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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 7 JUNE 2024

Israel ups war talk against Hezbollah; Yemen peace deal jeopardised as US moves to counter Houthis

Israel ups war talk against Hezbollah; Yemen peace deal jeopardised as US moves to counter Houthis
An Israeli first response unit member crosses a road next to a fire that broke out following strikes by Hezbollah from Lebanon near Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel, 4 June 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ATEF SAFADI)

Israel is escalating warnings against Hezbollah in Lebanon by threatening it could be forced into a war with the Iran-backed group, following increasingly deadly attacks.

The US and its allies are raising the stakes in their struggle to curb ship attacks by Houthi militants in the Red Sea by increasingly blocking their revenue sources, a move that could jeopardise a peace deal intended to end an almost decade-long war in Yemen.

Colombia’s trade ministry called for a restriction on coal sales to Israel in the latest bid to isolate the Jewish state as the death toll rises in its Gaza campaign.

Israel ups war rhetoric as Hezbollah’s attacks raise alarm

Israel is escalating warnings against Hezbollah in Lebanon by threatening it could be forced into a war with the Iran-backed group, following increasingly deadly attacks.

Hezbollah’s rockets and drones have caused significant damage in the past few days, prompting Israeli officials to reiterate warnings to the militants and Lebanon that war is an option. A drone strike on a facility on Wednesday wounded 10 Israelis and killed one soldier.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, where Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets caused an unusually massive blaze in a forested area.

“Whoever thinks he can hurt us while we respond by sitting on our hands is making a big mistake,” said Netanyahu. “One way or another, we will restore security to the north.”

His comments indicate an increasing risk that the near-daily trading of fire between Israel and Hezbollah across the Lebanese border could escalate, adding a second war front for the Jewish State to the conflict against Hamas in Gaza. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are backed by Iran and designated as terrorist organisations by the US.

Lebanon was holding talks with Arab and international partners to prevent an all-out war and was taking Netanyahu’s and other comments seriously, according to a person within the crisis-hit country’s caretaker government. Yet much of the Israeli rhetoric was directed at a domestic audience to lift morale, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive subjects.

Lebanon expected the US to step in and help prevent war if needed, but there were no guarantees Netanyahu would listen, according to the person.

The US said on Wednesday it was pursuing a peaceful solution between Lebanon and Israel to prevent a full-scale conflict. Matt Miller, a spokesperson for the State Department, played down the Israeli rhetoric though said the country may be prepared for a hostile option.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said this week the country was approaching the point where a decision would have to be made on how to manage its northern front with Lebanon and that “the IDF is prepared and ready to move to an offensive”.

War Cabinet member Benny Gantz, who’s been demanding that security be restored in the region by 1 September, said on Wednesday that Israel “can’t lose another year in the north”. Gantz has given Netanyahu an ultimatum — which expires on Saturday — over the situation and called on the prime minister to present a plan for postwar Gaza.

“The world needs to wake up and realize that Israel has no choice but to protect its citizens and it should come as no surprise when it does so — strongly and ever more resolutely,” President Isaac Herzog said late on Wednesday.

“Do not be up in arms when the situation becomes out of control,” he said.

While the exchange of fire has been broadly limited to south Lebanon and Israel’s northern region, the attacks in recent days have caused alarm that the situation could escalate.

Over the past four months, there’s been a more than 12-fold jump in the number of drone attacks by Hezbollah, which are more accurate and lethal and much harder to detect, trace and intercept.

Strikes using unmanned aerial vehicles more than doubled to 85 in May from April, with a comparable increase seen in the number of anti-tank missiles fired on Israeli territory, according to data from the Alma Research and Education Center. In total, attacks in May went up to 325 from 238 in the previous month.

Israel’s airstrikes on south Lebanon have caused extensive damage, leaving some villages almost entirely under the rubble and turning many others into ghost towns.

Some 60,000 Israeli residents of settlements adjacent to the border were evacuated from their homes by the government since 7 October and some 90,000 civilians have fled south Lebanon.

