Israel weighing possible ‘first strike’ against Hezbollah in north, former soldier says

The looming prospect of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is drawing global attention, but Israel‘s war cabinet is also carefully considering carrying out a “first strike” targeting Lebanon-based Hezbollah and its weapons depots to the north, according to a prominent Israeli security analyst.

“There is real momentum behind this idea of Israel launching a first strike against Hezbollah‘s aerial munitions in Lebanon,” Benjamin Anthony, a former Israeli Defense Forces combat reservist told The Washington Times in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv on Monday.

Mr. Anthony, the CEO of the MirYam Institute, a U.S.-based Israeli think tank, said Israeli war planners are weighing such a strike as a way to “defang Hezbollah — a far more potent enemy than Hamas — and therefore allow us to operate more thoroughly and for longer against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.”

“It’s being debated very carefully right now,” said Mr. Anthony, who emphasized that an Israeli attack on Hezbollah munitions sites inside Lebanon “would not be considered a preemptive strike, because we’re already in the midst of a low-level conflict with Hezbollah without question.”

Hamas and Hezbollah both have extensive ties to Iran and have a history of coordinating strategy in facing off with IsraelHezbollah is far better armed and fought an Israeli incursion force to a draw in a brief but bloody war in 2006.

Mr. Anthony‘s comments came a day after Hezbollah militants launched at least five anti-tank guided missiles into northern Israel on Sunday, following warnings from Iranian officials that the Lebanon-based militant movement was poised to aid Hamas by opening a second front against Israel.

Israeli forces responded by shelling Hezbollah positions on the Lebanon side of the border. The back-and-forth marked the latest escalation along the Israel-Lebanon border and ratcheted up fears of a widening IsraelHezbollah clash in the north, as well as the prospect of a major war between Iran and Israel.

A Hezbollah spokeswoman told local reporters that the increased intensity of exchanges on Sunday did not indicate Hezbollah has decided to fully enter into the Hamas-Israel war, but rather that the “skirmishes” represent a “warning” as Israel gears up for a major campaign to avenge a Hamas attack just over a week ago.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters on Friday that he had met with Hezbollah leaders and been told directly about the group’s readiness to fight against Israel. He also urged Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza immediately.

The Associated Press on Monday reported that Hezbollah militants say they have begun destroying Israeli surveillance cameras at army posts along the Israel-Lebanon border, after days of cross-border firing reportedly killed at least four Hezbollah fighters. Earlier in the day, the Israeli military ordered people living in 28 communities within roughly a mile of the Lebanese border to evacuate.

Separately, a former national security adviser for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hezbollah leader Sayyed Nasrallah is under considerable pressure to support the Hamas militants in Gaza, but is likely looking for some way to avoid directly joining the fight beyond border skirmishes.

“He sees what’s going on in Gaza and the last thing he wants is that that will be the same situation in Beirut,” retired IDF Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror told a briefing hosted by the D.C.-based Jewish Institute for National Security of America on Monday. “He sees what’s going on in Gaza [and] for him it’s a nightmare.”

The ex-general said it would be better for the Netanyahu government to concentrate on the Hamas and the Gaza Strip before focusing on the tensions on the northern border.

“But maybe it’s not in our hands and the decision will be taken by Hezbollah,” he added. “The IDF should be prepared to stage on both fronts.”

The Biden administration and top Pentagon officials have warned Iran, Hezbollah and all other actors to stay out of the conflict.

It is unclear whether the Biden administration would back the idea of a major strike by Israel against Hezbollah ahead of a much anticipated Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, where Hamas is based.

President Biden has dispatched America’s two largest aircraft carrier battle groups to the region in support of Israel Defense Forces as they prepare for a Gaza operation aimed at dismantling Hamas, whose Oct. 7 terrorist assault on Israel killed 1,3000 Israelis and at least 27 Americans.

But the Gaza-based group’s strength as a legitimate fighting force pales in comparison to Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Hezbollah boasts that it has more than 100,000 trained fighters, though most outside estimates put the true number between 25,000 and 50,000. It also receives significant funding and material backing from Iran and most analysts say its fighters are better trained, have more effective weapons and far more rockets, and are more battle-tested as a major ground fighting force.

Mr. Anthony said Monday that if Israeli forces were to launch a first strike against Hezbollah‘s aerial munitions, it would “massively reduce” the group’s fighting potency. “Hezbollah‘s entire strategy is predicated on more than 190,000 munitions it has pointed at Israel, giving it a capacity to fire about 2,200 rockets per day at us,” he said.

He added that a first strike would target depots holding those rockets, as well as Hezbollah drones equipped with GPS guidance systems capable of targeting Israel‘s domestic infrastructure, including power stations and civilian centers.

“We have a very simple calculus to make,” Mr. Anthony said. “Do we want Hezbollah coming after us in a diluted capacity or coming at us in full force?”

“In the long run there will be a clash between Hezbollah and Israel,” he said, adding that a first strike by Israel would “remove this pervasive sense of foreboding that Israeli citizens are suffering from as they wonder whether we’re going to see an additional front opened in the north from Hezbollah.”

Originally Published in Washington Times.