Middle East

Hezbollah Must Be Removed

The choices Israel makes now will not only shape its immediate future but will also define its security posture in the wider Middle East for decades to come.

In the 1950s, Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, established several key principles for how the nascent Jewish state needed to fight its wars. At the time, Israel was tiny, weak, and without strong allies. As a result, the “Old Man,” as the prime minister was known, decided that Israel needed to always fight its wars within enemy territory and never inside Israel. The reason was simple: Israel is a country with narrow borders and lacks strategic depth.

This vulnerability was starkly illustrated on October 7, when Hamas invaded Israel. Within minutes, terrorists were inside Israeli communities, slaughtering and abducting civilians.

Ben-Gurion’s principle has been consistently violated since October 7 in Israel’s north, where nearly 100,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, and the IDF has created a buffer zone to prevent casualties from daily Hezbollah rocket and anti-tank missile attacks.

This marks a sharp break from the past. For example, in the Gaza Strip, Israel controlled the territory militarily from 1967 until its unilateral withdrawal in 2005. In the years since, up until October 7, all operations were conducted within Gaza, never inside Israel.

In the north, a similar strategy was in place until eight months ago. In 1982, Israel launched an offensive in Lebanon to eliminate Palestinian terrorists. As the war wound down, the IDF created a “security zone” in southern Lebanon, which it held for 18 years until 2000. And in 2006, when Hezbollah infiltrated Israel and abducted two IDF reservists, the Israeli government embarked on a 34-day war aimed at weakening and deterring the terrorist group.

Today though, this security zone is within Israel, as Hezbollah continues to unleash on northern Israel daily barrages rockets, anti-tank missiles, and suicide drones.

After eight months of this unprecedented attack from Lebanon and facing a sharp increase in rocket fire over the last few weeks, Israelis are increasingly frustrated with the situation in the north.

In Gaza, the IDF is actively conquering territory and degrading Hamas capabilities, providing Israeli residents of the south with a horizon for returning home. On the other hand, in the north, no assurances exist.

While the IDF has killed nearly 350 Hezbollah operatives and attacked some of the group’s infrastructure in southern Lebanon, this is just a drop in the bucket compared to what the Iranian proxy is believed to possess. IDF intelligence claims Hezbollah has more than 150,000 rockets, many capable of striking deep inside Israel, and in a future war, the Iranian proxy could fire up to 5,000 rockets a day.

All of this presents Israel with a daunting dilemma. One school of thought advocates for containing the threat from Lebanon rather than initiating a wider war. This approach is based on three reasons.

First, American and Israeli intelligence both believe Hezbollah does not want a wider war but aims to continue attacking Israel in the north as a show of solidarity with Hamas in Gaza. If Hezbollah desired a larger conflict, this thinking goes, it could easily provoke one by firing rockets into Tel Aviv or Haifa, forcing Israel to retaliate against Beirut.

Second, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has stated that he would cease attacks on Israel once the war in Gaza ends. If Israel is heading in that direction anyway, why initiate a northern war now?

Hamas. Photo by Wikipedia

Third, unlike Hamas, Hezbollah is seen as capable of reaching a diplomatic deal to end the hostilities due to its deep entrenchment in Lebanese governance and politics, and its fear that a war leading to Lebanon’s devastation could turn the Lebanese people against it.

On the other hand, the philosophical argument is straightforward. If October 7 taught Israel anything, it is that a policy of containment does not work. When a strong enemy on your border is attacking and threatening you, the obligation is to take it seriously. Israel told itself for years that Hamas was deterred, but that illusion shattered at 6:29 am on October 7 when thousands of Hamas fighters breached the border and ravaged southern Israel.

Hezbollah should not be viewed differently. This terrorist group was created to deter, weaken, and even attempt to destroy Israel. It has partially succeeded; Israel has evacuated the north and is largely deterred from war, as evidenced by its limited attacks until now against Hezbollah.

The challenge remains: How does Israel get its residents to return to their homes? If Hezbollah remains on the other side of the border and there is no extensive operation to remove it, why would anyone return home? There are potential solutions, such as deploying large forces on the border and within each borderline community, but these might not be sustainable in the long term.

Neither option is a good one, but only one provides a future that Israelis deserve: The threat from the north needs to be removed, and if it cannot be done via diplomacy, the IDF will need to act.

Ben-Gurion understood in the 1950s the potential threats that Israelis are experiencing more than 70 years later. The choices Israel makes now will not only shape its immediate future but will also define its security posture in the wider Middle East for decades to come.