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With Hezbollah cornered, Lebanon-Israel escalation may not be contained

With Hezbollah backed into a corner and Israel relentlessly attacking, the rules of engagement set in 2006 no longer apply.
An Israeli self-propelled artillery howitzer shells southern Lebanon from a position in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on January 4, 2024. Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel against all-out conflict, after Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi, in a visit to the Lebanese border, said troops were "in very high readiness". (Photo by jalaa marey / AFP) (Photo by JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images)

It is the longest fighting between Hezbollah and Israel since the latter’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000. After nearly 100 days, there’s no indication the end is coming. On the contrary, the events on the Israeli-Lebanese border suggest the conflict is far from contained, with Israel and Hezbollah both escalating their attacks since the assassination of senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri in the heart of Beirut on Jan. 2.

Another killing preceded the assassination, that of senior Iranian commander Sayed Razi Mousavi in Syria. On Dec. 25, a suspected Israeli strike killed  Mousavi on a farm near the Sayeda Zeinab area of Damascus, just after he returned from a visit to the Iranian ambassador in the Syrian capital. Mousavi is the most senior commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be assassinated since the killing of Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad's airport in 2020 in a US drone strike. But Iran has not yet retaliated and has traditionally responded to such attacks with surprising timing. 

So far, Tehran and its allies have shown restraint in avoiding a response to Israel that could trigger a full-blown war. This restraint was clear after Israel assassinated Arouri south of Beirut on Jan. 2. In the following days, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said merely that his fighters will respond swiftly "on the battlefield." 

"The response is inevitably coming. We cannot remain silent on a violation of this magnitude because it means the whole of Lebanon would be exposed," he said. 

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