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Lebanon, not Gaza, could trigger regional war as Israel-Hezbollah tension soars

Mediators believe a deal can't be reached on Hezbollah's withdrawal from the Lebanese border until an Israel-Hamas cease-fire.
A picture taken from northern Israel, along the border with southern Lebanon on March 4, 2024, shows smoke billowing following Israeli bombardment on the Lebanese village of Markaba. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP) (Photo by JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images

TEL AVIV — As clashes between Hezbollah and Israel intensify despite US mediation efforts, an all-out war between the two sides is no longer a remote possibility. Striking a deal to avert one, however, appears to hinge on reaching a cease-fire in Gaza. 

The United States is making intense last-ditch efforts to negotiate a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas before the advent of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday. Biden administration negotiators, led by CIA chief William Burns, had hoped for a mini-deal, which would see the release of 35–40 of the estimated 134 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in return for a six-week Israeli cease-fire in Gaza and would also likely suspend the low-intensity warfare between Israel and Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Given that no Israeli delegation was sent to Cairo this week for talks, however, the US effort appears to have failed, for now. The sides are left with only the hope of a relatively calm Ramadan despite attempts by Hamas and other Islamist extremists to stir up violence during this sensitive month of religious observance.

"Other than the potential for escalation over the Temple Mount, the trigger and potential for deterioration throughout the Middle East undoubtedly lies on the Israeli-Lebanese border, not in Gaza," a senior Israeli political source told Al-Monitor, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

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