Israel Shifts to Targeted Escalation, With Justification for Entry into Lebanon One Likely Aim

The Israel war against Palestinians, dressed up as a war against Hamas, has entered a deceptively less kinetic phase as Israel has pulled five brigades out of Gaza. Amplifying that impression, reporting of conditions in Gaza has dropped off dramatically due to Israel restrictions on access and lack of power in Gaza making it very difficult for to send updates, most of all images and videos

But less visibility does not mean less action or critically, less escalation. It is not as if Israel reducing its forces committed to Gaza means a moderation of its war aims. Now that much of Gaza’s infrastructure has been destroyed and the enclave is still tightly cordoned, Israel can let nature take its course. The UN issued a fresh report describing starvation in Gaza a few days ago. From a related New York Times story:

“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years,” Mr. [Arif] Husain [Chief Economist at the World Food Program] said. “I’ve been to pretty much any conflict, whether Yemen, whether it was South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, Ethiopia, you name it. And I have never seen anything like this, both in terms of its scale, its magnitude, but also at the pace that this has unfolded.”

And of course there is also disease, lack of medical treatments and prescription drugs to further eliminate the population. It’s not longer necessary to rely on the fig leaf of routing Hamas to exterminate the Gazans. Mere inaction will suffice.

However, even before the force reduction in Gaza, which some saw as part of a plan for reallocation, Israel has signaled its intent to take part of Southern Lebanon. The commentators who have spoken most about it are former British diplomat Alastair Crooke and Scott Ritter, sadly on video, which makes it very hard to run down and link to what they said. However, for weeks, Crooke has described how the part of Israel bordering Lebanon has been deserted, both due to evacuations and residents not feeling safe. Per Crooke (who has put it in more careful terms than I am using), the Israelis have launched the same sort of sham negotiations that they did with Lebanon in 2006, which they used at the pretext for the 2006 war with Lebanon, which Israel handily lost. Israel then demanded that Lebanon withdraw from the border area, a requirement Lebanon would clearly never accept. See here for an overview of the hostilities that were the immediate justification for the incursion1

Again, the reports from various sources, mainly on YouTube or X (note my considerable frustration at scattered written coverage) who are admittedly Lebanon-sympathetic, contend that Lebanon has been matching Israel attacks in a tit for tat.

As most of you know by now, a drone attack widely seen as Israel’s doing on a residential neighborhood in Beirut killed several Hamas leaders. The most important was Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the group’s political wing and founder of the military unit, Qassam Brigades. Al-Arouri was also a key figure in the ceasefire negotiations brokered by Qatar.

Needless to say, this was a major violation of the sovereignity of Lebanon, no different than the case of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada murdered there, with the consternation being the allegation that the Indian government was responsible. Elijah Magnier also argues that it represents a significant escalation for another reason: it violated understandings between Israel and Lebanon regarding the use of force:

Note that Magnier argued that Lebanon will have to respond quickly. I’m not sure that’s a given, particularly if Lebanon sees the killings as an attempt to bait them.

Perhaps this is a simple coincidence based on my news foraging, but there also seems to be an uptick of not-credible Israel stories and schemes in the last couple of days. One is claims of Lebanon pulling back from the border:

The second is technically no doubt true but substantively as likely to happen on any scale as Zelensky retaking Crimea, that of Israel negotiating with the Congo for “voluntary” resettlement of Gazans. Um, the Congo is a chronic war zone, with food scarcity to boot. It’s a Christian country with Muslims only about 10% of the population. If this story hadn’t appeared in the Times of Israel, it could have been depicted as a lame joke about other creative ways Israel planned to commit genocide. New Arab, and likely other news outlets in the region, depicted the scheme as “expulsion” based on its reading of the original article in Hebrew and official pronouncements:

Israeli officials are reported to be holding secret talks with the Democratic Republic of Congo and other nations regarding the expulsion of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip, according to a report by the Israeli newspaper Zman Yisrael on Wednesday.

The newspaper, which is the Hebrew-language sister outlet of the Times of Israel, said the Gaza “migration” policy is rapidly becoming the leading policy of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the war cabinet regarding Gaza’s population.

Netanyahu has reportedly given the go-ahead for the expulsion policy and high-level cabinet members are following suit, which has initiated the talks with Congo as a possible destination….

