US fears Middle East conflict growing as Israel and Hezbollah exchange attacks as Gaza ceasefire deal teeters

Israel and Hezbollah traded strikes after IDF killed top militant commander earlier this week

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 13 June 2024 01:54
Comments
Hezbollah fires rockets into Israel after airstrike kills commander

US officials are publicly and privately urging their Israeli allies to avoid escalating the back-and-forth strikes that have been taking place for months between the IDF and the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah, arguing the fighting could turn an already deadly two-party war in Gaza into an even worse regional conflict.

"We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,"  Pentagon deputy spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces killed a senior Hezbollah commander, Taleb Sami Abdullah, known as Abu Taleb, near the Lebanon-Israel border. The strike prompted the Iran-backed militia and political movement to fire over 200 missiles into Israel today in response, its largest attack since the October 7 conflict between Israel and Hamas began.

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine said during a funeral for the slain militant on Wednesday. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

Israel, in turn, reportedly conducted heavy bombing raids in southern Lebanon on Wednesday.

The conflict could quickly pull in other regional actors if not contained, according to experts, due to the complex web of alliances and rivalries across the region.

Iran backs a variety of governments and militia groups from Yemen to Lebanon to Syria, all of whom have hostile relationships with Israel, and all whom, to varying degrees, are already involved in the Israel-Hamas war.

In April, a suspected Israeli strike demolished Iran’s consulate in Syria, killing two Iranian generals. Later that month, an international military coalition including the US, the UK, and France supported Israel as it repelled an unprecedented Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles.

Throughout the war, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants and an Iran-aligned group in Iraq have targeted ships passing through the busy Red Sea shipping corridor, in protest of the Israeli war effort in Gaza.

The US and UK navies have deployed to the region and targeted the Houthis with additional strikes.

Taken together, according to Mohanad Hage Ali, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, it’s a recipe for instability.

“So a war with Lebanon would lead to an engagement from the Houthis in Yemen, further attacks from Iraq, from Syria and perhaps some US involvement at some point,” he told NPR. “And that would drag in some other actors and players and would lead to further instability.”

Tensions have been ratcheting up this month between Israel and Lebanon. A series of Hezbollah attacks last week set off massive forest fires in Northern Israel, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised “a very strong action” in response.

Hezbollah fighters carry the coffin of their comrade, senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55, known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, who was killed late Tuesday by an Israeli strike in south Lebanon, during his funeral procession in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Hezbollah fighters carry the coffin of their comrade, senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55, known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, who was killed late Tuesday by an Israeli strike in south Lebanon, during his funeral procession in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, June 12, 2024 (AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking on Wednesday from Qatar, one of the nations brokering negotiations between Israel and Hamas, argued that a ceasefire between the two sides would help calm the tension between Israel and Lebanon as well.

“Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best way to empower a diplomatic solution to the north, Lebanon, is a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting the ceasefire,” he told reporters. “That will take a tremendous amount of pressure out of the system.”

There’s still considerable daylight between Israel, Hamas, and the US, over a proposed ceasefire deal.

The US has publicized a ceasefire plan, which it says Israel backs, which would begin with a six-week ceasefire and hostages-for-prisoners swap, then be followed by a three-stage rebuilding process in Gaza and further negotiations towards a political settlement.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has yet to publically endorse the plan, and is under considerable domestic pressure from his right-wing coalitition to fully destroy Hamas before accepting any ceasefire.

The Palestinian group submitted its response to negotiators late Tuesday. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told AFP it is seeking to add provisions guaranteeing "a permanent cease-fire and complete withdrawal" by the IDF, demands Israel has rejected.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in