Hezbollah fighters with a multiple rocket launcher in Lebanon. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari) (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)
Lebanon Hezbollah terrorist rocket launchers

Hezbollah and Israel have been exchanging near-daily fire since the eruption of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza in early October.

By Troy O. Fritzhand, The Algemeiner

Israel has told mediators that it will escalate its military operations against Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist group in Lebanon, to the point of a full-scale war if the two sides fail to reach a diplomatic agreement next week, according to a new Lebanese news report.

The pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Israel has set a deadline of March 15 for reaching a political settlement with Lebanon, citing “Western diplomatic sources.” The report detailed work by the United States, France, and the United Nations to avoid a larger conflict.

Hezbollah, which wields significant political and military clout in Lebanon, and Israel have been exchanging near-daily fire since the eruption of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza in early October, forcing tens of thousands of Israelis in the north to evacuate their homes. Hezbollah has been firing rockets and sending surveillance drones, targeting northern Israel.

Fighting at the Lebanese border has intensified in recent months, leading to concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terror group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

Israeli leaders have said that while they do not seek war with Hezbollah and hope for a diplomatic resolution to the escalating tensions, they are prepared to use significant military force to combat the terror group and allow evacuees to return to their homes in northern Israel.

Al-Akhbar said current negotiations are being led by US envoy Amos Hochstein, who is attempting to end the hostilities irrespective of what happens in Gaza. US, Egyptian, and Qatari diplomats are trying to formulate a separate peace plan to end the fighting in Gaza.

As for the clashes in Israel’s north, the bulk of the negotiations have revolved around reaching a ceasefire, resolving disagreements over disputed land areas, and finding other ways to reach a settlement that avoids a major clash.”

The UN and France are reportedly seeking an arrangement that sees the return of residents displaced on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border, as well as the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Adopted in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, the resolution called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the deployment of Lebanese and UN peacekeeping forces, UNIFIL, in southern Lebanon.

Despite US hopes to iron out a deal separate from the Gaza war, sources told Al-Akhbar that, from Hezbollah’s perspective, “any discussion about political arrangements in Lebanon and a solution to a ceasefire will not be translatable as long as the firing continues in the Gaza Strip.”