lack of any military achievements,” she added.

In November, Israel launched airstrikes on the southern Lebanese suburb of Aitashab.Credit…Hussein Malla/AP

Hezbollah rarely releases details of the ranks of its slain fighters and often denies the Israeli military’s claims about their roles. Yet analysts say the group’s response to targeted attacks often demonstrates the importance of the fighters killed.

Rem Mumtaz, a fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Paris who specializes in the Middle East, said: “Israel has killed several commanders in the south. They are not denying it, and of course it is a problem, but Gallant is here Exaggerated.”

Another analyst noted that wartime estimates of battlefield casualties may be questionable. “Each party may have a vested interest in showing they are doing a good job and minimizing damage,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research group.

Levitt said Hezbollah has lost a large number of fighters and commanders in its war with Israel. But “the reality is that Hezbollah has a deep bench,” he said.

Elias Hanna, a military analyst and former Lebanese army brigadier general, said Israel’s shift to targeted assassinations “will not affect” Hezbollah’s “modus operandi” no matter how many Hezbollah commanders are killed. “This is a war of attrition and position,” he added.

After Israel says two Hezbollah commanders were killed in airstrike, the militant group claims responsibility Drone and missile attacks last week in northern Israel One soldier was killed and 16 other soldiers and two civilians were injured. It was one of the most devastating attacks Hezbollah has carried out in Israel in recent months.

Jonathan Rice and Anushka Patil Contributed reporting.

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