Protesters at the ‘All Denmark on the Streets for Palestine — Ceasefire Now!’ demonstration march from Frederiksberg City Hall to Copenhagen City Hall, on Sunday—AFP
Protesters at the ‘All Denmark on the Streets for Palestine — Ceasefire Now!’ demonstration march from Frederiksberg City Hall to Copenhagen City Hall, on Sunday—AFP

WASHINGTON: An American intelligence assessment found that it would be difficult for Israel to succeed in a war against Hezbollah amid ongoing fighting in Gaza, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

US President Joe Biden has dispatched his top aides to the Middle East with “a critical objective: Prevent a full-blown war from erupting between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hez­bollah,” the US newspaper said.

Israel, however, has warned that it may soon launch a major military operation in Lebanon to stop regular border clashes.

“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.”

According to the Post, US officials fear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may expand the war to Lebanon to silence his critics and to secure his political future.

“In private conversations, the administration has warned Israel against a significant escalation in Lebanon,” the report added. If it were to do so, a new secret assessment from the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) “found that it will be difficult for Israel’s army to succeed because its military assets and resources would be spread too thin given the conflict in Gaza,” the Post reported.

The report pointed out that Hezbollah has well-trained fighters and tens of thousands of missiles and rockets and it would be a formidable force to deal with. The newspaper also noted that Hezbollah wants to avoid a major escalation and the group’s leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, wants to stay clear of a wider war.”

The DIA has warned that Israel’s military, including air forces, may face challenges in Lebanon due to fatigue, resource strain, and more dangerous missions compared to Gaza.

The Biden administration has conveyed this warning to Israel, the report added US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is already in the region to discuss specific steps to avoid escalation during his visit to Israel. Efforts include working on an agreement to reduce tensions at the Lebanese-Israeli border and exploring a proposal for the Lebanese government to control part of the border.

Israel’s deep fears about the threat from Hezbollah influenced Biden’s decision to intervene, and as did its concerns about how Netanyahu might react to the situation.

The Post noted that there were differing perceptions within the US administration about Netanyahu’s interest in a negotiated resolution with Hezbollah. Some see it as bluster, while others suggest political motivations tied to the Gaza unrest.

Diplomatic efforts include exploring a land demarcation agreement and discussions with the Lebanese government, though Hezbollah is unlikely to agree while the Gaza conflict persists.

While reviewing Netanyahu’s political logic, some Biden administration officials noted that his “need for success” after the failure to detect the Oct 7 raid might lead to a broader conflict in the region.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2024

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