With Israel’s ground war with Hamas in Gaza in the beginning stages, many are keeping a close eye on the next terrorist threat to Israel’s north, the Islamic extremist Hezbollah in Lebanon. Our Scott Thuman has reported for Full Measure from both Lebanon and the contested northern border with Israel. He takes a look at the second front.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Israeli artillery fire — no longer just south into Gaza, but north along the country's border into neighboring Lebanon.
For the past week, this area has seen intensified exchanges of rockets and artillery — shots in what could become a wider war in the Middle East, raising the stakes for the rest of the world.
While the terror group Hamas controls Gaza, here in the north the threat is from Hezbollah, another terrorist group with ties to Iran and a major political power in Lebanon. The group is thought to have at least 20,000 well-armed and trained fighters, with more that can be called up to fight. In 2006, a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah forces left hundreds dead and wounded on both sides.
When Full Measure visited Israel’s northern border two years ago, the area had just been attacked by Hezbollah rockets.
From the top of Mount Dov, Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler described the threat matrix then.
Amnon Shefler: It has a lot to do with Iran. Iran is the sponsor for Hezbollah. Iran continues to bring precision-guided missiles, know-how, and capabilities. And that is something that we're trying to stop.
Since Hamas' devastating surprise attack on Israel Oct. 7, this northern border area has become much more dangerous. Israeli army patrols run from house to house. Civilians have been evacuated.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner is a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces.
Peter Lerner: What we understand at this time is that Hezbollah is actually operating in order to increase and expand and perhaps even broaden the scope under the direction of Iran. And that is the cause of concern.
Concerns over a larger war — a big part of the reason President Biden made a visit to Israel, showing support but also reminding Iran that America is watching.
In Washington, despite dysfunction and disunity over almost everything, when it comes to Israel and the threat of an escalating Middle East war, lawmakers on both sides say they’re worried.
Republican congressman Randy Weber from Texas spent years on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Randy Weber: I'm told too — you probably hear the same things — that the rockets that Hamas has are not near as sophisticated as the ones Hezbollah has. And we're already seeing Hezbollah in the north, you're already seeing Israel evacuate towns and cities because they're preparing for a two-front war.
Scott: What about Israel's stance that it has unilateral authority, that if that threat reaches untenable level, that they can bomb Iran?
Weber: When someone says they want to kill you, believe them, especially in this instance. I've watched this develop for a long time, especially when you're dealing with a country full of killers who have made it their aim — and they're not shy about announcing it — America's the number one Satan, according to the Iranians. Israel's the number two Satan, according to the Iranians. They want to take out Israel, and they're just as intent on wanting to take us out.
A former army ranger, Democrat Congressman Jason Crow from Colorado, served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star.
Scott: What would a wider war mean, and how concerning is that to you?
Jason Crow: Well, it keeps me awake at night, there's no doubt about it. You have a lot of very well-armed powers in that region, and the casualties would be unacceptable. There's a lot of combat power in the Middle East, and a wider conflagration is something that nobody wants to see. There would be a lot of military casualties, in my view, but just as importantly, there would be tens of thousands of civilians who'd be caught in the middle and already are caught in the middle of this fighting.
Scott: How do we keep Iran and Hezbollah out of this?
Crow: We have to surge additional military resources into the region. We have to send a message to Iran and others that if they want to escalate, this is not going to go well for them and that we have the ability and capability on hand to respond and impose costs on them if they are going to aggress further.
The USS Gerald R Ford and its strike group are now in the Eastern Mediterranean, a second aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, is on its way. Two thousand Marines have also been placed on standby.
The U.S. and European nations have called on their citizens to leave Lebanon as soon as possible.
Scott: Can the United States do much to tamp this down?
Weber: Well, it's a little late. We've talked about President Biden. He needs to exude confidence and support for Israel. He needs to make absolutely unequivocally apparent that the United States has Israel's back.
As the fighting in Gaza enters its third week, it is clear Israel and the U.S., while hoping to contain the crisis, are preparing in case what is for now, just regional suddenly, becomes more global.
Sharyl: So there is that concern about the possibility of American troops being called upon to fight there.
Scott: Very much so. And the idea of U.S. boots on the ground there right now, according to the administration, isn’t being seriously considered. And the lawmakers we spoke to on Capitol Hill share concerns about any major U.S. involvement. And it's worth remembering that 40 years ago this week, U.S. Marines stationed in Beirut, Lebanon were attacked by suicide bombers. Two hundred forty-one Americans died in that attack.
Sharyl: Great context for all of this. Thanks a lot, Scott.
Watch story here.
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