Last Monday, at a meeting of the Likud Party, Netanyahu fully endorsed the idea, saying: “Our problem is finding countries willing to accept them [Gazans], and we are working on it.”….

The Israeli government is calling the policy “voluntary migration”, but quotes from senior cabinet ministers suggest that the entire policy hinges upon Israel making Gaza uninhabitable for the civilian population, essentially forcing Palestinians to leave.

“At the end of the war Hamas rule will collapse, there are no municipal authorities, the civilian population will be entirely dependent on humanitarian aid. There will be no work, and 60% of Gaza’s agricultural land will become security buffer zones,” Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel said to the Knesset on Tuesday.

Israel has since tried denying the existence of the Congo plan but that does not mean it’s trying to find other less obviously terrible destinations.

To return to Lebanon: Alastair Crooke reported that Israel residents in the north who had evacuated or otherwise fled demanded that they not be able to see Lebanese forces from the border. They told by the government that they would be able to return by the end of January, which seems a tall order (I did find corroboration in a print source but due to the state of search, cannot find it again). Given that Lebanon would never agreed to effectively cede territory to improve the mental health of these nearby Israeli neighbors, that commitment would imply an invasion, which is how Crooke read it.

Scott Ritter appears to have seen similar demands, but depicted them as mere threat display, that Israel would not dare attempt an incursion because it was pretty sure to lose. As Ritter had earlier described, Israel lost its last two war games against Hamas and Hezbollah, even with the US joining the war. Ritter has also described how much better Hezbollah has gotten since 2006, when it beat Israel, while Israel’s forces, per Ritter, are third rate. And Hezbollah has a tunnel network that makes Hamas’ look like a poor cousin.

Allowing for defects in my memory, fresh stories provide general confirmation, if not of a commitment to a time frame. From the Times of Israel on December 30:

The Israel Defense Forces carried out airstrikes on southern Lebanon Sunday as it ramped up responses to fire on northern Israel by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

The IDF has ratcheted up attacks in recent days, as the military aims to push the terror group back from Israel’s northern border…

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said military action against Lebanese Hezbollah is needed to restore security to the north….

In public remarks at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said, “We are acting to restore security to the north and to return residents to their homes. That requires continuing the fighting there at the moment. If we don’t achieve that [security] through diplomacy we will achieve it through military means.”….

The mayor of Kiryat Shmona, a key border area town, said residents will not return to their homes until Hezbollah has been pushed back from the northern border.

“Nearly 90% of the city’s residents have evacuated and are scattered throughout the country,” Avichai Stern told Kan.

“As long as the Radwan Unit is on the border, we will not return to our homes,” he said, referring to the terror group’s elite unit that has trained for an invasion of Israel.

And today:

Aside from the successful Beirut attack amounting to a real blow and a morale booster for Israel, it also seems to be setting up the spin that a widening of the war in Lebanon would be the result of Hezbollah escalation, as opposed to as Israel initiative (hoping for a response to provocation as cover). For example, see the DW headline: Hezbollah’s revenge for Beirut killing: Will it lead to war?

One wonders why Israel seems to be committing itself to an invasion of Lebanon. Is this strictly domestically driven, that it is politically unacceptable for Israel to have abandoned border towns? That Israel is worried about waning US support, witness the pressure to dial down (at least optically) Israel’s campaign in Gaza?

Aljazeera articulates one widespread view, that Netanyahu is strongly motivated to keep the war at a high pitch, although he probably has some rabid allies:

Israel’s initial calculation had to consider the possibility of Hezbollah opening a second front, but after almost three months of relative quiet in the north, Israeli forces allowed themselves to demobilise five brigades, obviously convinced that whatever fighting it will have to do in future, it will be in the strip.

But many prominent Israeli politicians, generals and influentials have been warning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not see eye to eye with the generals. Rather, he may see the continuation of war being in his direct interest.

“The government of Netanyahu does not want this war to end. Politically, Netanyahu has a major problem on the day after [the war ends] as this is when inquiries will begin as to the failures on the Israeli side,” warned former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy just days ago.

If you fear the end of the war – why not push it into the future, prolong it? Why not open another front in the north, have more of your own men and women in uniform, have the country continue on a war footing, preventing citizens and politicians from asking unpleasant questions? Why not use the convenient opportunity to prolong the atmosphere in which politicians from the farthest right like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich may continue to advocate the extreme views such as the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and resettling of Israelis instead? All of this would be consistent with the behaviour of the Israeli prime minister, say experienced Netanyahu watchers.

