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Hezbollah’s Nasrallah Hints at Escalation Along Lebanon-Israel Border Amid Ongoing Israel-Hamas Conflict

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In a significant development in the tumultuous Middle East, Hassan Nasrallah, the influential leader of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, has issued a veiled warning of potential escalation along the Lebanon-Israel border as the Israel-Hamas conflict approaches a critical one-month mark.

In his first televised address since a deadly incursion by Palestinian militants into southern Israel on October 7, Nasrallah fell short of an outright declaration of full-scale involvement in the conflict. The implications of such a move are dire for both Lebanon and Israel, but Nasrallah’s words are raising eyebrows.

According to reports, the United States, Israel’s staunch ally, has issued stern warnings to Hezbollah and its benefactor, Iran, cautioning them against stepping into the already explosive situation. They’ve even dispatched warships to the Mediterranean. But Nasrallah remains resolute, declaring that these military maneuvers “will not scare us.”

Moreover, he asserted that Hezbollah is prepared for all possible scenarios and could trigger them at any moment. What’s abundantly clear is that the scale of this conflict is far from limited. In recent weeks, Hezbollah has been unleashing daily rocket attacks across the border, predominantly targeting military installations in northern Israel.

Nasrallah’s address was highly anticipated, with many perceiving it as a potential tipping point in the Israel-Hamas conflict, potentially transforming it into a full-blown regional war. Nasrallah, however, clarified that Hezbollah had already stepped into the fray on October 8. He argued that their cross-border strikes have diverted Israeli forces that would otherwise be laser-focused on countering Hamas in Gaza.

The response to Nasrallah’s speech was explosive in its own right, with celebratory gunfire ringing out across Beirut. Thousands gathered in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital, watching Nasrallah’s address on massive screens. The situation along the Israel-Lebanon border witnessed a significant escalation on Thursday, with Hezbollah raining down a barrage of mortar shells, anti-tank missiles, and, for the very first time, suicide drones.

On the Israeli front, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken engaged in high-stakes meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasizing the need to protect civilians amid the Hamas conflict. This comes as Israeli forces tighten their encirclement of Gaza City.

Nasrallah minced no words in lambasting the robust U.S. support for Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza, which has resulted in the deaths of over 9,000 people, the majority of whom are innocent civilians. Although U.S. officials have begun advocating more publicly for the protection of Gaza’s civilian populace, a formal call for a cease-fire remains elusive.

Nasrallah’s nod of approval for the October 7 incursion by Palestinian militants into Israel speaks volumes about the vulnerabilities he sees in the Israeli defense apparatus. He insisted that this audacious operation was meticulously planned by the Palestinians, with no strings attached from Hezbollah.

While some Palestinian terrorist group leaders have urged Hezbollah to expand its role in the conflict, Hezbollah remains strategically vague about its threshold for full engagement. They’ve pursued a calculated approach to keep Israel’s military engaged along the Lebanese border without igniting an all-encompassing war.

Israel has reported its own set of casualties, with seven soldiers and one civilian falling victim to the conflict on the northern border as of Friday. On the Lebanese side, over 50 fighters, along with 10 militants from allied groups, and tragically, 10 civilians, including a Reuters journalist, have lost their lives. In no uncertain terms, Netanyahu issued a stern caution to Hezbollah, emphasizing that a miscalculation on their part would result in an unimaginable price.

Israel, cognizant of the Iran-backed threat that Hezbollah poses, estimates that the militant group possesses an arsenal of approximately 150,000 rockets and missiles, poised menacingly in the direction of Israel. They also boast an array of drones and a diverse assortment of missile systems.

A comprehensive conflict, however, could be ruinous for Hezbollah, which last went toe-to-toe with Israel in a 34-day war back in 2006. While that battle ended in a stalemate, it wasn’t without extensive damage as Israeli bombing left significant parts of southern Lebanon, the eastern Bekaa Valley, and Beirut’s southern suburbs in ruins.

