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Peace and Conflict

Fires rage in northern Israel from Hezbollah attacks | Update 4th June 2024

Fires rage in northern Israel from Hezbollah attacks | Update 4th June 2024 via BICom

Fires rage in northern Israel from Hezbollah attacks

What’s happened: Fires continued to rage in Israel’s north overnight, caused by rockets and drones fired from southern Lebanon by Hezbollah yesterday.

  • An IDF Home Front Command's fire battalion has worked in conjunction with Israel Fire and Rescue Services across a large area, comprising multiple northern communities, with the result that most fires are now under control.
  • With many residents of the northern border areas evacuated south since October 7th, no fatalities were reported. Six reservists and five civilians have been treated for smoke inhalation.
  • One fire in Amiad, brought under control today, consumed 4,000 dunams (nearly 990 acres) of land.
  • Fires caused by rocket and drone fire on Sunday destroyed 10,000 dunams (over 2,470 acres) of plant life, including in nature reserves. The damage was compounded by the unseasonably high temperatures throughout Israel.
  • A loud explosion heard this morning in Safed is currently being investigated.
  • Israel yesterday announced it had killed prominent Hezbollah fighter Hussein Sabra in an airstrike in Tyre, southern Lebanon. The IDF said Sabra was a senior figure in Hezbollah’s Force Build-up Unit, particularly involved in efforts to equip and enhance its Aerial Defence Unit.

Gaza: The IDF yesterday confirmed the deaths of four hostages: 51 year old Israeli-British citizen Nadav Popplewell from Kibbutz Nirim; 85 year old Amiram Cooper, one of the founders of Kibbutz Nir Oz; 80 year old Haim Perry from Kibbutz Nir Oz; and  80 year old Yoram Metzger from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

  • An expert committee of the Health Ministry, the Religious Affairs Ministry and chief rabbi determined their death based on intelligence, with the whereabouts of their bodies unknown.
  • News of the deaths sparked further protests against the government and demanding that a deal for the release of the remaining hostages be secured. Demonstrators blocked the Ayalon Highway last night for about an hour.
  • The IDF continues “intelligence-based, targeted operations” in Rafah.
  • “Over the past day, IAF fighter jets struck over 50 targets in the Gaza Strip, including terrorist infrastructure, weapons storage facilities and military structures.”

Context: Having been a second front during the nearly nine months of the war in Gaza, the north is now the primary front of kinetic activity.

  • Since October 8th, Israel and Hezbollah have traded fire on a near-daily basis, with Hezbollah launching over 4,700 missile, drone, and rocket attacks.
  • Hezbollah joined Hamas’s attack on October 8th, but at a level short of necessitating a full-blown escalation. The vast majority of targets struck have been close to the border area, to keep IDF forces occupied and divert resources.
  • A significant escalation has been seen in recent weeks. The Alma Centre finds that May was the most intense month of fighting in that time, with Hezbollah carrying out 325 attacks, an average of 10 a day. These include 95 incidents of anti-tank launches and 85 UAV infiltration incidents.
  • 10 Israeli civilians and 14 soldiers and reservists have been killed on the Israeli side, while Hezbollah has reported 331 of its fighters killed. 62 operatives of other armed groups in southern Lebanon have also died. It is understood that around 25 civilians have also died in Lebanon – the high ratio of combatants to civilians killed indicating the precision of IDF strikes.
  • Around 70,000 Israelis remain internally displaced, having been moved from homes near the border. A similar number of Lebanese citizens are also displaced.
  • Hezbollah has often targeted key northern military facilities, including the Galilee Formation’s headquarters, and the Mt. Meron air control base. The weekend saw hits on the Gibor Regional Brigade base near Kiryat Shmona with heavy-payload Burkan rockets.
  • Hundreds of homes in civilian communities in close proximity to the border have also been heavily targeted. 
  • Beyond the physical damage, the combined effects of striking homes and military targets is intended to have a psychological effect on the Israeli population.
  • Hezbollah has significantly more sophisticated weapons than Hamas, including Iranian-produced Almas anti-tank guided missiles with a 10-kilometre range and the shorter range Burkan with its heavy payload. 340 such heavy rocket attacks have so far been launched. Iranian UAVs, with the ability to launch missiles, have also been deployed.
  • This greater sophistication was also demonstrated this weekend by Hezbollah downing an IDF Hermes 9,000 unmanned aerial vehicle, the third Hermes to have been downed since October 8th. Hezbollah’s ability to do this illustrates the extent to which Iran has helped it upgrade its firepower.
  • Israeli officials have reassured the public that despite the downing of these weapons, built in self-destruction mechanisms mean that no sensitive material falls into Hezbollah hands.
  • Israel’s response to these attacks has largely been a combination of air and artillery strikes into Lebanon targeting Hezbollah’s military leadership and infrastructure. While primarily destroying targets in the south of the country, some Israeli airstrikes have been reported as far north as Baalbeck and the Beqaa Valley – Baalbeck is a vital logistics hub for Hezbollah’s military operations and, sitting near the border with Syria, a key point on the smuggling route from Iran.
  • Israeli officials have repeatedly expressed support for US and French diplomatic efforts to reach a peaceful resolution, but have long anticipated that a potential ground incursion may be necessary at some point.
  • Israel views its current paradigm of 70,000 citizens being internally displaced due to Hezbollah’s aggression as untenable and intolerable. The longer they remain unable to safely return to their homes, the higher the risk of a military escalation in southern Lebanon.
  • While the US and France have spearheaded a series of diplomatic efforts to defuse this situation, they have thus far proved unsuccessful.
  • Israel continues to insist on the robust implementation of UN Resolution 1701 passed at the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Most significantly, it stipulates Hezbollah forces, be pushed back as far as the Litani River ensuring Israeli civilian are out of range of Hezbollah’s accurate Kornet anti-tank missiles.
  • Any move away from the border on the part of Hezbollah fighters will need to be monitored and sustainable, since Hezbollah has a track record of initially complying with such deconfliction steps, before then moving its fighters back closer to the border.

Looking ahead: This week, the IDF continues to make preparations for a campaign in the northern arena.

  • Pressure is mounting on the government for northern residents to return to some form of normality, with the optimistic hope that by the start of the school year on September 1st, people will be back home. Ongoing escalations mean this is far from guaranteed.
  • The current situation suits Hezbollah in keeping Israel engaged in a perpetual state of conflict below the threshold of all-out war, while ensuring Israel has to commit resources which, in the longer term, has social and economic costs.
  • Efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza are set to continue, whilst the sides await a Hamas response to the Israeli proposal publicly floated by President Biden last week.