What Would an Israel-Hezbollah War Would Mean for the World

What Would an Israel-Hezbollah War Would Mean for the World?

When Hamas ravaged southern Israel on October 7, Lebanon-based Hezbollah saw an opportunity to attack from the north. The Shi’ite terrorist group has since launched thousands of rockets, drones, and missiles at northern Israel, igniting fires, destroying houses and land, forcing some 60,000 residents of Israeli towns and cities to flee, and bringing Israel to divert much-needed military power from Gaza to the North. 

As the Hamas-Israel War drags on, the conflict with Hezbollah has escalated. Last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah published drone footage of what he claimed to be of northern Israel, including the Haifa port and other sensitive locations. In a televised speech, he said that “no place” in Israel will be safe if Hezbollah launches an all-out war. 

He also threatened Cyprus (a first), accusing the republic of allowing Israel to use its airports. (Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides denied any involvement in current war activities, but asserted that threats from Hezbollah were unacceptable.)

Nasrallah said that his demands are simple: a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. He criticized US President Joe Biden’s ceasefire agreement, which does not make permanence a stipulation of the ceasefire. 

What Will an Israel-Hezbollah War Mean for the Middle East and the World?

The US does not want a war between Israel and Hezbollah. Wars cost money. They also throw the already-delicate balance in the Middle East completely off-kilter, and if Iran were to enter the war – which it almost certainly will – the U.S.’s hand could be forced. In an effort to end hostilities, the Biden administration sent Amos Hochstein, envoy and mediator between Israel and Lebanon, to seek a diplomatic solution. About a week after Nasrallah’s speech, Hochstein said that his efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement between the two had “reached a dead end.”

Yet, despite stalled negotiations, Israel and Hezbollah are not eager for war either. Both sides know that the losses and damage would be immense. The rockets and missiles from Hezbollah — plus Israeli retaliation — over the past nine months are only a small preview of the destruction a full-fledged war would bring. Iran also understands that a regional war could be used as an opportunity for its enemies to take out it’s nuclear program.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that if Israel goes to war, “Hezbollah will be destroyed and Lebanon will be hit hard.” But he is under no illusions that Israel will come out unscathed. 

According to Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the US, Hezbollah attacks have the potential to knock out major Israeli infrastructure, oil refineries, air bases, and even its nuclear research facility in Dimona (Southern Israel). 

Hezbollah, an established part of the Lebanese government, is much stronger than guerilla Hamas. It also has a much closer relationship with Iran, as one of its earliest and strongest proxies in the region. Hezbollah receives financial support, weaponry, and tactical training from Iran.  A war with Hezbollah would be a true proxy conflict, pulling the US and Iran into a regional war that neither is prepared to lose. Already, we have seen signs of Iran’s increasingly bold stance, as in April when it launched the first ever direct Iranian attack on Israel proper. 

The US and its allies have been staving off a full-blown conflict with Iran for decades, targeting its proxies rather than the state itself. While a war with Iran would unquestionably be costly for all involved (and even those not directly involved), some regional analysts postulate that the US’ lack of a strong response to proxy attacks (i.e. the October 2023 attack on a US military base in Jordan which killed three soldiers) has emboldened Iran to take further steps across the region with impunity. If the US plans to maintain long-term, durable deterrence and regional influence, it is possible a direct confrontation with Iran is unavoidable. 

From another perspective, some pundits think that Israel may be trying to delay war with Hezbollah until after the US presidential elections — the unspoken feeling in the small democracy is that if Donald Trump wins, he will give Israel more help than Biden. But waiting might prove impossible. At the same time, others allege that should he win in November, Biden will be freed from his vulnerability on the political left flank to offer Israel more unconditional support.

There is a school of thought regarding the Middle East, that when it comes to conflict, one’s enemies in the region only understand decisive force. Everything else is seen as weakness which invites further aggression. This dynamic is, of course, what leads to perpetual cycles of violence throughout the region. Diplomatic attempts and the specter of mutual destruction are just barely holding wider conflict at bay for now, but likely not much longer.  

Ultimately, Hezbollah’s sole reason for existence is, as an Iranian proxy, to harry Israel perpetually thereby maintaining the status quo of unrest and conflict, which benefits the Iranian regime. With this dynamic in mind, the possibility of a diplomatic resolution does seem unlikely.