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Jan 8, 2024, 10:14am EST
securityMiddle East
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Semafor Signals

Israel strike of Hezbollah leader in Lebanon fuels fears of regional war

Smoke rises following what the Israeli military says is an Israeli strike on Hezbollah targets in a location given as Lebanon, amid the ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in this screengrab taken from a handout video released on December 20, 2023. Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS
Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS
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The News

An Israeli strike Monday reportedly killed a senior leader of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia operating in Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed that Wissam al-Tawil was killed in an airstrike in Lebanon, though it is unclear if he was the intended target.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told IDF troops Monday that the country was “ready” for a war with Hezbollah, the Times of Israel reported.

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“We gave them an example of what is happening to their friends in the south; this is what will happen here in the north. We will do everything to restore security,” Netanyahu said.

Israel has exchanged fire with Lebanon since its military operation against Hamas began Oct. 7.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

US believes escalation may be key to Netanyahu’s political future

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The Washington Post

The Biden administration has warned Israel against engaging in a broader war with Lebanon. U.S. intelligence believe that the military would have limited successes in an expanded war because its resources are already spread thin, The Washington Post reported. The end of the Israel-Hamas war will likely mean the end of Netanyahu’s career, some U.S. officials believe, meaning the Israeli prime minister is incentivized to broaden the scope of the conflict. “The political logic for Netanyahu is to rebound after the historic failure of Oct. 7 and have some kind of success to show to the Israeli public,” Bilal Saab of the Middle East Institute told the Post.

Escalation spiral could come at any time, triggering broader conflict

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The Financial Times

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the midst of his fourth trip to the Middle East since the war began, hoping to de-escalate tensions and prevent a regional conflict. But experts believe the threat of a wide-scale war is higher than it’s been at any point in the crisis so far. “Any of the actors in one of those locations could get into a spiral with Israel and/or the US, which could be enough to trigger a full-scale war that brings in the others,” Jonathan Panikoff, a former senior intelligence official, told the Financial Times.

Analysts urge US to de-escalate Red Sea tensions with diplomacy

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Bloomberg

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have targeted ships in the Red Sea for weeks in retaliation for Israel’s continued military operation in Gaza. The U.S. has debated striking Houthi targets — but analysts believe doing so could escalate tensions even further. The U.S. will need to rely on diplomatic channels to attempt to de-escalate tensions before resorting to military action, and “choose options that are clearly defensible” if diplomacy fails, one expert told Bloomberg. Many nations, meanwhile, are reluctant to enter the conflict due to the Houthis’ claims that they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians.

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