Israel Warns Hezbollah to Pull Back Forces to Avert War | Mint

Israel Warns Hezbollah to Pull Back Forces to Avert War

An Israeli jet fighter flies over the border area with Lebanon in northern Israel.
An Israeli jet fighter flies over the border area with Lebanon in northern Israel.

Summary

Israel has evacuated tens of thousands of civilians from northern Israel and transformed border communities into de facto military bases amid fears of an expansion of the war.

TEL AVIV—Israeli officials are warning Hezbollah to pull back its forces on the Lebanese border and stop strikes to avert another war as fighting also rages in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military Monday said it shelled Lebanese territory after its air-defense system intercepted six projectiles launched from across the border. Israel’s air force later struck a Hezbollah military site, from which the military said the militia fired projectiles into Israel. The exchanges followed volleys from both sides on Sunday, a near-daily tit-for-tat that has killed more than 100 Hezbollah fighters and six Israeli soldiers.

Israel has evacuated tens of thousands of civilians from northern Israel and transformed border communities into de facto military bases amid fears of an expansion of its war with Hamas militants who carried out the deadly Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

“I think we are a mistake away from escalation," said one Israeli military official. “I don’t think Hezbollah really appreciates how the Israeli psyche has changed since Oct. 7."

While the Israeli military’s main focus is on the war in the Gaza Strip, it has dispatched tens of thousands of soldiers to the northern border. Local security officials say that there are 100,000 Israeli forces along the northern border.

At the same time, Hezbollah has massed much of its elite Radwan fighting force on the border, Israeli officials said. And it has used new weapons, including so-called Burkan short-range rockets, which can carry more than 1,000 pounds of explosive material, and caused considerable damage to an Israeli military outpost last month, analysts said.

Given their lethality, Hezbollah has only fired a handful of the new missiles, rather than risk an escalation in fighting, said weapons-systems researcher Yehoshua Kalinsky from the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies.

Burkan rockets are only part of Hezbollah’s expanded arsenal of an estimated 150,000 missiles, about 10 times the number of Hamas’s estimated supply when it carried out its attack on Israel.

Hezbollah possesses a number of sophisticated, GPS-guided weapons capable of striking upon the entirety of Israeli territory. Among their holdings, Kalinsky said, Hezbollah has a number of highly-accurate, heavy-payload SCUD missiles, as well as a version of the Syrian-made Tishreen missile, both capable of doing extensive damage.

In addition, Hezbollah has greatly expanded its use of Kornet antitank missiles since fighting renewed in October, now making daily use of the laser-guided munitions, packed with both regular explosive and thermobaric charges and designed to pierce through a meter of steel, Kalinsky said.

Over the weekend, Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of Israel’s National Security Council, said he saw “no other way" than to pursue a military option against Hezbollah if the militant group and its allies don’t stop strikes on Israel before Israel wraps up its continuing war with Hamas.

“If Hezbollah agrees to change things through diplomacy, very good," he told an Israeli television station on Saturday. “But I don’t believe it will agree."

Hanegbi said Israel is demanding that Hezbollah remove its Radwan fighting force and retreat behind the United Nations-mandated cease-fire line demarcated by Lebanon’s Litani River, some 18 miles north of Lebanon’s border with Israel. He added that Israel aims to avoid a two-front war, implying that the timeline for resolution would be Israel’s winding down of hostilities with Hamas.

Hezbollah hasn’t responded to the demands. Internally, the militia has rejected the ultimatum, Hezbollah officials said.

The Israel-Hezbollah fighting is the worst since they fought a 34-day war in 2006.

The Biden administration has worked aggressively since Oct. 7 to prevent the war in Gaza from morphing into a regional conflict. The U.S. sent two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Middle East to deter Hezbollah. Hezbollah has sent mixed messages about its own intentions.

As many as 100,000 people who lived in northern Israel have been displaced and are living with family or in hotels in the country’s center. They have become a powerful lobbying force for Israel to take a hard line on Hezbollah, as they fear returning to their homes under the specter of an attack like Hamas pulled off.

“We can duplicate what we’ve done in Gaza in Lebanon, but we don’t want to get there," the Israeli official added.

The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip continued to worsen on Monday as the U.N. and aid groups said they were unable to get aid to Palestinians across most of the isolated enclave. Hospital officials said the medical system was overwhelmed and doctors in the northern Gaza Strip called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to send help to evacuate thousands of people seeking shelter.

More than 17,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to Palestinian health authorities.

“It had been a long nightmare," Dr. Hussam Abu Safyia, a pediatrician at Kamal Adwan hospital in the northern Gaza Strip said in a message pleading for help. “I’ve seen many colleagues die, and countless children lose their lives needlessly. Evacuation is the only way right now."

The United Arab Emirates organized a trip to Egypt’s border with Gaza for members of the U.N. Security Council to highlight the need for a humanitarian cease-fire. Ambassadors attended from eight member states, including the U.K., China and Russia but not the U.S. or France. The chief of the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency, Philippe Lazzarini, called for Israel to allow commercial goods to flow back into Gaza in addition to humanitarian aid.

Fighting continued across Gaza over the past day. The Israeli military said it conducted a “targeted raid" adjacent to a school in southern Gaza, in response to Palestinian militants firing upon soldiers from the school building.

In the north of the Strip, the Israeli military said it found several weapons caches within civilian areas, and located a weapons production center in Jabalia, site of some of the fiercest clashes between Hamas and Israeli forces.

Hamas said its forces clashed with Israel in Khan Younis and Jabalia. Throughout Monday, Hamas’s armed wing said it launched several rockets from Gaza toward southern and central Israel.

Summer Said contributed to this article.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com

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