As Hezbollah escalates attacks, Israel must fight back

Iran’s multi-front war on Israel escalated this week as Tehran’s flagship terrorist proxy rained down missiles and drones on northern Israeli towns, killing an Israeli soldier, leaving more wounded and igniting massive wildfires.

While President Biden is squeezing Israel to surrender to Iran on all fronts, northern Israel is burning with the rest of the country in existential danger.

“Whoever thinks that they can harm us and we will sit idly by is making a big mistake,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.

“We are prepared for a very strong action in the north.”

Israel must fight back, and Americans should understand why. 

Iran activated Hezbollah to open a northern front against Israel within hours of Hamas launching the Oct. 7 massacre.

Israel evacuated 100,000 of its people from communities along the Lebanese border, justifiably fearing Hezbollah’s special forces might attempt a similar invasion.

An already tiny country the size of New Jersey has been effectively reduced in size, as a daily dose of rockets, missiles and drones target border towns, destroying buildings and occasionally inflicting casualties.  

Earlier this year, multiple Israeli sources assessed Hezbollah’s arsenal included 160,000 mortars with ranges up to six miles, 65,000 short-range rockets with ranges up to 50 miles and 10,000 medium- and longer-range rockets with ranges from 50 to more than 120 miles.

It also possesses thousands of armed drones, hundreds to thousands of precision guided munitions, anti-tank guided missiles, surface to air missiles and short-range ballistic missiles with ranges up to 186 miles or more.

Hezbollah is a threat to all of Israel, not just towns close to the Lebanese border. 

This threat did not materialize overnight.

Despite a UN Security Council resolution requiring Hezbollah to be disarmed south of the Litani River — some 18 miles north of the Israeli-Lebanese border — Iran spent the last 17 years flooding its flagship terrorist proxy with weapons.

Over that period, US taxpayers sent billions of dollars to UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, purportedly to intercept those weapons — one of the worst returns on investment in American history. 

Noting Hezbollah’s capacity to inflict death and destruction, and understanding how Iran uses that threat to deter Israeli military action against Tehran’s accelerating nuclear program, Israeli leaders considered launching a preemptive strike in Lebanon before acting against Hamas in Gaza.

The timing would have taken Hezbollah by surprise, allowing Israel to kill more terrorists and destroy more weapons caches before its leaders had time to prepare.

But Biden reportedly pulled Israel back, telling Jerusalem he would support military action against Hamas, but not Hezbollah. 

As Israel’s campaign in Gaza proceeded, Hezbollah incrementally escalated its scale and scope of attacks to lure Israel into two simultaneous full-scale wars — a scenario that would drain Israeli munitions stockpiles, stress Israel’s economy and bring unprecedented destruction to large population centers.

Israel opted for a tit-for-tat defensive strategy, responding to every Hezbollah attack with an airstrike against a Hezbollah commander or base, alongside bombastic rhetoric threatening to turn Lebanon into rubble if the group escalated further.  

Hezbollah, however, has not been deterred.

With Biden continuing to provide Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, and Hezbollah watching the United States withhold weapons from Israel to bring major military operations to a halt, Tehran now smells Jewish blood in the water. 

Biden last week suggested that if Israel prematurely ended its military campaign against Hamas, leaving one Iranian proxy intact, the White House would broker a cease-fire with Hezbollah, leaving a larger and more lethal Iranian proxy intact.

Iran is predictably responding with escalation to pressure Israel to surrender.

With Tehran also approaching the nuclear threshold and arming the Houthis in Yemen with missiles of their own, it’s no wonder a former Israeli defense minister warned this week of an Iran-sponsored “Holocaust” within two years. 

Israel’s options are unenviable.

The status quo is unsustainable as it surrenders northern Israel to Iran and invites slow but steady escalation on all fronts.

Evacuated communities will not return to their homes without security guarantees — and such guarantees will not come from a phony cease-fire deal that helps Hezbollah get even stronger.

A ground invasion pushing to the Litani River without American resupply brings unknown risks, while an air campaign without a ground invasion may not prove entirely effective. 

Israel will need to think outside the box to design a counterattack that escalates toward total war and quickly deescalates once limited objectives are achieved.

These objectives will likely include establishing a buffer zone on the Lebanese side of the border to enable Israeli communities to return home, while bringing a pause in missile and drone attacks — something a larger-scale war would still need to address down the road. 

Americans would never surrender to a Hezbollah-like terror threat on our own border.

Biden should not demand that of Israel, either. 

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a former National Security Council official and senior US Senate aide.

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