aAmid the stunning landscape of northern Israel, where mountains roll down to overlook Lebanon and Syria, there is a deceptive calm. At this time of year, the area is usually full of the last of the holiday season’s Jewish tourists, making the most of the cool weather to go hiking and go apple picking.
Instead, on Monday, the Israeli Defense Ministry issued an unprecedented order to residents of 28 villages and kibbutzim located within 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) of the Blue Line separating the country from Lebanon to evacuate south. The country is preparing for the possibility of hostilities with Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, at the same time as a new war with Hamas erupts in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The northern front, like the southern front that preceded it, is witnessing emptying after repeated rocket and missile attacks and border skirmishes in recent days with Hezbollah and the Palestinian factions active in Lebanon. The public mood in Israel is febrile, and confidence in the army and the state has diminished.
For the communities living here, an evacuation order is not just about history repeating itself, or the occasional barrage of missiles that set off air-raid sirens. It’s also scary because of its newness. The possibilities of escalation with Hezbollah, or the Palestinian factions in the occupied West Bank – or even a direct collision with Iran, after years of “shadow war” across the region – are higher than ever.
Joe Biden’s decision to send a second aircraft carrier group to the eastern Mediterranean this week to bolster Israel’s defenses and deter “any state or non-state actor” from entering the fray has essentially thrown the gauntlet down to Tehran, and much of the Israeli media. He is eager to launch a “preventive attack” on Hezbollah.
“I don’t think the question is when the war will come here,” said Emanuela Kaplan, 34, from Kibbutz Bar Am, playing with her six-month-old baby in a makeshift playroom in the underground floor of their temporary home: a hotel in Tiberias, a tourist hub. On the Sea of Galilee. Like 300,000 other Israelis, her husband, an army reservist, was called up for duty and is now stationed in the south.
More than 1,300 people were killed on October 7 after the Palestinian Hamas movement launched the most brazen attack in its history. Its forces stormed the security fence surrounding Gaza’s 2.3 million residents before making their way through dozens of Israeli towns and kibbutzim and taking 199 hostages to return to Gaza.
In response, Israel launched its largest ever bombing campaign on the besieged territory, killing at least 2,800 Palestinians and ordering more than a million people to leave their homes in the northern half of the Strip, despite having nowhere safe to go. . On Monday, despite reports that Cairo and international mediators had reached an agreement to allow foreign and dual nationals to escape the war and send much-needed aid to Gaza, the only civilian crossing into Egypt’s Sinai desert remained closed.
Israel has not fought a war on two fronts since the surprise attack on Yom Kippur by Syria from the north and Egypt from the south 50 years ago this month. Both Hezbollah and Israel have been keen to avoid a return to the bloody 2006 summer war that left large swathes of Beirut, the Lebanese capital, in ruins.
But even before the fifth round of war in Gaza since Hamas took control of the Strip in 2007 erupted last week, tensions on the Blue Line, the UN-controlled border between Israel and Lebanon, reached their highest levels in years over the summer.
The city of Metulla, the northernmost city of Israel, was quiet on Monday afternoon; Most of the town’s residents had already packed their belongings and pets into cars to stay with family or in government-sponsored hotels out of reach of short-range missiles. An elderly IDF reservist at the main gate was nervous after two reports of ground infiltration by either Hezbollah or Palestinian factions.
At the main bus station in Kiryat Shmona, 6 miles (9 kilometers) south of the Blue Line, a few civilians grabbed large bags and boarded buses bound for Tiberias, and soldiers waited for transport heading north. There is no evacuation order for the town, but the streets were deserted except for soldiers at checkpoints and military vehicles.
There was only one place open at the bus station: a burger joint where six locals came for lunch and a sense of gallows humor. There had been a gunfight between suspected Hezbollah fighters and IDF forces visible from the western side of town the night before, and the group was discussing what might happen next.
“We are not afraid of missiles; We are afraid of ground combat. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Inbal Ben Shetrit, 26. “If Hezbollah comes, it will be much worse than Hamas… Hamas can send 1,000 men, Hezbollah can send 10,000.” “They have better weapons, and more support from Iran.”
In much of the Upper Galilee, vineyards, apple and cherry orchards have flourished since the 2006 war, but some places still bear the scars of the fighting.
In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah’s stronghold, the legacy of the war has become more evident. Today, the country of 6 million people, which is under the de facto control of the Jemaah Islamiyah, is in the grip of a severe financial crisis; Its people are not in a position to bear the brunt of another war. According to Michael Young, a Beirut-based analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center, it is significant that most of the launches toward Israel so far have come from predominantly Sunni and Christian areas; It appears that Hezbollah is not yet ready to face a violent reaction from its Shiite base.
“It’s not like it was when we had to evacuate before. Before we were able to keep things going. It wasn’t too severe,” said Denise Lily Giver, 62, from London, after she made Bar Am her home. For the past 25 years, she has now also resided in a hotel in Tiberias.
“I can’t see myself going home now. There are people in the north who want to do to me what they did to the people of the south. I knew we had enemies, but I didn’t think they would do something like this.”
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