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Is Middle East on Edge of Regional War Amid Gaza Crisis and Escalating Israeli-Lebanese Conflict?

A barrage of at least 25 rockets was fired from Lebanon on Saturday morning, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In response, the Israeli military attacked several Hezbollah positions across the Lebanese-Israeli border. Is the region on the brink of an all-out war?
Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have been steadily soaring since Tel Aviv launched an all-out operation against Hamas and other Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the Islamists’ surprise October attack.
On Saturday, the Israeli press quoted Lebanese officials as saying that a recent Israeli Air Force (IAF) attack in response hit a building near the town of Nabatieh, becoming “one of the deepest” Israeli airstrikes inside the Lebanese territory since October. The IDF has not yet commented on the incident, according to the press.
Hezbollah Leader Nasrallah’s Warning
In his second speech since the beginning of the Gaza war, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stated on November 11 that the Shiite militant group will continue to exert pressure on Tel Aviv in order to force it into stopping the operation in Gaza, which has already claimed over 11,000 lives per the Hamas government’s Health Ministry.
In particular, the Hezbollah leader said that the organization has been increasing the number of attacks and shifting to more powerful weapons, mentioning “the Burkan missile carrying a payload between 300 kg and 500 kg.”
Nasrallah made it clear that the spike in attacks against US military assets in the Middle East launched from Iraq and Yemen are related to Israel’s Gaza operation. “To the Americans, I say: If you want the secondary fronts to stop, you must cease the aggression on Gaza,” the Hezbollah leader stressed.
However, international observers have drawn attention to the fact that there are no signs of Hezbollah considering a fully-fledged war against Israel.

Ali Rizk, a MidEast expert and contributor at the Quincy Institute of Responsible Statecraft, has quoted sources close to the Shiite movement as saying that Hezbollah does not want to “drag Lebanon into a destructive war unless Israel imposes such a war.” Another source told Rizk that “Hezbollah is behaving as a Lebanese rational actor that attaches great importance to Lebanese national interests.”
On Friday, the US press also admitted that clashes across the Lebanese border “have been relatively restrained” even though Hezbollah today “is probably stronger than it’s ever been.”
Iran and Lebanon do not want to get involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists earlier this week, adding that they would not step in unless there are provocations. “I believe that neither Iran nor Lebanon wants to be involved in this crisis,” the minister stressed.

Israel’s Rationale

Meanwhile, Israel is showing no willingness to wrap up the military operation in the Gaza Strip regardless of growing international criticism
On November 12, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated: “No international pressure, no false allegations about IDF soldiers and our state,” will impact Israel’s resolve. Israel will “stand firm against the world if necessary.”
Tel Aviv’s rationale behind the continuation of the operation is that Hamas – which is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel – should be stopped from conducting terror attacks on Israeli settlements in the future, while the Gaza Strip must be “demilitarized” and “de-radicalized.” For its part, the Biden administration earlier persuaded Tel Aviv to observe humanitarian pauses each day, but the US bipartisan consensus seems to be supportive to Israel completing its mission.
The Washington Post claimed on November 13, that the evidence collected by Israeli and MidEast intelligence indicates that Hamas planned a longer and deeper attack inside Israeli territory in the expectation that it would compel an overwhelming response from Tel Aviv. Per the media, Hamas was ready for huge sacrifices in order to kick off a new wave of Palestinian resistance, involving the West Bank population, thus derailing the recent Arab-Israeli normalization.
In the eyes of Tel Aviv, the only way to ensure the Jewish state’s security is to eradicate Hamas and establish IDF control in the post-war region. Anything short of that is fraught with a risk of the repetition of the October 7 crisis. Yet, it’s unclear how the IDF will proceed with its operation in the densely populated southern Gaza even if it manages to quickly thwart Hamas in the north.
Likewise, Tel Aviv adopted a tough stance towards Hezbollah and other Shiite militias amid the Gaza conflict. In response to Nasrallah’s second speech, Israeli officials warned that Hezbollah’s game could lead to devastating consequences. “What we can do in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated last Saturday.
Team Biden Between Rock and Hard Place
Per Rizk, Israel’s resolve makes Washington feel uneasy, since the Biden administration is not willing to get dragged into a large-scale conflict in the Middle East. Indeed, Team Biden has a lot on its plate, including the proxy war in Ukraine, a simmering spat with China over Taiwan and forthcoming 2024 presidential elections, which wouldn’t be a walk in the park given Biden’s plummeting approval rates.
Citing media reports that emerged after Gallant’s statement, Rizk noted that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed growing concerns regarding Israeli escalation against Lebanon in a phone conversation with his Israeli counterpart. While the Pentagon sees clear risks in Israel’s tough approach to the unfolding crisis in Gaza and along the Lebanese border, Tel Aviv, for its part, may perceive Biden’s ardent support as a “green light” for all of its actions in the region, the RS contributor suggested.
However, the situation may be even more complicated, as per Mehran Kamrava, a professor of government at Georgetown University Qatar, who told Sputnik earlier this week that the Biden administration is simply incapable of “dictating” to Israel, given that the latter openly snubbed Team Biden’s recommendations with regard to the future of the Gaza Strip.
The unfolding “game of chicken” may lead to disastrous consequences in the Middle East unless a ceasefire is urgently implemented in Gaza, another Sputnik interlocutor, University of Tehran Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi, warned on the New Rules podcast on Thursday.
“The only thing that can end this is a ceasefire. Nothing else is acceptable. US aircraft carriers have no impact on the resistance. US nuclear submarines have no impact on the decision-making process. They are misleading themselves, the Americans, if they think otherwise. And that’s a dangerous miscalculation. The only thing that is important is that the war in Gaza ends,” Marandi highlighted.

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