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Britain should stay out of an Israel-Lebanon war

Hezbollah fighters pictured in Southern Lebanon last week. Credit: Getty

June 24, 2024 - 4:00pm

Is an Israeli assault on Lebanon now inevitable? While an argument can be made that the drastically escalating rhetoric of both the Israeli government and Hezbollah is an attempt by each side to deter the other, the auguries are not reassuring. Last week, according to an IDF statement, “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved” by Israel’s military leadership, with actions taken “accelerating the readiness of the forces on the ground”. Posting on X, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared that “Israel cannot allow the Hezbollah terror organisation to continue attacking its territory and citizens, and soon we will make the necessary decisions. The free world must unconditionally stand with Israel in its war against the axis of evil led by Iran and extremist Islam.”

Yet for the Biden administration, a vastly more destructive expansion of the Gaza war is a headache it can ill afford. Israel is dependent on US arms transfers and diplomatic cover to continue its Gaza operation. The war has already dragged in US military assets to an unsuccessful naval effort in the Red Sea and seen US service personnel killed in the Middle East by Iraqi Shia militias. Despite these facts, an increasingly erratic Benjamin Netanyahu has nevertheless seen fit to publicly accuse Biden of insufficient support, drawing pained denials from American officials. While publicly and privately urging Israel to abandon any ideas of a Lebanon operation and agree to a Gaza ceasefire, US officials have reportedly assured their Israeli counterparts that in the event of war with Hezbollah, America will offer Israel its military support, short of deploying troops on the ground.

What this actually means is difficult to discern. Presumably, given American warnings that Israel’s Iron Dome defence system would be overwhelmed by Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, the US intends to shoot down incoming barrages as it did, with French and British support, during April’s unprecedented Iranian strike against Israeli targets.

The recent announcement that the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is being redeployed to Centcom’s Middle East area of operations “to deter aggression, safeguard regional stability, and protect freedom of navigation in the region” highlights America’s positioning of assets ahead of an Israeli operation, as well as its desire to dissuade Hezbollah from widening the war. But the Hezbollah leader Syed Hassan Nasrallah’s threat that his group would respond to an Israeli assault by fighting a war “without rules and without limits”, and would target Cypriot airbases if they were used in support of Israeli operations, indicates the scale of the looming crisis. Britain should also heed this warning.

Britain used the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus as a launchpad for RAF airstrikes against the Houthis and to shoot down incoming Iranian missiles. But allowing their use to support Israeli operations in Lebanon, even in a defensive capacity, would put British assets at risk and enable a military escalation neither the US nor the EU desires — and to no tangible British benefit. After almost nine destructive months of war in Gaza, Israel appears ready to wind down its campaign against Hamas with the group still in power and the remaining hostages still in captivity, thus achieving neither of Netanyahu’s original war aims.

Yet the looming war against Hezbollah presents a far greater challenge for both Israel and the United States, in pursuit of likely unachievable aims and carrying far greater risks of a wider regional war. A war in Lebanon would be disastrous for the luckless country, already buckling under economic collapse and political dysfunction. It would also initiate a refugee crisis whose effects would further destabilise European politics.

While the moribund Conservative government has chosen to fight this election on national security issues, in its dying days in power it has no mandate to embroil Britain in yet another poorly-planned Middle Eastern morass. The incoming Labour government, already suffering electorally from Starmer’s initial support of Israel’s Gaza campaign, would equally have much to lose and nothing to gain from involvement. If Britain has any role to play, it would be best served supporting French efforts to deploy the Lebanese Army along the border with Israel in place of Hezbollah, an attempt to defuse the crisis that may have limited chances of success but is at least constructive. Locked in their own strange embrace, Israel and the US may be stumbling into disaster. Britain, watching on, would be best served staying out.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
28 days ago

I love this comment; “A war in Lebanon would be disastrous for the luckless country, already buckling under economic collapse and political dysfunction.”

