The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah has met with top leaders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to assess what their alliance must do to ‘achieve a real victory for the resistance’ in Gaza. The meeting saw Hezbollah’s Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah sit down with Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri and Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhala at an undisclosed location.
Pictures released by Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV showed Nasrallah sitting in a plush wingback chair with the PIJ and Hamas chiefs reclining opposite him on a long sofa. All three were surveyed by imposing portraits of Iran’s former and current Supreme Leaders, Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, whose Islamic Republic is the chief backer of all three militant groups. ‘The meeting… assessed the positions taken internationally and what the Axis of Resistance must do’, a report by al-Manar said. Their meeting has adding to fears that the bitter conflict between Israel and Hamas could trigger the spread of war across the Middle East. Experts have warned the region is teetering on the edge of a ‘deep and dangerous abyss’ as the spectre of war looms large.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said any escalation of violence may instantly alter the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the worse and drag the entire Middle East with it. ‘The events of the past days have served to reignite grievances and reanimate alliances across the region,’ he told the UN Security Council last week. ‘The risk of an expansion of this conflict is very, very real and extremely dangerous.’
And Jon Alterman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, underscored the gravity of the situation, arguing that the complex regional dynamics mean the conflict could spiral out of control at a moment’s notice. ‘If this starts going bad, it could go bad in a lot of places simultaneously and very quickly. We are absolutely heading into a big unknown,’ he told the Washington Post. In the wake of Hamas’ ruthless surprise attack on Israel on October 7, which claimed the lives of 1400 people, Israel responded with full fury, launching an incessant bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip that in turn has killed thousands of Palestinians.
More than two weeks on from the atrocities, Israel’s Defence Forces (IDF) have massed tens of thousands of troops, tanks and heavy armour along the border with Gaza ahead of what threatens to be a full-scale ground assault on the Palestinian enclave. To Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, Israeli units have engaged with militants from Iran-backed Hezbollah, who have also fired rockets at Israel’s cities. And now in Yemen, Houthi rebels have begun firing rockets of their own, last week forcing a US warship to blast the missiles out of the sky. Now, a boots-on-the-ground invasion of Gaza looks imminent.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant last week urged his men to ‘be ready’ to move in, adding: ‘Whoever sees Gaza from afar now, will see it from the inside… It might take a week, a month, two months until we destroy them,’ he added, referring to Hamas. Such an operation is sure to be extremely bloody, with leading military and defence analyst and RUSI Associate Fellow Sam Cranny-Evans, likening the potential conflict to scenes from the most bitter urban fighting amid the Iraq war. ‘The tactics employed by the IDF will depend in part on the tactics used by al-Qassam (Hamas armed wing). ‘It is likely that drones will be used to drop bombs on Israeli forces, and that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) will be deployed to slow them down. The IDF has experienced these technologies, but they do have the ability to inflict serious casualties,’ he said. But other analysts said a greater threat to Israel would come from elsewhere.
Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in the US, emphasised the potential consequences of a full-scale war with Lebanon, noting that it would turn Gaza ‘into a sideshow.’ Maksad warned that Hezbollah’s military capabilities far exceed those of Hamas, meaning Israeli forces would be in for a bitter fight to the north should the Lebanese based group choose to launch a full-scale attack. In a recent analysis of the conflict in the Foreign Affairs journal, Senior Fellow at UCLA’s International Relations department Dalia Dassa Kaye wrote: ‘Missile barrages from Hezbollah could more easily overwhelm Israel’s missile defences than even the most potent strikes from Hamas.’ The spectre of such a conflict brings with it the prospect of unprecedented levels of destruction and bloodshed which could far surpass all previous wars in Israel’s history.
Maksad’s concern comes as Hamas’ top representative in Lebanon, Ahmed Abdul-Hadi, told POLITICO that Hezbollah will not stand for an Israeli ground attack on Gaza. ‘Hezbollah will pay no attention to threats from anyone against it entering the war; it will ignore warnings to stay out of it. The timing of when Hezbollah wants to enter the war or not will relate to Israeli escalation and incidents on the ground, and especially if Israel tries to enter Gaza on the ground,’ he said. Tensions with Iran add another layer of complexity to the already volatile situation. The Islamic Republic, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, has long been opposed to Israel’s existence, viewing it as illegitimate. Israel, in turn, perceives Iran as a security threat due to its support for groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and its nuclear ambitions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian travelled to Saudi Arabia last week – a remarkable show of unity between two former sworn enemies, particularly given that Israel and the Kingdom were working towards normalising their relations. While there, Amir-Abdollahian issued an ominous message to Israel: ‘After the terrible crime of the Zionist regime in the bombing and massacre of more than a thousand innocent women and children in the hospital, the time has come for the global unity of humanity against this fake regime more hated than ISIS and its killing machine. Time is OVER.’ Other parties have attempted to quell the tensions, with US President Joe Biden declaring there was ‘no clear evidence’ that Iran helped Hamas plan its October attacks, despite being the Palestinian group’s main financial backer.
Dassa Kaye remains hopeful that interested parties could help mediate tensions between Israel and Iran, arguing that the Biden administration is ‘reaching out to Iran with the help of regional partners… to avoid miscalculation and unwanted military escalation.’ But she added a stark warning for what may happen with respect to Iran if the violence in Israel and Gaza cannot be contained. ‘More skirmishes between Israel and Iran, not to mention a full-scale war, could destabilize the region, disrupt global markets, cause massive harm to civilians, draw in U.S. forces, and perhaps even prompt Iran to weaponize its nuclear capabilities.’ Read the full story: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12669947/hezbollah-meet-hamas-islamic-jihad-israel-war-gaza-victory.html?ito=msngallery
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