Two days after the Israel Defence Forces announced that it had dismantled Hamas’s ‘military framework’ in the northern Gaza Strip, a new front in the war could now begin after the IDF took out a senior Hezbollah commander. Wissam al-Tawil, the deputy head of a unit within the group’s elite Radwan force, was killed this morning in an Israeli air strike on his car in southern Lebanon. ‘This is a very painful strike,’ one unnamed security source told Reuters. ‘Things will flare up now,’ another security source added. Since 7 October, more than 130 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in skirmishes between the group and Israel (another 19 died in Syria). Some 15 Israelis have also been killed.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly warned the Israelis not to begin a full-scale war with Lebanon (a threat he repeated again during an address on Friday, claiming that there would be ‘no ceilings’ and ‘no rules’ to his group’s fighting if Israel launches a war). On Saturday, the Iranian-backed group targeted an important Israeli military post with 62 rockets. They described this move as part of the ‘initial response’ to last week’s targeted assassination by the IDF of Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas leader, in the Dahiye neighbourhood in Beirut, a Hezbollah-stronghold.
Israel has repeatedly said it sees the regular exchange of fire with Hezbollah as untenable, which (even before today’s escalation) made US officials concerned that a full-blown war with Lebanon could be about to break out. ‘We prefer the path of an agreed-upon diplomatic settlement,’ Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said on Friday. ‘But we are getting close to the point where the hourglass will turn over.’ The Americans reportedly fear that, as the IDF slows down its operation in Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu may see a war with Lebanon as a means of staying in office in charge of a war-time coalition.