Adding to the complexity of this brewing storm is the potential humanitarian catastrophe. A full-blown war would displace hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah supporters in southern Lebanon and deal a devastating blow at a time when Lebanon is already reeling from a severe economic crisis.

As we navigate these treacherous waters, it is clear that both Hezbollah and international players, including the United States, are treading carefully, recognizing the perils of allowing this regional conflict to further spiral out of control.

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Israel

In Wake of Abraham Accords, Saudi Arabia Revises Textbooks

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Follow Steve Postal: @HebraicMosaic

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In the aftermath of the 2020 Abraham Accords, which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman helped to broker behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia continues to slowly tilt towards reform. Most noticeably, it is continuing to improve its textbooks, previously a source of glorification of terrorism and anti-Jewish and anti-Christian hatred. According to a recent report analyzing the kingdom’s textbooks from 2022-2023, key reforms include the following:

Praise for jihad continues to be removed. The report notes that most problematic passages glorifying martyrdom and jihad had been removed from Saudi textbooks by 2021-2022, but this trend continues. Passages removed include a reference that “all sins of the martyr will be forgiven, except debt,” that jihad is “the climax of Islam” and that jihad means “fighting the enemies for the protection of religion, land, and worshipers.”

Problematic opinions on Jews and Christians removed. According to the report, Saudi Arabia has removed “almost all” defamatory anti-Jewish and anti-Christian textbook passages. Passages removed include: references that some Jews and Christians worship Satan and idols; that Allah turned some Jews into pigs and apes; that some Jews and Christians falsified Allah’s word; that Jews and Christians lied about prophets in the Torah and the New Testament; negative opinions of how Jews and Christians portray Jesus; implicit references of Jews and Christians as enemies of Islam; and that Jews and Christians are polytheists.

New criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. In contrast to Qatar, who supports the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas, who is the Muslim Brotherhood branch that many Palestinians support, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have all recognized the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. In line with that stance, Saudi Arabia’s textbooks become increasingly critical of the Islamist movement. One textbook stated that groups formed under the Muslim Brotherhood “wreaked havoc in the country and among the people, as known and evident in crimes of violence and terrorism around the world.” Further, that textbook comments that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “deviant group based on arguing with rulers, rebelling against leaders, stirring up strife in countries, destabilizing coexistence in the unified nation, and describing Islamic societies as ignorant.” A second textbook warns that the Muslim Brotherhood “instigate(s) civil wars in countries” and is “a terrorist group.”

New criticism of other “deviant groups.” Further, one Saudi textbook labelled “Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Tablighi Jamaat, and other parties and sects” are “deviant groups” and “terrorist sects and parties” that “seek to divide societies, incite them, and exploit religion for their interests.” Another textbook labelled “The Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah, the Houthis, the Sururiyya” as “errant groups” that are “purportedly religious but are in fact the opposite.”

“Slight” reforms on opinions on Israel and Zionism. The report qualifies that reforms on the portrayal of Israel and Zionism are “slight” but that those reforms are “are an encouraging sign that progress may include attitudes toward Israel and Zionism [in the future].” Saudi textbooks removed a libel falsely accusing Israel of the 1969 arson of the al-Aqsa mosque (which was carried out by an Australian Christian fundamentalist), an excerpt defining “patriotic poetry” to include that which “oppos[es] the Jewish settlement of Palestine,” and passages glorifying the First Intifada at Israel’s expense. However, textbooks continue to not recognize Israel, not include it in maps, and refer to it as an “occupying” power.

While Saudi Arabia still has room for improvement in reforming its textbooks, it has made significant headway in its education about jihad, Jews and Christians in recent years. These reforms, coupled with increased religious tolerance from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco, is a direct outgrowth of the Abraham Accords. The Biden administration should capitalize on this opening by formally bringing the kingdom into the Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia’s ascension into the Accords would serve as a powerful check on Iranian and other Islamist forces, and advance American interests in the region.

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