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Business News/ News / World/  Israel-Iran Tensions Rise as Israeli Forces Trade Fire With Militias in Syria, Lebanon
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Israel-Iran Tensions Rise as Israeli Forces Trade Fire With Militias in Syria, Lebanon

wsj

Concerns are growing that a second front could open in the nearly three-month-old war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Israeli soldiers operate in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the border with Syria, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, December 28, 2023. REUTERS/Gil Eliyahu ISRAEL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN ISRAEL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (REUTERS)Premium
Israeli soldiers operate in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the border with Syria, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, December 28, 2023. REUTERS/Gil Eliyahu ISRAEL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN ISRAEL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (REUTERS)

The Israeli military said it returned fire following a strike from Syria overnight and also launched an airstrike against the militant Hezbollah movement in Lebanon amid a rise in hostilities with Iranian-backed militia groups across the region.

An increase in tensions between Israel, Iran and its militant allies throughout the Middle East is raising concerns about the opening of a second front in the nearly three-month-old war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Israeli forces have regularly traded fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and resulting Israeli offensive in Gaza, but tensions along Israel’s northern border have remained relatively contained, in part due to U.S. and other Western diplomatic efforts to prevent a wider regional war.

But Israeli leaders have warned in recent days that they are losing patience with diplomatic attempts to end attacks on areas of northern Israel, where more than 230,000 people have been displaced from their homes. More than 70,000 people have also fled their homes in southern Lebanon due to the conflict.

Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson, said on Friday that to ensure security for its northern and southern borders, Israel will “operate firmly against every threat and will not allow a return to the reality before Oct. 7."

In the past week, Israel and militants in Lebanon have engaged in artillery and rocket-fire exchanges, as well as increased responses including Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon, the Israeli military said. Israel also said it shot down a drone that entered Israel from Lebanese territory on Thursday.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said on Saturday morning that Israeli artillery and warplanes struck several areas of southern Lebanon.

Militants in Lebanon injured several people in Israel this week, including at least one person hurt by an antitank missile fired at an Israeli church, and then several soldiers injured in a follow-on attack when trying to evacuate him, the military said. An Israeli airstrike in Lebanon killed three people, including two Lebanese-Australian citizens earlier this week.

The rise in hostilities in recent days comes after an airstrike in Damascus on Monday killed a senior official in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which oversees a network of paramilitary groups throughout the Middle East. Israel is believed to have launched the attack but hasn’t claimed responsibility. Iranian leaders have sworn to avenge the killing.

Any escalation poses risks for both sides. Hezbollah, with its tens of thousands of battle-tested fighters and an arsenal of missiles provided by Iran, is a more capable adversary than the relatively lightly armed Hamas. During the last war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, Israel heavily bombed Lebanon, including the Beirut airport and other civilian infrastructure, while Hezbollah rained rockets on Israel.

The threat of destruction on both sides is long thought to have deterred a renewal of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, but Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack demonstrated that deterrence alone wasn’t enough to stop the worst attack on Israeli soil in history, a fact that has altered calculations for Israeli officials.

The war between Israel and Hamas and other militants is also heightening the risks for U.S. military forces stationed across the region. Overnight Iraqi militants said they launched a drone attack on a U.S. base in Iraq and fired missiles at another American base in Syria. Militants have launched at least 106 attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria in recent months, according to U.S. officials.

Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians, during the attack inside Israel on Oct. 7, and also took more than 240 people hostage, according to Israeli officials. The attackers tortured civilians and set fire to residents’ homes.

More than 21,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its military assault on Gaza in response to the attack, according to health officials in Gaza. Most of those killed have been women and children, those officials say, though the figure doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. Israeli strikes have devastated vast swaths of Gaza.

The Biden administration has pressured both Israel and Lebanon to contain the fighting in order to prevent a wider regional war that could draw in Hezbollah and other allies of Iran. The Biden administration convinced Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call off a strike against Hezbollah days after the Oct. 7 attack, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

In Gaza, the Israeli military said it continued to battle Hamas militants and launch airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. The military said it dismantled two militant compounds in the northern city of Beit Lahiya.

The Israeli military earlier this week expanded operations in the central Gaza Strip, with strikes focusing on Palestinian refugee camps in the area. Some 100,000 people have fled the area to the far south of the Gaza Strip in recent days, according to the United Nations. Some 85% of the strip’s 2.2 million people have fled their homes, according to the U.N., with most of those confined to just one third of the enclave’s land by Israeli evacuation orders.

Write to Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com

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