The big question now is whether Hezbollah will swallow the obvious bait.

Recall specifically that Ritter has predicted that if Israel attacks Lebanon, the result would be not just Israel being run out of Lebanon much faster than in 2006 but Lebanon taking territory in Northern Israel, say down to Galilee. It is hard not to see the US becoming involved in a big way if that were to happen, with US warmongers insisting that the Hezbollah performance had to be due to the active involvement of Iran, and not just general support over time.

But again per Ritter’s assessment that Israel will not go as far as launching a war it cannot win, the US is more and more looking like a severely diminished power. The shipping defense plan laughably called Operation Prosperity Guardian failed quickly, with Maersk, which was briefly emboldened to resume Red Sea shipping, having retreated:

And the Houthis may be able to up their game. From Business Insider (hat tip reader BC) US Navy admiral says ships in the Middle East are now facing a new challenge: Houthi drone boats packed with explosives:

• The Houthis on Thursday launched an explosive drone boat into key waters off the coast of Yemen.

• A US Navy admiral said the drone detonated in international shipping lanes without causing harm.

• It’s the first time the rebels have done this since they started attacking ships in November.

Our esteemed commentariat has not been much impressed with sea drones as weapons. But at close range, say to ward off or damage a defending military vessel when trying to block a commercial ship? And given that high insurance rates come close to producing an embargo-type response, the mere potential to be effective may suffice.

So this situation looks fraught. Absent a wild card development, like Biden blowing a cog,2 the trajectory favors a widening of the war.


1 More backstory:

2 You tell me how confident our armed services and Israel would be with President Harris as commander in chief.

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  1. Morincotto

    Israel’s Congo Plan is the equivalent of Nazi Germany’s Madagascar Plan and to be taken as seriously.

    The Plan B is also basically the same in both cases.

  2. Alan Roxdale

    Our esteemed commentariat has not been much impressed with sea drones as weapons. But at close range, say to ward off or damage a defending military vessel when trying to block a commercial ship?

    The commentariat would want to wake up. The latest development is remote controlled suicide boats. It’s fairly clear that the Houthis (or Iran) have leaped ahead in unmanned remote tech, which is above all cheap. We’re in the age of the “robotic technical”.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The commentariat issue was that sea drones, particularly the underwater kind used to hit a Russian flagship (which had more symbolic than military value) and is thought in some quarters to be how the Nova Kharkova dam was destroyed, are that they move slowly and cannot be launched very far from the target. Surface ships are even more vulnerable to detection and still move plenty slowly.

        1. Skip Intro

          I would think just releasing a bunch of dumb sea mines would be pretty effective, once you wanted to shut down all shipping.

          1. ISL

            But the Houthi’s have been allowing friendly vessels to pass (Russian) – which dumb mines would not.

  3. DJG, Reality Czar

    I am noticing that the border tension in northern Israel is in Galilee, which is Israel’s only region with an Arab majority. It looks as though 40 percent of all Israeli Arabs live there. This is another, unacknowledged, security problem for Israel. Ironically, the mixed population of the Israeli north hasn’t made news lately with ethnic tensions and other fandangos.

    Any country looking for a two-front war is out of control. Americans know this about the U S of A, which is now eating the seed corn. Well, the elite is eating the seed corn, and the 99 percent is trying to get around their health-insurance mega-deductibles.

    I will also venture an interpretation of oracular footnote 2: You tell me how confident our armed services and Israel would be with President Harris as commander in chief.

    Let us not forget that the U S of A was “confident” with Zelensky as president of Ukraine. Now, maybe he is a puppet, but the U S of A portrays Zelenskyy as the new Churchill. Meanwhile, here in Italy, waggish journalists write that Zelenskyyy isn’t as good an actor as Totò, let alone a president in the style of Totò.

    Which means: The president of the U S of A is in some senses a captive to the deliberate stupidity of the executive branch over time. Who right now has confidence in motor-mouth Biden? Can Biden suddenly reverse policies? Wouldn’t Vicki Nuland and Tony Blinken demand an intervention, conducted by Jake Sullivan?

    I am also reminded how sucky (to be polite) Bernie Sanders is at foreign policy. Did he never have time to read a book of history? Or is he going along to get along? (His whole “Hamas as terrorists” stuff is poor, and then the October 7 stuff, which smacks of U.S. Fears of White Women Being Ravished by Mandingo, is another line that he’s peddling without much critical thinking.)