Now why would this luckless country be suffering today? Maybe because the same terrorists who shoot missiles into Israel every day use guns and tyranny to crush its own people as well.

I don’t pretend to know what the answers are in the Middle East, but it starts with the acknowledgment that the regimes running some of these countries are nothing more than terrorists, who use fear and violence to crush not only their neighbours, but their own people as well.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
27 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Maybe – but do you want to invade to cause a regime change? Worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
28 days ago

If Britain is neutral in a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, then Britain is lost.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
28 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Why? Britain has no strategic interests in the region, so why should she risk money, men and assets (it can ill afford) to embroil itself between two warring tribes to which it has no connection?

Paul
Paul
28 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Britain, like the rest of the West, arguably has a strong interest in preventing nuclear war in the ME, which is likely to occur if an isolated Israel is forced to tackle Iran and its proxies to avoid annihilation.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago
Reply to  Paul

The Israelis can’t any nuclear weapons. If they did then the US would be breaking their own laws by sending them any military support. That can’t be happening surely?

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
28 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Western control of the Eastern Mediterranean is our strategic interest. Without it Europe would be poorer and colder. Israel gives us that control.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
28 days ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Why would Europe be colder and poorer?

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
28 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

Ever heard of the Suez Canal?

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
28 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Yes…that’s the one at the North end of the Red Sea which is presently closed by the Houthis so not used much…

j watson
j watson
27 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

c50 vessels a day still passing through. In fact you can look it up – 45 today.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
28 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I suggest you consider all the things created by Jewish people which make life better before contending that Britain has “no connection” to the country where half the Jews in the world now live. In any case Britain has a strategic interest in the defeat of Islamist terror organisation controlled by Iran.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

If Britain or other civilized countries turn a blind eye to these types of conflicts then the world will inevitably become more dangerous as terrorists and authoritarian regimes will feel more free to use terror and other nefarious methods of control. It serves no one’s interest to let the likes of Hezbollah to run rampant and free.

D Walsh
D Walsh
27 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Totally brainwashed

John Tyler
John Tyler
28 days ago

Meaningless! Lebanon is a shell. The war, as is that in Gaza, would be with Iran through its Islamist Antisemitic megalomaniacal fellow travellers.

Michael Lipkin
Michael Lipkin
28 days ago

Israel had the chance to eliminate Hamas when they fought with Fatah over control of Gaza. By helping Fatah they could have crushed these genocidal maniacs but they did not.
If Fatah was the sole voice of Palestinians than ye olde two state solution would have reared its head again, they did not want that, divide and rule.
This was an error, always crush genocidal maniacs first, donÂŽt play games with them, now look at the mess.
Now peaceful Israelis, and the entire west, are to be dragged into the mess?
As for IranÂŽs proxies, everyone hates them. If they hadnÂŽt dug themselves into a hole than a wide ranging coalition would be formed to defeat them.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
27 days ago
Reply to  Michael Lipkin

Some wag had the best idea for dealing with Hamas. Israel should install Fatah in Gaza. That would be the end of Hamas. The old- fashion way. Very sloppy but effective.

Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
28 days ago

What is the premise of this article? Did Israel ask the UK to participate in a war against Hezballah?
Anyway, if the UK could use its huge influence in Lebanon to replace Hezballah with the Lebanese army at the border with Israel, stop the firing of missiles and defuse the crisis, that would indeed be for the best. Good luck.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
28 days ago
Reply to  Danny Kaye

But as it says the UK has already been involved in attacks on the Houthis, and the UK government, of either stripe, could well become involved in further adventures in the Middle East for no benefit to the UK.

In that case expect further killing on British streets as happened last time. Of course it will be normal people as victims, not the politicians.

