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Will Hezbollah join the war after Israel renews Gaza offensive?

Lebanese Hezbollah is under pressure to join the war after Israel renewed its military offensive in the Gaza strip

As the Qatar brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hamas collapses, military analysts speculate over the longevity of renewed offensives by Israeli Defence Forces.  As the days proceed, all eyes are on leader of Lebanese Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who has been silent throughout the past weeks, causing sheer anxiety within Yemenis & Lebanese alike, on their country declaring war on Israel. During Israel’s siege of Gaza, many anxious Yemenis, Lebanese alike would gather the household to listen Nasrallah’s speech. Waiting eagerly for Hassan Nasrallah’s weekly address, many with no ties to Hezbollah, would cancel dinner reservation, just to hear him speak. In Yemen, the Houthi fighters are strongly tied with Hezbollah and Iran.

One would argue, Hezbollah chief’s eloquently covers wide ranging issues, beginning his remarks with Israel’s aggression in Gaza & Lebanon to matters of Lebanese and Yeminis interests, with sentences framed to present an opinion, even to those that remains cautious in taking sides. With the end of cease-fire nearing horizon, it remains unclear whether this charismatic leader will address the audience, if at all. With Israeli Defence Forces engaging Iran-backed militia actively since the 2006 war, leaving countless Hezbollah fighters dead, all eyes are on Nasrallah and his strategy for Hezbollah, post the end of cease-fire. During the discussion with one of his followers, the author sensed anxiety eagerly waiting to hear Hezbollah’s plans post ceasefire. He hoped for a continued war, hoping Nasrallah would continue to engage Israeli Defence Forces in Lebanon.

In his next appearance will Hezbollah Chief make a declaration of war, as hoped by his followers? Or, instead, would he continue this sense of silence, allowing his opposition to strengthen in Beirut, challenging his credibility? That said, one would argue, the cease-fire has distracted many Hezbollah officials, resulting in rattled speeches from the hierarchy, such as the remarks made by the Lebanese Shia cleric & senior Hezbollah official Hashim Safi Al Din who reiterated Hezbollah’s strength to be much greater than it was in 2006.

The last public statement made by Hezbollah was on October 7, when it declared its assessment ‘on-going’ then, on the point of coordination between Palestinian groups and specifically Hamas, and joining its fight against Israel. Does Nasrallah’s absence from appearance mean a re-calibration of military or political decision within Hezbollah, or simply distancing from the media space under Tehran’s orders? Another argument is, his appearance is directly linked to the nature of on-going battle, and in case of a cease-fire, his presence is simply not required until the end of the day. Will he make an address after the end of cease-fire? It is difficult to predict.

This is purely because fire exchanges between Hezbollah & Israeli Defence Forces can be categorised as best to skirmishes, with exchange of rockets within few kilometers of the border. Casualties have been majorly on Hezbollah’s side, and the fire-fight between the two, no matter how intense, is short of engulfing the region. That said, the low intensity clashes, if continued may even drag for weeks, or months, opening the possibility of escalation.

Will Hassan Nasrallah make a public appearance to address his audience? If yes, what will he say?

Probable cause: Renewing siege of Gaza?

Hezbollah, more importantly Tehran have stated the intensity of their involvement in the Israel-Hamas War depends on the intensity of Tel Aviv’s response in Gaza.  That said, a renewed Israeli Defence Forces offensive in Gaza could result in a combined response from all ‘resistance forces,’ as stated by Tehran, in the region against Israel. This could mean renewed rockets attacks from Lebanon and Syria towards Israel, posing a direct threat to US military installations from Iranian-supported militia, including Houthis in Yemen.

For Tel Aviv, renewing of ground invasion is on the cards, but so does the possibility of extending a cease-fire with an aim to bring hostages back to their families. This may mean, a temporary halt to eradication of Hamas and probable reinforcement of Hamas’ ranks to recover lost territories in Gaza. It is a slippery slope for Tel Aviv, as recovering hostages is vital even if it means putting a temporary halt on eliminating Hamas fighters in Gaza and a full-scale envelopment on hold albeit temporary.