    In short, whether the president of the U S of A is Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, or Josh Hawley, policy isn’t going to change all that much, no matter how disastrous.

    Oh, for the statesmanlike Pat Paulsen.

    1. Carolinian

      out of control

      Yes reading the above it does seem like the vague hope that Gaza might end up being “mowing the lawn” on steroids is not the situation. They really do want to provoke a regional war and give the settler rump its desired Greater Israel. In his latest Mearsheimer says that this has been his conclusion also once Israel resumed the bombing after the slight “humanitarian” pause.

      Of course no Greater Israel without full US cooperation and so far that part of the plan is working out nicely. The Lobby has shown that it can get university presidents fired and keep Joe in his room eating ice cream. He too has a lunatic plan–getting re-elected despite his obvious incapacity. The MSM and even some lefty site obsession with Trump helps to distract from the real crisis that is happening now if the above is correct.

  4. Raymond Sim

    When I was young I would have called myself a gentile Zionist. But from my early twenties (in the early 80’s) I’ve felt Israel was doomed, and that its end would likely involve an attempted genocide of the Palestinians. Somewhat hilariously it was reading ‘The New Republic’ that convinced me of this.

    There was always the hope that this was a failure of imagination on my part. But if it was, then it seemed to affect Israel’s leadership as well. They were just more optimistic about the outcome.

    And here we are. Israel is, I think, in a no-win situation. It can’t stand still, and all possible courses of action are predictably catastrophic. So I think we can anticipate some catastrophically bad plan of action.

    I would imagine that the idea of drawing their enemies into making the first move has a lot of appeal right now, if for no other reason than to postpone hard decisions. I’m inclined to guess that Israeli provocations will escalate to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish that policy from simply making the first move themselves.

  5. QABubba

    President Trump recognized the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria. Israel captured them as much for the water resources as the strategic value.
    The same holds true for Southern Lebanon. Israel wants, and has always planned to eventually obtain, the water resources.
    Of course they consider it a part of Greater Israel.

    1. elissa3

      100%. Lebanese, even though they are consummate conspiracy realists, have been talking about this for over 40 years. Water.

      1. vao

        This is exactly why all Israeli attempts for the occupation of Lebanon (under various terminological disguises) in the past 45 years always included the Litani river as the vital geographical objective to attain.

        1. Revenant

          Don’t forget the gas fields between the coast of Cyprus and the Levantine coast, to which Israel, Lebanon, Gaza and I believe Syria all have claims, in some cases with competing boundaries and, or course, sovereignties….

  6. The Rev Kev

    Going to guess that Israel pulled those five Brigades out as Hamas was mauling them too badly and was racking up high casualty counts. And it was realized that the IDF has no real way to dig out that Hamas force from their underground tunnels. So they pulled them out a released most of them back into the workforce as the economy is screaming under the stress right now. So I would expect the IDF to refrain from heavy contact with Hamas and spend the next coupla months bombing what is left of Gaza and massacring anybody they can find. Somebody pointed out that this is the most well recorded genocide in history which is probably true.

    Of course the problem remains what to to with the Lebanese border. They may demand that Hezbollah evacuate from southern Lebanon but that will never happen. So the question remains what to do with all those settlements south of the border. They can never be “safe” as Hezbollah has the initiative and the military capabilities that Israel does not have. Israel may want to try to bring in the US to do the heavy lifting but the Pentagon would see that there would be no upside for them and plenty to lose. So perhaps for the first time, Israel has woken up to the fact that there is no solution and that the entire north of the country is under the gun – at Hezbollah’s sufferance.

    1. nippersdad

      South Africa has submitted a case for genocide at the ICJ that is considered to be compelling enough by international and humanitarian law experts to support an injunction against Israel in the short term, prolly before the end of January. The signatories to the genocide convention under such an injunction would have to cease any activities supportive of Israel until they complied and opened up Gaza to humanitarian relief while the case is tried.

      Hard to believe that even our State Department has the chutzpah to deliberately subject themselves to charges of supporting a genocide. It doesn’t sound like it could last all that much longer, but if it does it couldn’t do Israel’s already stressed economy any good to undergo the kind of sanctions regimes that Russia has faced.

