The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza raises concerns about a potential widening of the war to include Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.
This would mark a significant escalation of the situation in the Middle East. But it could come with dire implications for both sides. So, is a new war between Israel and Hezbollah really likely?
With support from Iran, Hezbollah has evolved into a potent non-state actor in Lebanon. Emerging from Lebanon's complex demographic composition, including diverse religious and ethnic groups, and influenced by historical events, such as the creation of Israel in 1948 and the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, Hezbollah was created with Iranian support in 1982.
Since the end of the Civil War, it has continued to grow. It not only persisted in fighting Israel in southern Lebanon but expanded its influence within Lebanon, providing essential services and becoming a quasi-state entity. This led to a month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, the Second Lebanese War. Since then, while Hezbollah continued to launch attacks against Israel, the conflict has remained limited.
However, in 2023, amidst the Israel-Hamas confrontation, concerns grew that Hezbollah may launch a new war against Israel. But the first signs suggest that Hezbollah is reluctant to escalate the conflict with Israel. Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, while supporting Palestine, indicated that a full-scale war was not planned. Instead, Hezbollah's attacks on northern Israel seem calculated, primarily targeting military rather than civilian areas.
This reluctance stems from an awareness of the catastrophic repercussions on both sides. Israel faces a more organised threat in Hezbollah than Hamas, while Hezbollah acknowledges Israel's military prowess. More to the point, a full-scale could drag Iran and the United States into the conflict - something neither side wants. However, the situation's volatility remains a significant concern, as conflicts of this nature can quickly spiral out of control.
Dr. James Ker-Lindsay is Eurobank Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe at the European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science.