Gil Lewinsky

Analysis: An increasingly inevitable third Lebanon war

If I were a resident of Lebanon, or an Israeli north of Haifa or in the Galilee, I would make a strong plan B to evacuate. For it is no longer a question largely of “what if” but “when” a major conflagration will erupt.

Let’s be honest, a war is presently happening in Israel’s north and in Southern Lebanon. With the world’s attention largely focused on Gaza, daily exchanges of fire, mostly in the form of rockets and missiles are flying past the internationally marked blue line. The skirmishes have led to the evacuation of some 100,000 Israelis, including from Kiryat Shmona, an Israeli city bombarded almost daily. On the Lebanese side, an almost equal number of residents of Southern Lebanon are refugees in their own country. Huge parts of Israel’s Galilee has burnt down, the hard work of a hundred years of Jewish National Fund (JNF) projects. The most beautiful area of the country, arguably, filled with national parks is increasingly dangerous to visit, if not shut down.

Israel’s beautiful North, largely unaccessible since October 07th due to active war (credit: Gil Lewinsky) Bottom: Social Media campaign to draw attention to the burning down of the North’s trees, vast hectares worth, due to Hezbollah rocket attacks (credit: taken from Tiktok All Eyes on Galilee)

The local Hebrew news media locally is increasingly focused on the north, in particular the barrages of Hezbollah missiles that rain down daily. The Hebrew media has one main question, pondering why the Israeli government has yet to adequately respond, besides tit for tat retaliatory strikes that have killed some 350 Hezbollah fighters and commanders. To keep a whole region of the country away from their homes is expensive economically, and also seems to reek of weakness in the hands of the Lebanese terror group. The sentiment on the street is equally stern, increasingly of the opinion of an inevitable war.

Why hasn’t Israel struck Lebanon with all its might? Concerned with dividing its forces, Israel until now has been focused on Hamas and Gaza, the perpetrators of the October 7th massacre. To divide its forces in a two front war, in combination, with manpower and resources shortages, would expose the home front to unnecessary risk. The thinking goes, finish with one front and then focus on the other with much more strength.

In fact this was Netanyahu’s message in his first interview to an Israeli local media station last night. Speaking to Channel 14, known for its strong support of right wing causes and the government, Netanyahu’s message was unequivocal: We are soon finished with Rafah, which means that high intensity fighting will end in Gaza. While the war continues until Hamas is vanquished, this will allow us to transfer more resources to the north to fight Hezbollah more effectively.

However, a war with Hezbollah is no picnic for Israel. Shaul Goldstein, head of the electrical planning company NOGA predicted that it would be very easy for Hezbollah to overwhelm Israel’s power grid. Likewise, Americans have been vocal on Hezbollah’s ability to overwhelm the Iron Dome, including possibly taking out much of the systems. A war will be more intense than anything witnessed in Gaza with the country virtually shut down for a period of at least several weeks with hundreds if not thousands of rockets launched. Israel would retaliate hitting likely all of Lebanon. A mild form of MAD (mutually assured destruction), Israel will most likely be badly bruised from tens of thousands of missiles hitting the home front not to mention the likely evacuation of a large portion of the north’s population, to the level if not greater than what was seen during the last Lebanon War in 2006. The economy and any educational programs will likely turn virtual and leaving one’s comfort of one’s home will turn into a potentially life threatening endevour (especialy if the Iron Dome batteries are successfully hit). However, after the first wave, the war will likely quickly become far more costly for Lebanon (a failed state in all but name) than Israel, and while Israel will bounce back, Lebanon, already with a collapsed economy, will quickly head towards the abyss. It is perhaps for this very reason that Hezbollah hasn’t gone “all out” yet, knowing what the consequences will likely be.

Nevertheless, pending an unlikely diplomatic breakthrough or Hamas agreeing to surrender the hostages (not likely to happen), expect a war to erupt soon. Preparations should be made for a fight that likely hasn’t been seen in Israel since 1948. The whole country is likely to be a missile battlefield, with emphasis on the north, with major casualties, including civilian, distinct possibility. The Americans will support from the outside including with weapons and diplomatically, and may intervene if Iran becomes a direct party, but will largely stand aside as Israel will be actively bruised. Nevertheless, the following are major reasons why this war can lead to positive outcomes for Israel strategically:

1) Iran’s influence on Israels borders will be badly damaged. Hezbollah is Iran’s top proxy, armed to the teeth to carry out the foreign policy goal of wiping Israel off the map. By attacking Hezbollah head on, Iran has little cards left to play in the form of non state actors to fight Israel. The outcome of the war will force anti-Israel elements either to be neutralized or to be pushed back from the international border. This outcome long term is positive for Israel.

2) Will help Lebanese civil society. Since the Lebanese Civil War, Hezbollah has emerged as the only party that has kept its weapons and has since been increasingly controlling the state, as a de facto proxy of Iran. Unlike Gaza, which by and large supports Hamas rule, the political civil life of Lebanon is far more fractured and Hezbollah has many opponents within Lebanese general society. If Hezbollah were to be severely weakened, expect a small repeat of Lebanon’s civil war to erupt as Sunni, Druze, and Christian sects may wake up and challenge them directly. Short term will be a bloody mess, long term may create a Lebanon which is more reflective of its civil structure and less likely to be a pawn of Iran’s long game.

3) Will restore Israeli deterrance. Damaged by October 7th and with various weak statements since, and somewhat contained by international pressure, a war on Hezbollah will restore Israel’s enemies fear. With Iran, and its policy of eventual annihilation, the main diplomatic and ideological basis for the war, only the use of force will bring about a practical realignment leading to peace. If Israel were to stop the war, its enemies could launch the next one at its choosing. This way, the enemies are largely on the defensive, forced to react rather than initiate. This is a better status-quo for Israel.

4) Will make peace with Saudi Arabia more achievable. Last, severely weakening Hezbollah will be more likely to achieve a lasting peace with the Gulf Arab States led by Saudi Arabia. Despite the rhetoric of a Palestinian state, geopolitically Saudi Arabia is on the same side as Israel viewing Revolutionary Iran as a major threat to its regional ambitions. As such, all their allies including Hezbollah are opponents of Saudi Arabia. Weakening Hezbollah will therefore strengthen the moderate Sunni Arab block, will strengthen their ability to make alliances and with american pressure, be conducive to peace.

Despite these benefits, a war, even though likely inevitable will be devastating for Israel. However, as heard from numerous discussions with Israelis, living the new norm is a worse reality. As such, when matters heat up, we need to be ready to buckle up. What has been seen so far since October 7th will be nothing but a prelude to the main show.

About the Author
Born in Israel but raised in Canada, Gil Lewinsky worked as a journalist in Jewish newspapers including the Jerusalem Post after completing a Masters degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. He also has a LLM in International Law from Lancaster University in the UK. His past topics include a book written about the Status of Gaza under International Law soon after its conquest by Hamas in 2007. He is perhaps best known as one of two people that brought a flock of Jacob Sheep from Canada to Israel in 2016, making history. He currently works as a teacher and English public relations professional in Israel.