      I thought this was an interesting run down on the state of play:

      1. Feral Finster

        So who is going to enforce this injunction? The United States and its puppets will ignore it, law, facts and evidence be damned.

        1. nippersdad

          The ROW may gleefully engage in the sanctions regimes that he suggests will happen to the non-compliant. “Sorry, we can’t buy your Treasuries because you are a war criminal” may be the most delightful words Putin will ever hear.

          1. nippersdad

            Can’t you just see John Kirby up there talking about that?

            “Will no one think of Victoria’s waistline? She now has to eat her own cookies!”


          2. Uncle Doug

            Reminder: The ICJ deals with contested cases between nations, not cases against individuals. Even without ICJ enforcement power, there could well be real consequences for Israel — and for its chief accessory before, to and after the fact — if the court issues “provisional measures” on the genocide case, but those consequences won’t include threat of arrest for individuals.

      2. Aurelien

        I wouldn’t get too excited. The ICJ’s powers are limited to settling legal disputes between states. SA is saying that Israel has failed to abide by its responsibilities under the Convention, and Israel is denying that. If the ICJ finds that SA is right, they can then refer the case to the UN Security Council for enforcement. That’s it.

        1. Yeah, Right

          If the ICJ brings down an advisory opinion that the events inside Gaza are indeed a genocide then that is a finding that there is a Crime Against Humanity being carried out.

          Now, so sorry, you can’t have a Crime Against Humanity taking place without there being, you know, criminals being behind it.

          So I can’t see how the ICC (which is a criminal court, unlike the ICJ) can avoid opening a case against Netanyahu and his minions.

          There is no way he or any of his underlings can avoid that rap, because that means that there is a Crime Against Humanity without any perps.

          1. Chris Cosmos

            I would be very surprised if any international “court” would do anything for one simple reason: there is no such thing as international law. It is a notional law that can be ignored if you are the US and Israel while other countries and leaders can be sanctioned, mainly by the Washington Empire.

          2. Uncle Doug

            Neither Israel nor the US accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC. Israel was never a signatory and the US was but withdrew. And the chances of the US permitting its own or Israel’s officials to be arrested or tried by the ICC are . . . nonexistent.

            Google “Hague Invasion Act.” (Not the official name, but you’ll get appropriate results immediately.)

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      While the IDF losses were no doubt a factor (Crooke has said that sort of rumor has appeared briefly in the Hebrew press and is quickly snuffed by the censors), IMHO this misses the point. The war in Gaza was never about Hamas. Experts were saying at the very outset that Israel could not eliminate Hamas, despite that being the alleged aim of the campaign. It has been revealed to be about ethnically cleaning Gazans, and if necessary, exterminating them all, with at best the bizarre justification that they all, even premies in incubators, are in cahoots with Hamas.

      So the losses simply forced a quicker shift in how the cover story was handled.

      1. milda2

        Establishing security in Gaza is the most pressing question. If Hamas cannot be eliminated, Gaza becomes a permanent war zone. The question is how to avoid this scenario.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You have this backwards. The Gazans have a right to resist an occupier. Israel as an occupier has obligations to the occupied which it is flagrantly violating. It has no right to self defense as an occupier.

  7. Victor Sciamarelli

    Once upon a time, the road to peace and security for Israel went through Damascus; perhaps it still does.
    In the 1967 Six-Day war, Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria. Roughly 80,000 Syrians were displaced while thousands of Israeli settlers moved in. Israel law was established which meant the Golan Heights were de facto annexed by Israel.
    The current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, like his father Hafez, wanted to negotiate the return of the Golan Heights in exchange with a comprehensive plan for peace.
    Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin understood clearly the value of the peace plan. Rabin ran as a peace with the Palestinians candidate, orchestrated a peace agreement with Jordan in 1994, and together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, Rabin signed on to the Oslo Accords. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1995 by a Israeli right-wing extremist who opposed Oslo.
    Al-Assad and the Iranians made numerous overtures to the US. Syria had, and still has, significant influence in Lebanon as well as with the Iranians. In exchange for the Golan Heights, a peace plan could have been arranged with both Lebanon and Syria. And Syria was willing to distance itself from Iran which meant it would be easier for the US to arrive at an understanding with Iran.
    Those days are over. With the arrival of deranged right-wing racist Israeli politicians like Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu, Israel is not interested in peace. It wants to keep the Golan Heights permanently, and pursue a greater Israel which, as we witness today, means all the land without Palestinians.
    In my opinion, it’s never too late but that means the US must break from the policies of Israel and its American neocon supporters, and define what’s good for the US. Instead of regime change in Syria and war with Iran, which Netanyahu and US neocons want, somebody needs to step-up and regain control over the situation, and they can start with building a bridge to Syria.

