Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment over Lebanon's southern town of Kfar Kila near the border with Israel on 21 December, 2023 (AFP)

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This weekend marked one hundreds days since Israel's war on Gaza.

For the past three months, Lebanon's southern borders have been turned into a war zone between the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Israel since 8 October.

Recent developments leading up to the 100-day mark have marked a significant escalation in the long-standing conflict. The most notable incidents include Israel's assassinations this month of key Hamas and Hezbollah leaders on Lebanese soil, including Hamas deputy Saleh al-Arouri and senior Hezbollah commander Wissam al-Tawil.

In a retaliatory move, Hezbollah responded with a drone attack on Israel's northern command, just days after targeting an Israeli air base at Mount al-Jarmaq. These critical events signify a notable shift in the dynamics of the northern front, highlighting an intensifying war of strategic messaging and brinkmanship.

Arouri's killing marked a critical juncture. The assassination was carried out during rush hour in Beirut's densely populated southern suburb of Dahiyeh, which is considered to be a security zone for Hezbollah. Despite the risks of operating in such a crowded and sensitive location, Israel fired six high-precision missiles towards a building where Arouri was meeting with associates.

This decisive action came amid Israel's urban warfare efforts in the Gaza Strip, where it has struggled to meet its goals of targeting the top leadership of Hamas, which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK and other countries. The successful Beirut operation, followed swiftly by Tawil's killing in southern Lebanon, may be perceived as an attempt by the Israeli government to demonstrate its operational capabilities and to address perceived shortcomings in Gaza. 

These assassinations had layered messages. To Hezbollah, they showed Israel's military prowess and intelligence capabilities, evident in the elimination of high-profile targets. At the broader Lebanese societal level, the strike in Dahiyeh not only showcased Israel's military precision, but it also evoked memories of the 2006 war. This act likely aimed to instil a sense of fear among civilians, who form a crucial support base for resistance movements.

The location and nature of Arouri's assassination also holds significant implications for Lebanese domestic politics, reigniting contentious debate over the presence of Palestinian military elements on Lebanese soil, and the complexities arising from their protection and support by Lebanese factions. 

It's noteworthy, however, that Israel's recent focus on hitting military targets on Lebanese territory, while minimising broader civilian casualties, avoids a larger-scale escalation. This signals a measured approach in Israel's military strategy.

Calculated approach

For Hezbollah, while inflicting casualties on the Israeli military can be seen as a tactical gain, the group's recent actions suggest a different primary objective. Notably, by hitting Israel's northern command around 10 kilometres from the border - seen as one of Hezbollah's deepest penetrations into northern Israel - the group has indicated a shift in focus.

The strike on Israel's Meron air base is also significant in this regard. The base, known as the "eye of Israel", has a wide surveillance range covering parts of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan. It's known as one of the most crucial military bases in the Middle East.

Since the start of the war these strategic choices by Hezbollah reflect a calculated approach. Rather than aiming primarily to cause casualties, they seem to be more about demonstrating the group's ability to target highly secured and strategically important Israeli military installations. This sends a message, challenging the perceived security of these sites and showcasing Hezbollah's reach and military sophistication...

Read the full opinion at Middle East Eyes