As Ramadan approaches, Israel threatens war on Lebanon

Khalil Harb, The Cradle, February 19, 2024 —

The reckless US–Israeli attempt to forcibly move Hezbollah far from its border risks driving the region into a full-on war, which neither Tel Aviv nor Washington could hope to manage. And they’re picking this fight as the holy Muslim month of Ramadan approaches.

Tel Aviv’s mounting threats to destroy Beirut as it has done to Gaza, coupled with growing Israeli public support for aggressive military action against Lebanon, have spiked tensions on the northern battlefront in recent days.

Furthermore, the precarious game at play in Washington – which has done absolutely nothing to impede Israeli occupation forces from launching an assault on Rafah and uprooting more than a million Palestinians from their last refuge on the Egyptian border – is driving the war to a volatile, dangerous brink.

Adding fuel to this already incendiary mix are two critical factors. First, Israel’s targeted strikes on Lebanese civilians, exemplified by the recent attacks in Nabatiyeh and Al-Sowanah, have provoked a stern response from Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who vowed retribution, declaring that “the price of civilian blood will be blood.”

Second is the approaching month of Ramadan, a sacred period observed by hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide, which adds a transnational dimension to these developments. Fasting Muslims from Indonesia to Morocco will grow increasingly frustrated with Washington’s inaction in preventing genocide and the displacement of over two million Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom are on the brink of starvation.

Escalations will lead to an exodus 

Despite US assurances that it is pressuring Israel to mitigate casualties, the relentless onslaught has resulted in an appalling daily death toll of around 300, with nearly 29,000 lives lost, and over 60 percent of homes and infrastructure decimated.

When Nasrallah declared that “for every drop of blood shed in Gaza and the entire region, the primary responsibility falls on [US President Joe] Biden, [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken, and [US Secretary of Defense Lloyd] Austin,” his words resonated deeply – not only within the Islamic world but with millions globally – calling for an end to the war by halting the influx of American weapons to the Israeli military.

The US State Department has received multiple warnings from diplomats in the region of the growing resentment toward Washington for its complicity in Israel’s genocidal campaign. Despite its tone-deaf attempts to adjust its stance and emphasize a need to protect Palestinian civilians, the regional backlash threatens to undermine US diplomacy, unravel Arab normalization deals with Israel, and jeopardize US business interests throughout West Asia.

Speaking to The Cradle, sources close to the Axis of Resistance in Lebanon said the next fortnight carries the potential for a catastrophic escalation, particularly if Israel intensifies its military aggression during Ramadan and advances its plans to displace Palestinians from Rafah.

Additionally, the discontent among Israeli settlers displaced by Lebanese resistance operations along the northern border poses further risks, with officials in Tel Aviv contemplating drastic measures to ensure calm, including potential military action – a preview of which southern Lebanese civilians have recently witnessed.

The discontent among northern settlers grows as they grapple with the new security dynamics in the aftermath of the Hamas-led Al-Aqsa Flood operation on 7 October. Extending over 100 kilometers from Naqoura to the Shebaa Farms and penetrating 5 to 10 kilometers deep, this border strip has seen the displacement of thousands of settler families.

Israel wants Hezbollah purged from its border  

Despite stern warnings from senior Israeli officials to restore “calm” along the northern frontier – including Energy Minister Eli Cohen’s pledge that “if this threat is not removed diplomatically, we will not hesitate to take military action” – the situation remains fraught.

A poll by the Hebrew newspaper Maariv showed that 71 percent of Israelis believe Israel should launch a large-scale military operation against Lebanon to keep Hezbollah away from the border. At the same time, the Israeli military leadership is acutely aware of the significance of Nasrallah’s statement on 13 February, when he insisted that the settlers fleeing from the north “will not return” and that Israeli officials should “prepare shelters, hotels, schools and tents for two million people.”