  8. nippersdad

    I have to wonder if part of the reason for pulling troops back from Gaza doesn’t have something to do with the anti-biotic immune killer fungus they have created there in the course of the war. Hopefully it will not be some kind of anthrax type thing, with the soldiers going home spewing spores everywhere to create a new plague. Don’t know enough about funguses to know how they propagate in the humans they inhabit, but it just doesn’t sound like a good thing to have around when we still haven’t managed to tame COVID.

    Making lemonade out of lemons:

    I saw yesterday that Israelis are already fleeing from Israel on things like cruise ships. That would make a good dystopian novel, all the elements are there for some kind of a diseased diaspora of Biblical proportions, spreading a COVID/fungal contagion world wide. If Victoria Nuland runs out of wars to prosecute she might be a good super villain on the big screen. Drawing from her experiences of building bio-labs in Ukraine, she could be a compelling method actress for her second career.

    I can see her now, sailing up the red carpet (in a green silk dress with a plunging neckline) to get her Oscar to the applause of an adoring Hollywood….Only in America.

    1. Michaelmas

      nippersdad: I can see her now, sailing up the red carpet (in a green silk dress with a plunging neckline)….

      Spare me. I’ve just had lunch and I’d like to keep it down.

  9. Feral Finster

    Israel is trying very hard to get Hezbollah to respond to increasingly outrageous provocations, in order that Israel run screaming to its American thug.

  10. Aurelien

    As it happens, I was talking to some contacts in Beirut and elsewhere yesterday. The first thing to stress is that “Lebanon” is not a player in this situation. There is no Lebanese President, no government, and, until a week or so ago it looked as if there would be no Chief of the Army either. The country, hopelessly divided at the best of times, is incapable of acting as a unit, and is essentially keeping its head down, hoping that the intra-Christian jealousy that is the main factor in preventing the election of a President will somehow resolve itself.

    So here, we are talking about Hezbollah. On Wednesday, Nasrallah made a much-anticipated speech which was seen partly as a response to the Israeli killing of two Hamas leaders in Beirut last week. In the end, the tone of his speech was much milder than expected, and it doesn’t look as if there will be any deliberate reprisal. There are two reasons for this. The first is that Hezbollah doesn’t greatly care what happens to Hamas: the two come from completely different tendencies. The second is that any large-scale hostility with Israel would pretty much destroy the country, even if Hezbollah “won,” because Lebanon is much weaker now than it was in 2006, with a collapsed political system, a collapsed economy and two million Syrian refugees. Not only is Hezbollah a genuinely Lebanese movement, which regards itself as patriotic, but, even by the most cynical of calculations, it needs the Lebanese state in order to survive. So the general feeling is that they will continue to do the minimum to support the Palestinian cause, without putting the country in danger.

    This is not to say, of course, that the Israelis will not do something terminally stupid, and try to open a second front. But here, I think the US will use what little leverage it has left to try to stop them. Washington has invested a huge amount of time, effort and money in Lebanon (it’s building an enormous new Embassy there) and, like other western states, it sees Lebanon as the last moderately stable state in the region, no matter how messed-up it is. If Lebanon goes, there’s nothing.

    1. Feral Finster

      It is abundantly obvious that neither Hezbollah nor the other Arab states nor Turkiye want to be dragged into this war.

      And the United States is perfectly happy to turn Lebanon into a failed state, just as it did to Iraq and Libya and seeks to do to Syria.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      This sounds sensible but Israel has not been sensible. We’ll see what happens but Crooke’s reading (and he is the in the region too with excellent contacts) is that Israel has committed itself to a ground attack to create a buffer zone so the border residents can go back to their homes.

      1. Aurelien

        Oh, I agree that you can’t assume common sense on the part of Israel. The real issue is how far the US can restrain them. Compared with twenty years ago, the US agenda in the Levant, of stable, prosperous, pro-western, um, democracies, is looking a bit sick. Lebanon is the last hope, but it remains to be seen just how much control Washington can actually exert.

