Doomsday: An all-out war in the Middle East?

March 11, 2024



The October 7th Blitzkrieg offensive carried out by the Palestinian militant group Hamas continues to reverberate across the Middle East as concerns about a larger conflict intensify. This offensive is regarded as one of the most effective assaults by Palestinian armed factions on Israel since the era of Yasser Arafat. An intelligence lapse, compounded by deep internal divisions and a prime minister who disregards input, were the primary factors precipitating this offensive. The assault prompted intervention from Iran’s axis of resistance against Israel, comprising entities such as Hezbollah, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, and Houthi rebels in Yemen. These groups have targeted Western, particularly American interests, military installations, and commercial vessels throughout the region. Consequently, the Biden-led US administration has expressed apprehension about the prospect of an all-out war in the area.

Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East (source: Financial Times)

On October 8th, one day subsequent to Hamas’s offensive, Hezbollah—Iran’s most formidable militant organization—launched several missile strikes against Israeli installations in the occupied Chebaa farms and Kfar Chouba hills. This action compelled the Israeli Defense Forces, who were contemplating an offensive against Gaza, to retaliate directly by bombarding various areas in southern Lebanon. The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel commenced with tit-for-tat exchanges and has escalated to encompass multiple, even dozens, of daily attacks. Furthermore, the conflict has expanded and deepened into both Israeli and Lebanese territories, with Hezbollah repeatedly targeting regions such as Safad, while the Israeli military has extended strikes to locations like Saida, Baalbek, and the capital, Beirut. Nonetheless, the ongoing nature of the conflict differs significantly from the previous war in July 2006 waged by these enduring adversaries. This conflict is notably influenced by the Russian-Ukrainian war, which has prompted both militaries to increasingly deploy suicide drones and other types of UAVs, reducing reliance on conventional ground invasions and human resources.

So, what can we anticipate in the upcoming months? Clearly, neither I, you, the US administration, nor Hezbollah have any definitive answers. The trajectory of the conflict lies in the hands of the Israeli government and its defense forces. An all-out confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel would be unprecedented, given Hezbollah’s significant enhancements in capabilities since the 2006 war and Israel’s advancements in technology, including the utilization of AI, which has greatly bolstered its military’s ability to target key Hezbollah figures. However, the potential extent of the devastation would be unimaginable for both Israel and Lebanon. Unlike the current British and US strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel could ignite a broader regional conflagration, detrimental to all parties involved, including the US (which explains Amos Hochstein’s frequent visits to Beirut).

Moreover, concerns about an all-out war continue to escalate, as Western diplomats have cautioned that Israel has set a deadline until March 15 for a ceasefire to be negotiated. Failure to reach an agreement could prompt the IDF to prepare for a ground invasion aimed at pushing Hezbollah and other armed groups beyond the Litani River (a strategy reminiscent of events in 1978). In conclusion, despite Hezbollah’s resolve and obstinacy, neither side desires a full-scale conflict, even if certain individuals in positions of authority may harbor such intentions. A ceasefire appears probable, although it should ideally be established in Gaza first.

Until March 15…