Hours after Lebanon-based Hezbollah mounted a missile attack on Israel on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Iran-backed group that the Israeli military would turn Beirut into the Gaza Strip if the Hezbollah dragged Israel into a full-fledged war.
Following the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, Hezbollah has also mounted regular attacks on Israel on the northern border. While it has not dragged Israel into a full-fledged war like Hamas, there are fears that escalation on the northern front could lead to a multi-front war that could further destabilise the Middle East.
While Hezbollah has expressed solidarity with Hamas and has fought with Israel since October 7, it has not joined the Hamas' war-efforts against Israel. Netanyahu's threat was a reference to the Israeli aerial and ground attacks on Gaza, which have been widely criticised internationally for indiscriminately bombing the Palestinian enclave and inflicting high civilian casualties, flattening entire neighbourhoods, and causing displacement of around 1.9 million Palestinians.
"If Hezbollah chooses to start an all-out war, then it will single-handedly turn Beirut and South Lebanon, not far from here, into Gaza and Khan Yunis. We are determined to bring victory, and we will do it with your help," said Netanyahu, as per The Jerusalem Post.
Israel has evacuated dozens of communities and towns along the border with Lebanon as Hezbollah has frequently mounted attacks since October 7.
Netanyahu made the comments while visiting a military unit in the country's north along the Lebanon border, according to The Post.
Netanyahu further said, "I am here with reservists who are showing great spirit in their readiness for battle, to complete the job, to restore security, not only in the south but also in the north. This is our commitment...We are determined to achieve victory and we will do so with your help."
Hezbollah, just like Hamas, is backed by Israel's arch-rival Iran and is committed to the destruction of Israel. The think tank Counter Extremism Project (CEP) says, "In February 1985, Hezbollah formally emerged and issued its manifesto. Hezbollah pledged loyalty to Khomeini [Iran's Supreme Leader], demanded the expulsion of foreign forces (i.e., Israel, France, and the U.S.) from Lebanon, called for Israel's destruction, and called for the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon. As an Iranian proxy, Hezbollah's perceived threat environment is almost identical to Iran’s—Tehran’s enemies are Hezbollah’s enemies. Like Iran, Hezbollah considers the U.S. and Israel to be its chief foes."
Israel and Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006 after Hezbollah captured three Israeli soldiers who were later found to be killed. Israel mounted a failed rescue operation and also bombed targets associated with Hezbollah in the ensuing war, including in and around Lebanon's capital Beirut. More than 120 Israeli soldiers and over 1,000 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the war.