Attacking Lebanon will prove to be strategic suicide for Israel





Emad Moussa



The prospect of an all-out war between Israel and Lebanon reached new heights on July 3 after the Israeli army assassinated senior Hezbollah commander, Taleb Abdullah, outside Tyre.

Encouraged by the news that the US cannot prevent Israel from attacking Lebanon and will assist in its ‘defence’, Israel appears to be doubling down on its pledge to “bomb Lebanon back to the stone age.”

No wonder Israel feels so emboldened, it continues to enjoy blanket US support and weapons despite Washington publicly losing control over Netanyahu.

Iran, for their part, said Israel would face an “obliterating war” if Israel attacked Lebanon, ending Hezbollah’s so-called rules of engagement. “If war were imposed on us, we would fight with no rules, no discipline, and no limits,” said Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah. A clear indication, if any more is needed, of the regional consequences total war will bring.

Hezbollah’s defiant posture may stem from fears that Hamas has been weakened in Gaza, leading to the possibility that Israel will target Hezbollah and Lebanon next. But whilst Hamas may have been weakened, it is far from defeated. The group remains the de facto authority in Gaza and has been regrouping, recruiting and changing tactics. Israeli army casualties continue to be reported in areas of northern Gaza that had been declared “cleansed” weeks earlier.

According to Hezbollah, the Israeli army is trapped in a war of attrition it cannot win. Israel’s military advantage has not yielded any of Netanyahu’s declared goals. This strategic failure has eaten into the Israeli army’s capabilities, morale and, most importantly, undermined its deterrence.

Since 1948, Israel has built much of its deterrence policy on “escalation dominance” which relies on the deployment of excessive force of retaliation. This has allowed Israel to take the battle to the enemy’s territory and insulate most Israelis from harm, while inflicting — purposely — atrocities on the target’s civilians and civilian infrastructure.

This may have worked against conventional armies where the odds were relatively calculable. But in asymmetrical warfare with non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel’s deterrence has been reduced to a tactical endeavour and has lost much of its strategic meaning. In order words, it’s become about destruction and killing, and nothing else.

Tested in Lebanon, used in Gaza
Since October, Israeli officials have threatened to repeatedly “turn Beirut into another Gaza”.

But ‘warnings’ of total destruction were commonplace in Israeli politics even before then. Army chief Aviv Kohavi warned in early 2023 that if a war broke out with Hezbollah, “Israel would send Lebanon 50 years back in time” through what he called “waves of firepower.” Likewise, then-Netanyahu’s minister of education, Naftali Bennett, warned in 2017 that Israel “would send Lebanon back to the Middle Ages.”

These aren’t just empty words, Israel’s genocidal intent in Lebanon is real and has history. Israel’s 34-day attack on Lebanon in 2006 — and its murderous strategy to target civilians dubbed the Dahiya Doctrine — killed more than 1200 Lebanese, displaced thousands, and caused more than $3.6bn worth of damage to key civilian infrastructure.

The Dahiya Doctrine has since been pushed to its utmost limit in Gaza with, needless to say, horrifying effect. The Lebanese population can only imagine what a second round of indiscriminate Israeli bombing will do, especially as Israel is acting like an injured animal: extremely violent but aimless.

However, overwhelming Israeli firepower and mass destruction, no matter how horrifying, does not guarantee success or achieve strategic victory.

Hezbollah’s ability to maintain escalation and strike back is not bound by a functioning state behind it — assuming the Lebanese state is somewhat crippled by an Israeli attack — and thus has a larger scope of manoeuvrability and mobility than a regular army.

It has effectively used a huge range of precision weapons — some of which remain undeclared — that has wreaked havoc on the Israeli army. Not to mention that Hezbollah is the first armed group — and army, state or otherwise — that has imposed a buffer zone inside Israel since Israel’s inception. The party is also entrenched in Lebanese society and is an intrinsic part of its political makeup, so it may be impossible to destroy or dismantle.

But Nasrallah’s confidence does not only stem from Israel’s failure to maintain escalation dominance and Hezbollah’s military efficacy but also from Israel’s unprecedented internal and international predicaments.

The Israeli-Jewish society is now split into two non-reconciliatory camps: religious Zionism led by Netanyahu and his far-right coalition, and secular Zionism led by the opposition. The differences are spilling over on the streets with daily anti-Netanyahu protests and counter-protests by the settler movement — aka the “state of Judea” — led by Ben Gvir and Smotrich. The High Court ruling that the Haredim can no longer be exempt from the army service is infusing more cracks into the collective tribe mentality and could lead to civil war.

An additional factor is that, since October 7, the gap between the government and the army widened and public faith in the Israeli army has plummeted. Hamas and Hezbollah showed Israelis the limitations of their military might, and the Iranian attack on Israel last April confirmed that Israel could not defend itself without US and regional assistance.

This is all compounded by the failure of Israeli hasbara, Israel becoming an international pariah, and its prime minister and defence minister being wanted for war crimes by the ICC.

These three factors play into Hezbollah’s hand and give them confidence that they can inflict huge costs on Israel. No longer can Israel blitzkrieg its way through the region nor will Israelis be insulated from their country’s war crimes.

In the past nine months, Hezbollah has lost more than 300 of its fighters in the skirmishes with Israel but continues to tie any clamour in the north with ending Israel’s aggression in Gaza. Any wide-scale confrontation will be the last resort and only in self-defence.

Israel understands that an attack on Lebanon will not be a picnic but is yet to accept the Gaza-Lebanon linkage. Some Israeli leaders, among whom Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, allegedly lean toward calm with Hezbollah without ending the mass atrocities in Gaza. Others in the army may also be hoping that by moving to the “Third Phase” in the Gaza offensive and limiting the war to targeted attacks only, will calm the Northern Front.

Neither option is rational, let alone practical. It bypasses the casus belli and ignores Bibi Netanyahu and his lackeys’ dangerous personal ambitions. All of which make the regional explosion a serious possibility. And, if this happens, Israel will not come out standing on both legs.


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