D Walsh
D Walsh
27 days ago
Reply to  Danny Kaye

The latest recruitment ad for the British Army is staring white men again
Looks like war is on the war

Pro tip lads, don’t fight and die for people who hate you

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago

Ugh, this guy 


Moshe Forman
Moshe Forman
28 days ago

Is there any evidence to support the statement that Labour is “already suffering electorally from Starmer’s initial support of Israel’s Gaza campaign”? Whilst the highly vocal cheerleaders for Hamas are going bonkers over this issue, I have a feeling that the majority of traditional Labour voters (who don’t vent their spleen on Twitter) would actually support that position.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
27 days ago
Reply to  Moshe Forman

Those who “don’t vent their spleen on Twitter” are having a hard time being heard these days. It’s called the New Journalism.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
26 days ago
Reply to  Moshe Forman

Those X-Men who post on X have a lot of spare time on their hands. Those who work for a living don’t have that luxury ….

David George
David George
27 days ago

The formidable Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group fighter jets could take out the Hezbollah positions in short order. Hezbollah would have to be crazy to persist in their missile and rocket attacks on Israel.
Unfortunately crazy is what they are.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
27 days ago
Reply to  David George

Whereas Netanyahu is sane?

j watson
j watson
27 days ago

We won’t be needed. We’d only get directly involved if Hezbollah targets Akrotiri – although RAF will do their usual patrols and we’ll probably have a cruise-missile carrying frigate in the vicinity in case needed.
IDF is going to take Hezbollah on though. It’s a cert unless Hez pull back and allow the Israeli’s in the border area to return home, restart school etc. It’s an untenable position for any Israeli leader, whether Bibi or not. The question may be more how far they go.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

You seem to be making an assumption about the direction of movement of the Israelis in any conflict with Hezbollah – I’m assuming you mean forward. I think that could turn out to be rather optimistic.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
27 days ago

This “analysis” is useless. Wars commonly last years, not months. Has Israel killed tens of thousands of Hamas terrorists and demolished their infrastructure? Yes. Has it killed every single one? No, nor is that possible. Per this author, anything shy of 100% is equal to 0%; in other words, partial or majority success rates don’t convince him that the effort was worthwhile. An unserious and frankly useless take, in my view.As for war with Hezbollah (not Lebanon, fyi), that’s a separate calculation, but there too, this author’s “analysis” is not worthy of the name; it’s an opinion dressed up as a rational study. I don’t feel smarter upon reading his work.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago

In any war in Lebannon, the IDF will get their bottoms handed to them, just like a decade ago. Then we’ll find that a yet deeper portion of the lands on the Israeli side of the border will become unsafe for their previous colonists to return to. This may be either due to threat of attack or the residues of the, by then destroyed, nuclear and ammonia plants that Hezbollah were casually flying drones over just the other day.

If Britain does get involved it should only be to attempt to destroy Israel’s desperate nuclear and biological weapon deployments whenever it is that they decide to try to take everyone else with them. We all know that’s going to happen sooner or later and the sooner we start planning for that, the better for everyone.

A D Kent
A D Kent
27 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Oh and for anyone who thinks Israel could come out of this unscathed, check out the comments from the CEO of Noga, the Israeli company responsible for their power grid who explained just how massively unprepared they are for any kind of attack on their infrastructure right now. This won’t be just the borderlands that become less appealing to their population..

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
26 days ago
Reply to  A D Kent

By using words too big for your subject, you declare yourself an unserious analyst.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
27 days ago

Let’s all start with the basics.
We can’t continue to treat the Islamist Psycho Death Cult Club as if they had some right to cut off our heads. For decades now it’s only encouraged them. The societies that our ancestors built and bequeathed to us have real value and must be preserved; we do have that right.
It’s true that we once participated in such horrors. But that was long ago. Now it’s time for the Muslims to start on the long road to join the human race.
Meanwhile the death cultists need to be destroyed. Mercilessly.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
26 days ago

This just sounds like more appeasement of Iran. Lebanon is a far away country of which we know nothing. Why should we help others under attack? Sounds like Farage on Ukraine.