Diplomatic efforts have so far failed to reach a compromise on ceasing the hostilities. While Israel is demanding Hezbollah withdraw about 10km away from the border, the group has publicly said that it wouldn’t negotiate any terms without a ceasefire in Gaza.

US, allies up the pressure on Houthis in bid to curb ship attacks

The US and its allies are raising the stakes in their struggle to curb ship attacks by Houthi militants in the Red Sea by increasingly blocking their revenue sources, a move that could jeopardise a peace deal intended to end an almost decade-long war in Yemen.

Washington has told parties including Saudi Arabia that key elements of a United Nations-led plan committed to in December can’t go ahead unless the Iran-backed group ends its near seven-month hostile maritime campaign, said several people who met recently with US officials. That would have included the disbursal of at least $1.5-billion in civil-servant salaries by Riyadh to Houthi-controlled territories, according to a person involved in negotiating the deal.

A US State Department official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, said President Joe Biden’s administration supported peace in Yemen to address longstanding economic and humanitarian crises in the country. But he emphasised that agreements tied to the so-called UN roadmap could only proceed if the Houthis stopped the Red Sea attacks, which began in November ostensibly to put pressure on Israel to end its war in Gaza.

The move demonstrates how US and UK airstrikes against the Houthis since early January have done little to deter the group, whose missile attacks and hijackings have upended shipping through one of the main arteries for global trade. Yet the shelving of the peace deal could undo a fragile two-year truce and reignite land fighting among Yemen’s warring factions, potentially drawing in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates.

The resurgence of another Middle East conflict alongside the Israel-Hamas war would further highlight the Biden administration’s struggles to bring calm to the region — just months before November’s presidential election. Washington has been striving to broker a ceasefire deal in Gaza for several months with limited success.

Israel risks losing Colombian coal supplies over Gaza war

Colombia’s trade ministry called for a restriction on coal sales to Israel in the latest bid to isolate the Jewish state as the death toll rises in its Gaza campaign.

The ministry made the recommendation to “limit” shipments of the fuel to a committee that rules on tariffs and foreign trade, according to an internal document seen by Bloomberg and a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

Israel’s relations have soured with governments across Latin America this year, but until now this has mainly been expressed through diplomatic measures rather than trade sanctions. The Andean nation is Israel’s biggest coal supplier, having sold it about $450-million of the fuel last year.

The trade ministry said the coal restrictions were intended to “help end the armed conflict”, and should stay in place until it has ended. Alabama-based Drummond Company and a Colombian subsidiary of Glencore are the only two suppliers.

More than half of Israel’s coal imports come from Colombia. Still, Oren Helman, former acting chairperson of the National Coal Company, said, “There are many sources for coal. Israel also has significant coal reserves, so it will not be caught off guard.”

While coal has accounted for a fifth of Israel’s electricity production, it’s expected to drop to as low as 3% next year. It serves as an emergency backup for two of Israel’s main power stations that can be switched to coal in times of special need.

Israel says it struck Hamas facility based at a school in Gaza

The Israeli military said it conducted an airstrike on a Hamas compound embedded in a school complex in Gaza that eliminated militants who took part in the deadly 7 October attack against Israeli civilians.

The Hamas-run government media office said at least 27 people were killed at the school, which had been turned into a shelter. It added that dozens of people were also injured.

“Before the strike, a number of steps were taken to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians during the strike, including conducting aerial surveillance, and additional intelligence information,” the Israeli military said in a social media post. It described the attack as a precision strike on the school complex in the central Gaza area of Nuseirat.

The airstrike came after Netanyahu earlier this week reiterated there would be no permanent ceasefire in the war against Hamas until the country’s conditions, which include the militant group’s destruction, are met.

Hamas has followed Israel in baulking at President Joe Biden’s latest bid to end the war, with both sides saying their conflicting conditions for a permanent ceasefire must be met before they’ll agree to pause fighting. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Here’s an opportunity for the ANC, UN and Naledi to intervene to prevent war in Lebanon. Israel has been warning for many months now that this will escalate. Too late to save lives on both sides when this escalates to a full blown justified war. Avoid more wasted money at the ICJ.

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