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Along Israel's border with Lebanon, its conflict with Hezbollah is intensifying

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There are growing fears that attacks between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are intensifying and could lead to an all-out conflict. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israel is prepared for what he calls a very intense military operation along the border with Lebanon to bring security to the north of the country. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah says that its attacks are in support of Palestinians who are under Israeli bombardment in Gaza. Mohanad Hage Ali is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. He joins us now from London. Mr. Ali, thanks so much for being with us.

MOHANAD HAGE ALI: Thank you.

SIMON: Why do you think there's been an increase in violence now?

ALI: The Hezbollah movement has been keeping the pace very low for many, many months. But now they see an opportunity in Israel's precarious position, given the international scrutiny of its actions in the Gaza Strip, and also given the U.S. pressure on Israel to contain its operations and have a day-after plan in the Gaza Strip. This presents an opportunity for Hezbollah to escalate.

One, to increase the pressure on the Israeli government to accept a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and a deal that would eventually lead to the end of hostilities. And at the same time, secondly, to try and slow down the Israeli advances in the Rafah region in the Gaza Strip. Given that this is the last battle within the Gaza Strip, it only makes sense for Hezbollah to increase its attacks, given that the goal of Hezbollah's engagement in the operation on October 8 was basically to show solidarity for the war going on in the Gaza Strip. So now is the time for the organization to increase its attacks.

SIMON: How do you read Israel's strategic goals?

ALI: So Israel has two strategic goals. The first is to find a new security arrangement in the north than the one that we have right now in place. Now, the security arrangement is based on the Security Council Resolution Number 1701, which allowed for 12,000 U.N. peacekeeping force to secure the border region.

In addition to that, there are thousands of Lebanese Armed Forces in the southern of Lebanon, near the borders. These are now not sufficient for Israel, given that they're not really able to keep Hezbollah away from the border region. So Israel wants a new security arrangement, new guarantors. And for it to establish that, they need to increase the attacks and widen the scope of violence in South Lebanon. And this is exactly what they're trying to do.

The second strategic goal is to have its 100,000 residents who are now internally displaced return to the north of Israel before the start of the new school year. This is an increasingly important issue for the electorate in Israel. And I think for Netanyahu and the Israeli establishment, this has become a priority.

SIMON: Mr. Ali, how dangerous a time is this?

ALI: If Israel launches an all-out war on Lebanon, this would trigger a domino effect in which other actors - non-state actors across the region would join in, leading to an escalation not only with Israel but perhaps also with the United States. And that would have an impact on the energy markets in the rest of the world. This would have another Ukraine effect globally.

SIMON: A Ukraine effect in what way?

ALI: The Ukraine effect is basically the impact that the war had - the inflation that we've seen due to the change in energy prices. A war in the Middle East would mean higher oil prices and also instability for some time, given the lack of clarity about what happens next.

So a war with Lebanon would lead to an engagement from the Houthis in Yemen, further attacks from Iraq, from Syria and perhaps some U.S. involvement at some point. And that would drag in some other actors and players and would lead to further instability. It's a conflict that would have global ramifications. It will not remain limited to the Middle East.

SIMON: Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, thanks so much for being with us.

ALI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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