Hezbollah’s primary concern rests on Hamas’ survival, which means denying Israel forces on eliminating Hamas’ presence in Gaza. If the cease-fire continues, Hezbollah may get a breathing space to flood Hamas’ ranks, reinforcing it with necessary means and materials to withstand Israeli offensives. This would enable Hezbollah to make a tactical withdrawal from war.

It will rest majorly on Hezbollah’s ability to revive Hamas against a renewed Israeli offensive. If their assessment predicts Hamas to survive, it may refrain from opening a second front, making a tactical retreat even from Lebanon. That said, in the light of limited information over Hezbollah’s tactics and numerical strength, it will be incorrect for this author to predict their strategic assessment. But it is safe to say that, Tel Aviv would require a continued offensives for over 5 months to successfully eliminate Hamas.

If Israel does renew its offensives, it is highly likely for Hezbollah to escalate rocket attacks along the border, simply to distract Israeli offensives in Gaza. This would mean, Hezbollah to merely create a camouflage through sustained attacks to maintain tactical ambiguity for Israeli military planners and mislead by imitating opening of a second front.

Hezbollah may further employ its cyber units to target Israeli surveillance/reconnaissance system or technology including the border fencing, and pushing Israel to evacuate cities across the border forcing Tel Aviv to evacuate border towns. Reinforced with long range shooters, Hezbollah may target cameras along the border fence, as well as small UAVs to target Israeli radars tactical outpost, observation centres.

Options for Nasrallah?

The author predicts three possible scenarios before Hassan Nasrallah, if Israeli Defence Forces renew their offensives in Gaza:

Hamas put up a fight, until cease-fire

In this scenario Israel renews its offensives in Gaza, forcing Hamas to put an intense fight, until Qatar back-channels US & Tel Aviv for extending ceasefire in return for more hostages under Hamas custody. In this case, Hezbollah will engage IDF forces in skirmishes at best, engaging Hamas to accept another cease-fire, but advising to add a clause of removing certain units away from Gaza.

Israel renews offensives, Hamas capitulates

In this scenario Israel renews its Gaza offensives and Hamas fails to withstand and capitulates. Hezbollah, may renew rocket attacks, even escalating beyond the borders. This could force Tehran to permit Hezbollah on entering Gaza, even prepare barrages for over 150,000 missiles, rockets stockpiled by Lebanese militia. Many of them have the capacity to reach central Israel. This would mean, targeting not just Tel Aviv but all major cities, escalating the war into a regional conflict.

Israel renews offensives, Hamas may capitulate but Hezbollah does not intervene

In this scenario, Israel renews offensives in Gaza, Hamas capitulates but Hezbollah refrains from direct intervention. This could mean, Tehran is willing to sacrifice Hamas in the war against Israel but retain Hezbollah for a protracted war against the IDF. This is evident from Hassan Nasrallah’s long absence, pointing towards some hesitation over committing Hezbollah to a certain degree, but not fully in the on-going war, retaining offensives to meagre skirmish along the Lebanese war, with a possibility of tactical retreat from all fronts.

Taking the note of scenarios, there is significant room for serious miscalculation. Hezbollah and Tel Aviv are not in direct communication. They are engaged in a skirmish with the possibility of escalation/de-escalation depending entirely on external factors with moving variables. But the situation has matured enough for Hezbollah and Tel Aviv not to react in case of a mis-fired rocket creating casualties, as too many external actors are involved to deescalate the war, entirely.

Also Read: All eyes on Hezbollah as Israel-Hamas war threatens to engulf the Middle East

(Anant Mishra specialises on Afghanistan, where he has served three combat deployments. He was adviser to key military and civilian leaders of the Ashraf Ghani government. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)