In two consecutive speeches, Nasrallah stressed that “only stopping the war on Gaza will stop the Lebanon front.” And he reminded Israelis that since 1982 they would respond militarily when a mere Lebanese bullet or Katyusha rocket would hit its areas, but now – despite more than 2000 rocket strikes by the resistance against critical Israeli targets – Tel Aviv has been unable to escalate to a full-scale war.

A Lebanese political source informs The Cradle of Israel’s dual strategy: while exerting military pressure through direct raids on southern Lebanon to instill fear, the occupation state also pins hopes on western diplomatic overtures to Beirut. Their aim? To force the removal of Hezbollah, not just from the border, but from regions beyond the Litani River.

Hezbollah won’t budge from western pressure 

Nasrallah recounted a telling anecdote from discussions with western envoys – all singularly focused on the goal of pushing Hezbollah north of the Litani. Faced with this onslaught of illogical demands, a Lebanese official quipped, “It’s easier to relocate the river to the border than to push Hezbollah north of it.”

In short, even pro-west Lebanese officials understand the impossibility of this ambition.

The recent statement by US chief energy diplomat Amos Hochstein merely confirms what Hezbollah already knows: Washington’s aim is not to end the conflict but to manage it. Western engagements with Beirut, according to the political source, amount to little more than message transmission, primarily conveying Israel’s demands and threats rather than facilitating genuine mediation. This lack of earnestness in addressing the gravity of the situation in southern Lebanon has not gone unnoticed.

Even Prime Minister Najib Mikati, known for his calm demeanor, expressed frustration with this superficial approach, stating on 12 January:

We informed all the international delegates who visited Lebanon that talking about a truce in Lebanon only is illogical … a ceasefire be reached as soon as possible in Gaza, in parallel with a serious ceasefire in Lebanon.

In this context, another political source reveals the contents of a document presented by France to Lebanese officials, proposing a ceasefire on the border and the formation of a monitoring committee comprising US and French representatives alongside Lebanese and Israeli delegates.

However, it also outlines a three-stage process: ceasefire, withdrawal of resistance fighters and their military assets 10 kilometers north of the border, and subsequent negotiations aimed at establishing a resistance-free buffer zone.

The US and Israel face a critical choice

Nasrallah takes such proposals with a pinch of salt, emphasizing instead that any negotiations must center on the core principle of liberating Lebanese territory currently occupied by Israel. Hezbollah’s response to such diplomatic overtures is to be expected. Why would it concede anything when it is causing its enemy unprecedented pain and is, for the first time ever, coordinating its military efforts with multiple resistance battlefronts in West Asia, including Gaza, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq?

Sources close to the resistance say recent remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that his forces had deliberately bombed Beirut have made Nasrallah conclude that Tel Aviv’s recent targeting of civilians in Nabatiyeh, Sowanah, and Adshit “was deliberate and not a mistake.” Moreover, it is an Israeli attempt to violate the rules of engagement in place since 1992, which if not upheld, can change the military game considerably for Israel – to its detriment, as well as Lebanon’s. For starters, the Hezbollah leader has promised a strong response on the frontlines, targeting the enemy directly rather than “targeting sites, spy devices, and vehicles.”

Informed sources who spoke to The Cradle say that the US and Israel will be forced to make some critical choices in the next two weeks, not only as the month of Ramadan approaches, but also because Tel Aviv has now crossed the line of military “proportionality” by targeting Lebanese civilians and inviting escalation.

Their most perilous move may be for Israel to launch a war on Lebanon – and Hezbollah specifically – which will prompt the Axis of Resistance to recalibrate its region-wide strategies.

This recalibration could manifest through several avenues: intensification and resilience of the Lebanese resistance, breaking the fragile truce by Kataib Hezbollah and its Iraqi resistance allies to strike broader US targets, Syria assuming a more prominent role, adjustments in the direction and potency of Yemeni missile attacks and drone operations (beyond the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden), and shifts in Iran’s power centers toward favoring confrontation – which would be a major deviation from its regional approach over the past four months.

Such shifts could occur if the gaze of Netanyahu and Biden shifts firmly towards the north.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *