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  |   Insights & Views


Israel threatens ‘all-out war’ against Hezbollah

Israel announced it is preparing for an all-out war with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Ayal Margolin/JINI via Xinhua/Alamy

Israel has announced that it is ready to go to war with Hezbollah – a move that is likely to undermine US president Joe Biden’s chances in the 2024 election even further.

Israel says that Hezbollah – the Lebanese political party and militant group – has pushed it close to an all-out war after the organisation posted a nine-minute video of drone footage, showing military and civilian areas in several locations including the Israeli port of Haifa. Israel has now publicly stated that it has approved military plans to move to a war footing against Hezbollah. Lebanon is on Israel’s border and the two countries have a long history of conflict and tension, which has been intensifying in recent months.

Israel’s escalation would be a significant blow to Biden ahead of the US presidential election. The Israel-Palestine conflict is already eroding Democrat support and Biden has repeatedly been accused from all sides of mishandling the situation. If further violence ramps up in the region, this will put even greater pressure on Biden, in ways he doesn’t need, just before the US goes to the ballot box.

Any further weakening of support for Biden is of concern to other national leaders who want to avoid a Trump presidency, and, potentially, its fallout for the Ukraine war. Biden has already had to navigate a complex situation of wanting to bring peace in the Middle East, while also respecting a longstanding expectation that the US will always stand by Israel. Biden has faced political pressure to arm Israel and public condemnation of the way he has dealt with protests on university campuses. There has been further pressure on him after allegations that Israel was committing genocide were filed with the International Court of Justice. In short, it’s the sort of situation that no president wants.

Tension in the Middle East along Israel’s border with Lebanon.

The tension between Israel and Hezbollah will not be seen as an isolated incident but will play into deeper concerns about Israeli foreign policy and where the US should stand. The situation will inevitably be considered part of a wider US debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict, with all the emotions and political difficulties that come with this, and is likely to be a source of contention at the upcoming presidential debate on June 27.

The US is already working to maintain peace between Israel and Hezbollah and to bring about a diplomatic solution in the form of a ceasefire proposal. Critics who want increased US support for Israel will be upset with peace negotiations which they say favour Hezbollah – and, with it, Iran. But if Biden goes beyond trying for a peace deal – for example, by providing more military aid to Israel – he can forget the votes of those who would prefer a more hardline American stance towards the Netanyahu government. Even if Biden gets a peace deal, or Israel doesn’t move to all-out war, the situation will still undermine Biden’s electoral chances, because it can’t be separated from the wider disputes around Israel that are already losing him support in some quarters.

Damaged relationships

Biden’s response will also be extremely difficult for his relations with the Democratic party. The party is already deeply divided over Israel and this new threat will only exacerbate that division. The last thing candidates need before an election is to not have the full support of their party. The Israel-Hezbollah conflict has the potential to inflame internal political disputes between the Democrats even further and Biden will be going into the election with one hand tied behind his back.

This isn’t just a domestic question, however, but an international one. Israel is one of the most important issues on the international political agenda right now. The criticisms against Biden don’t just come from US voters but from other states. If Biden can’t win those states over to whatever he does next in relation to Israel and Hezbollah, he will look incompetent and unreliable. And if he can’t convince other national leaders that he is up to the job, he won’t convince US voters either.

The problems that Biden now has to address over Hezbollah will also be problematic for his electoral competition with Donald Trump. The Republican party is also split on Israel. But the situation would hurt Trump in the election to a lesser degree. In fact, it may even be a win for Trump.

Trump has been a strong backer of Israel – and this has often appealed to his supporters and pro-Israeli voters. Yet this is going to be less about issues and more about image. Trump’s vocal (and occasionally critical) stance can make him look like an effective leader. His position on Israel may attract condemnation from some, but you can’t deny that he at least looks like he knows what he wants. To many he will appear more presidential in comparison to Biden – who is in a difficult position on Israel and has been frequently accused of not having what it takes to be president.

The tension between Israel and Hezbollah is another chance for Trump to make himself look dynamic and attack his opponent. While the politics of the situation will alone be enough to sway some voters, it’s also the case that this represents another opportunity for Trump’s supporters to call Biden weak. If Biden think the criticism of him now is bad, it’s about to get much worse.

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