      2. Willow

        I suspect Lebanon and Hezbollah were always the primary objective. Israeli leadership being pressured to get US involved now rather than later as US money and equipment starts to run out and US voters fall back on isolationist tendencies. Ukraine has gone on too long and now puts Israel (more specifically those currently in power) at risk. Gaza was only supposed to be a ‘whack a mole’ warm up to keep Hamas’ heads down while the Lebanon operation was underway. Resolving Lebanon risk resolves a lot of Iran risk by pushing a key Iran proxy away from Israel’s borders. Plus adding extra territory with access to water for the politically important settlers. An opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. And only after Lebanon sorted out with US direct support start clearing Gaza and West Bank at the usual pace (at a higher tempo) that doesn’t create an international outcry. Problem for Israel was that instead of being a straight forward ‘whack a mole’ game play Hamas took the bait and responded orders of magnitude greater than Israeli leadership expected. Triggering Israel to overplay their desire for vengeance and lose a huge amount of geopolitical skin. Hamas having prepared for what they saw as being inevitable at some point and were waiting for the bait to be set. Knowing full well consequences far better than slowing bleeding to death. This makes resolving Lebanon and Hezbollah even more urgent for Israel and the pull back from Gaza is likely an attempt to refocus. Gaza will eventually fall anyway under siege conditions as disease and hunger take hold (though geopolitical cost for Israel will be high). However, Hezbollah won’t take the bait until uncertainty of US participation is resolved. If the US decides to commit, Hezbollah will want the US to take the first shot before taking the fight into Israel’s territory (beyond Lebanese ground occupied by Israel). Unfortunately, US will go there as an inevitable consequence of Israeli making the first move and trying to ensure Israel doesn’t lose and resort to a ‘first strike’.

      3. The Rev Kev

        Well there could be a buffer zone created. The only problem is that it would have to be on the Israeli side of the border.

    3. hk

      On one hand, the lack of a formal institution that speaks for “Lebanon” likely means that it would be easy for an institution like Hizbullah to step into the void–they’ve done that before, after all.

      But Feral Finster is right: no ME state or major organization really wants to take the plunge and actually confront Israel–Vladimir Zelenski, they are not–Hamas is, for all sorts of reasons, their enemy and/or rival, not somebody you want to take a bullet for. There is much sympathy for Palestinians, perhaps, but they have a good sense of the relationship of forces. But the situation is matched by the political pressures on the other side: they want to be seen making some “gains” and they’ve cornered themselves into a trap. (I’ll deviate from the prevailing view by arguing that Israeli losses are not “that” heavy: unless they are actively marching into Gaza in force, with many of their conscripts, I doubt they took that many losses. Now, they would have relied on their more reliable troops more heavily for raids and patrols and they would have taken heavy losses, but the overall losses would not be “too” heavy, although that probably doesn’t really matter). Regardless, Israelis have decided that they lack the military wherewithal to go for a close fight with Hamas, which is the only way they could “win” so they are left only with the alternative of terrorizing and murdering civilians from far away, which Hamas cannot respond to, but this does not help them “win” either. (I have the hunch that this is what the “siege of Sarajevo” became during Yugoslav Wars, but I have no detailed info on the situation that led up to it ) Sewing more chaos and dragging more players in may force someone else to resolve the situation for the Israelis, though, unlike the Bosnian Serb militia, so they want to make the problems bigger, not smaller.

    4. elissa3

      “terminally stupid” is the key. Any rational player among both Israelis and Hezbollah knows that a full-fledged war would be devastating for both Lebanon and Israel. The numerous “back to the Stone Age” threats by Israeli leaders over the past few years might well be countered with a destruction of Israeli infrastructure that would transform that country in unexpected ways.

      Sadly, there are a few irrational people around–particularly amongst the Israelis.

    5. Paris

      Thanks for the more realistic view. I wasn’t believing all the cheer leaders saying that Lebanon is stronger than 2006 – something didn’t smell quite right here…

  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    I believe that any intervention in Lebanon is a means, and not an end.

    The end goal of Netanyahu is to get the US to invade Iran.

    1. JonnyJames

      The US can only use air and naval power to bomb Iran, despite the many US bases in the region. The US is simply not capable of a ground invasion of Iran. The Trump and Biden regimes have tried to provoke Iran many times. The most recent attack at Gen. Soleimani’s memorial was almost certainly done by Israel/US/UK. Mass Media McNews says it was “Islamic State” that did it. (IS is a CIA front anyway)

      1. Polar Socialist

        Speaking of that terror bombing, the Jamkaran Mosque is flying the red flag for revenge again. If we’re lucky, it means just a new wave of concussions.

