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What you need to know as Israel and Hezbollah teeter on new war

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For months, fears have been growing that the Gaza war could spark a second conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, a well-armed militia loosely allied with Hamas based on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza War in October, the two sides have been engaged in a constant exchange of fire, resulting in the deaths of Lebanese and Israeli civilians and fighters, with the highest number of casualties among Lebanese civilians. The hostilities have also forced more than 150,000 people on both sides of the border to leave their homes and move to temporary shelters. This has put pressure on the Israeli government to drive Hezbollah out of the border area and make the north of the country a safe place for residents again.

Let’s look at the situation Hezbollah is currently facing in a new war, and why it may still be possible to avoid.

Hezbollah has been opposed to Israel since its inception. The group was founded in the 1980s when Israel invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in response to an attack intended to eliminate the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was then based in Lebanon.

But Israel soon encountered a new enemy whose guerrilla forces grew rapidly and effectively harassed the much better-equipped Israeli army: Hezbollah, a popular Shiite Muslim movement whose main goal was to drive Israel out of Lebanon.

By 2000, Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, and Hezbollah became a hero to many Lebanese. In 2006, Hezbollah went to war with Israel again, launching a military operation against its southern neighbor, which Israel fought back fiercely. In that war, Israel dropped bombs on southern Lebanon and the capital, Beirut; the fighting killed more than 1,000 Lebanese.

However, the Israeli army’s failure to crush Hezbollah during the 34-day war has made the group and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, stand out as stars in an Arab world accustomed to being defeated by Israel.

Hezbollah quickly allied itself with Iran and became a close partner.

While the group has a large and loyal following among Shia Muslims for the social services and political power it provides, as well as the authoritarian tactics it uses to suppress dissent, many Lebanese see the group as an obstacle to progress and a persistent threat to drag the country into an unnecessary war.

Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by the United States and other countries, has evolved from a fighting force to a dominant political force with significant influence in the Lebanese government.

Today, Lebanese politics are at a stalemate, but no significant change will occur without Hezbollah’s approval.

Lebanon can hardly afford a new conflict with Israel.

The country has been plagued by an economic crisis for years, which has plunged countless Lebanese into poverty, while a political crisis has deprived citizens of many basic services. Lebanese officials said the border airstrikes displaced about 100,000 Lebanese civilians, many of whom lost their income and homes, and caused the country billions of dollars in lost tourism and agricultural revenue.

Lebanon also may not be able to get much international support, as its former colonial power, France, is busy Internal politicsOther Arab countries and Iran, which invested heavily in Lebanon’s reconstruction after 2006, are now less willing or able to help, said Emil Hokayem, a Middle East security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Things were already difficult in 2006, when Lebanon’s economic situation and international standing were much better than they are now,” Mr. Hokayem said. “The country is not equipped to deal with this conflict.”

Even some Shiite Muslim voters in southern Lebanon, traditionally loyal to Hezbollah, are questioning the cost of the current fighting. As a result, analysts say Nasrallah knows he must tread carefully. He said Hezbollah does not want a wider conflict, while warning that his fighters are ready — and that Israel would face severe consequences if a conflict occurred.

“If war breaks out, the resistance will fight without restraint, without rules, without restrictions,” Nasrallah said in a speech two weeks ago.

A Hezbollah-Israel war could also turn into a larger regional war that would dwarf the current fighting. Such a conflict could draw in Iran and the United States, which has been Try to avoid Further upgrade.

Even as the frequency and lethality of attacks by both sides have increased, so has anxiety. Israel, Hezbollah and Iran do not want all-out warAnalysts and U.S. officials said. However, they said the only way to almost certainly avoid conflict is to end the fighting in Gaza through a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, which launched the war in the Strip on Oct. 7.

Through propaganda videos and targeted strikes, Hezbollah has repeatedly demonstrated its Enhanced Arsenal The weapon, which analysts say is capable of wreaking havoc on Israeli cities, has also been battle-tested over the years in Hezbollah’s fight against Syrian rebels. During the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah sent thousands of fighters to Syria to help prop up the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Iran and Hezbollah.

Middle East expert Hokayem said that if Israel attacks Lebanon, Iraqi militias backed by Iran may also join the fight.

Estimates vary as to how many missiles Hezbollah has and how advanced its systems are. The CIA’s World Factbook says the group may have more than 150,000 missiles and rockets of varying types and ranges. The agency also estimates the group has as many as 45,000 fighters, though Nasrallah has claimed 100,000.

But analysts and Israeli officials say Hezbollah’s arsenal is far more dangerous than Hamas’s because it has precision-guided missiles that can target critical Israeli infrastructure and military assets.

Hezbollah has also displayed explosive drones that can evade Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, a detection and shoot-down system designed to protect Israel from incoming rockets and missiles. The group also appears to have anti-tank missiles, but these fly too fast and too low for the Iron Dome to intercept.

Nasrallah warned in a speech two weeks ago that Hezbollah had so far used only a small fraction of its weapons, saying it could carry out precision strikes against “a row of targets” if necessary.

“The enemy knows we will attack by land, air and sea,” he said.

Some in Israel worry that their country could be threatened by such weapons, but others say Israel must act before Hezbollah grows stronger.

“The dilemma the Israelis find themselves in is that Hezbollah’s capabilities appear to have reached a level where it no longer makes sense for the Israelis to provoke a larger conflict,” said Sam Heller, an analyst at Century International in Beirut.

Euan Ward Contributed reporting.

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