Will the conflict spread? That has been the question since the very beginning when the IDF began its operation in Gaza to eliminate Hamas in the wake of the 7th October massacres.
Hamas knew that its actions on that day would invite a devastating response upon it, and upon the people of Gaza among whom it hides. Its aim was not only to land a grievous blow to Israel, but also to ignite a wider conflict in the region. It succeeded in the former but – so far – has failed to do the latter.
In a sign of why that might be, it has been reported that earlier this month Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, met in Tehran with Ismail Haniyah, one of Hamas’s leaders. Both the event itself and its content are vital in understanding where the pieces are pointing on political and military map.
According to Reuters which broke the story of the meeting, the Iranian leader said that his country would not directly intervene in the conflict but would continue to lend its ‘political and moral support’ to Hamas. That is much less than those in Gaza would have liked. Khamenei is also said to have told Haniyeh to quieten those voices within Hamas publicly calling for both Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, to join the conflict against Israel.
But while a full-scale conflict has not erupted on Israel’s northern border where thousands of Hezbollah fighters and missiles are situated, it is simmering and could yet come to the boil.
There have been numerous firings upon Israeli territory from Lebanon since October 7th, but these appear to have been carefully calibrated by Hezbollah to show support for Hamas without opening up a wider conflict. To date, about 100 Hezbollah and allied Palestinian fighters in Lebanon have been killed by the IDF in response to the attacks, which have also taken the lives of 9 Israelis.
Several factors are holding Hezbollah back. First, the presence of substantial American forces in the region, in the form of two aircraft carrier groups, has given it and its patrons in Tehran reason to pause. If Hezbollah opens a full attack against Israel, the response will be crushing to the organisation and to Lebanon as a whole.
The second and associated factor is domestic pressure from within Lebanon. The country’s non-Shi’ite groups and communities have warned Hezbollah not to drag them into a conflict of its making. If it does so, the organisation will find itself engulfed with the rage of other Lebanese who are struggling to hold their country together amid political and economic chaos.
If Hezbollah opens a full attack against Israel, the response will be crushing to the organisation and to Lebanon as a whole.
The combined effect will be to sap Hezbollah of both its political and military strength.
But it has always operated as a state within a state. As a reporter many years ago, I visited Hezbollah’s headquarters in in the Beirut suburb of Dahiya which it controlled as an autonomous enclave, complete with checkpoints and large posters of Ayatollah Khomeni and the organisation’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. The writ of the Lebanese government didn’t extend into the crowded streets and alleyways of southern Beirut.
Hezbollah’s forces are more numerous and better equipped than the Lebanese Army, and it has long prepared for a war with Israel. In 2010, I visited Southern Lebanon with the UN. The real power along the border lay with Hezbollah, whose personnel – on motorbikes and in civilian garb – shadowed my vehicle as I toured the towns and villages. I was informed that the organisation was overseeing all that went on in the area, and that that there was a lot both on the ground and beneath that we could not see.
Since then, Hezbollah has reinforced its position further in Southern Lebanon. It possesses thousands of battle-hardened fighters from its Radwan Unit and tens of thousands of precision guided missiles ready to be fired.
While Israel is aware of the danger, its attention is currently focused on Hamas. But it knows that the moment will come when it has to deal with the threat – by one means or another.
Currently 60,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in northern Israel and they will be reluctant to return – and stay – unless the danger across the border has been removed.
In such a tense situation, war can erupt by accident as well as by calculation. So, while Israel and Hezbollah possess separate reasons to avoid a widespread conflict at this time, an errant bullet or missile could yet ignite the dangerously flammable tinder underfoot.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.