        But I’m afraid at some point all of these multiple pressure cookers will boil over in an uncontrolled escalation.

        1. Matthew G. Saroff

          Certainly the flag flying is significant, but the flying or the red flag at the Jamkaran Mosque is actually a regular thing:

          Contrary to what many of the publications assert, this red flag — a colour symbolising the blood of martyrs — is frequently raised in Iran. It is often unfurled above mosques or brandished at religious processions, particularly during the Islamic month of Muharram, which ended on September 29 last year.

          The same flag was a common sight in the streets of Tehran on Monday, during the tribute paid to Soleimani, without necessarily implying revenge.

          According to [Jamkaran Mosque administrator] Hossein Abadi, the use of this flag at the Jamkaran Mosque is relatively recent. “For the past three years,” it has flown over the mosque during the ten days of mourning of the Muharram month, during which Shia Muslims commemorate Hussein ibn Ali, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

          This was in response to the bombing, and this can have implications of revenge, but it is not an extraordinary call for revenge.

  12. HH

    The idea that college debating champion Jake Sullivan is at the steering wheel of the U.S.S. Hegemon would be laughable were it not for the tens of thousands dying because of his utter incompetence. The fact that Sullivan and Blinken, two clever campaign management hacks, rose to the highest ranks of the U.S. government is proof positive of the terminal decay of U.S. national leadership. Joe Biden is the living symbol of a moribund nation: feckless, ill-advised, and irrational.

    1. elissa3

      And with reference to Yves’ second footnote: we would be in truly uncharted waters with POTUS Kamala. Imagine how the several factions actually deciding things right now would be in their interactions with a person with her depth of experience in governing and foreign policy.

      Like Yves, I had thought that Biden’s time was up a couple of months ago. We were wrong then, but I think that we’re approaching the finish line. (I want a stock of whatever they’ve been giving JB up to now!).

      1. Paris

        Why do you think it makes a difference for the powers-that-be to pull the brain dead Biden’s strings vs pulling the brain dead Kuh-muh-luh’s strings? They’re both puppets.

        1. elissa3

          Of course. I guess my thought is that any actual decisions to do something have to be “articulated” through the puppet’s facial orifice. I am not a believer that there is one and only one PTB. So an interesting question may be what faction gets to write the script that is broadcast to the world by President Harris. We won’t know until (well) after the fact.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          The military is top to bottom sexist.They will not be comfortable with anything less that a Golda Meir in charge. And can you imagine Kamala at a press conference on the topic of Gaza?? The mind reels.

  13. Morincotto

    Concerning the possible charges of genocide against Israel and the US for aiding them:

    Twenty years ago they would have laughed and thought that (at least almost) no country would ever actually dare to arrest US officials, certainly not highranking ones, definitely not while they are actually in office.

    But with the previously unimaginable open defiance that they are regularly met with now things are quite different.

    Of course many arrogant and stupid officials may very well feel compelled by their pathological need to play tough guy and test the resolve of the ROTW.

    But that is just another reason why they feel they desperately need a big war against an opponent they Hope they can decisively Beat.

    A big war raking in a big win they tell themselves will force all the genies back into their bottle and turn the clock back to 2005 or so.

    With blackmail, bribery and “diplomatic” intrigue proving less reliable for the Neocons and their friends it has become only more clear that violence alone can decide and shape the world order.

    1. Paris

      Charges of genocide are only claimed against the losing faction. Only losers are genocides. Winners are not. They just need to make sure they win all this.

  14. JonnyJames

    I was in hospital briefly, but recovering at home now. Thank you Yves, I have been out of the loop for days, but this post just brought me up to speed on this issue. We live in interesting times indeed.

  15. john r fiore

    Nasrallah knows that he has an obligation also towards the 35% or more christians in Lebanon who want no part of any war and who historically know how masses of palestinian refugees so destabilized their once “paris and hong kong of the middle east” country. Hence Nasrallahs’ rather firm but not warlike speeches. President Amoun, a christian, is 90 years old, and noticeably silent, although also a “general”. The support of this 35% of Lebanon leans towards Israel and the US. In fact, a large majority of christian lebanon has always desired “partition”.

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