Hezbollah and Israel announced successful mutual attacks on Friday, raising concerns that a month of limited operations could eventually lead to an all-out war.
The Israeli military confirmed it had struck targets in southern Lebanon, in response to drone and missile attacks on its forces. Hezbollah, for its part, published a video purporting to show its aerial operation.
Reporters who have visited the border areas of Lebanon and Israel say the reality on the ground is more serious than many think and that “there is a sense of impending conflict.“
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to speak Saturday at 3pm local time. This will be his second public appearance since October 7.
In his first speech, Nasrallah praised Hamas and denounced Israel but fell short of calling for war. He did say at the end, however, that the current conflict with Israel was of a different order to the previous ones, and that he was leaving all military options on the table.
Most experts say Nasrallah is reluctant to risk a full-blown war with Israel. But some say his second speech could be different, particularly given the scale of killings in Gaza.
On the eve of that speech, Hezbollah media have published a short video featuring soundbites of Nasrallah intercut with images of their operations. The video is titled “And it will not stop at that” –a title that could be read as a signal of potential escalation.
On Thursday, Iran’s foreign minister said that “with the intensification of the war on civilians in Gaza, expansion of the scope of the war has now become inevitable.”
Shortly after, Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN that the Islamic Republic will not expand this war front.
Put together, the two seemingly contradictory remarks may suggest that the regime in Iran wants to convey that the war would escalate in spite of the decisions made in Tehran.
Iran’s intentions might become clearer this weekend in Riyadh, where President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Before departing Tehran, Raisi squarely blamed the United States for lack of a ceasefire in Gaza. The Iranian regime has directed his verbal and proxy attacks at the US in recent weeks, with its militant proxies in the region launching more than 40 attacks against American troops in Iraq and Syria.
The two leaders talked on the phone a few days after the start of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. The two states differ considerably in practice and tone when it comes to dealing with Israel in general and the current conflict in particular.
The Islamic Republic openly supports militant groups fighting with Israel and calls for an oil boycott of that country. Saudi Arabia has demanded that Israel show constraint.
On Friday, MbS accused Israel of violating international law and condemned the “targeting of civilians in the Gaza Strip.”
It remains to be seen whether the two regional powers can agree on a joint course of action or at least get closer in their stance.
Saudi Arabia has so far refused to consider a boycott of, or to break ties with, Israel. Iran, on the other hand, has warned of escalation by inaction.
“My assessment is that if the emergency meeting of the [OIC] in Saudi Arabia does not lead to helping and saving the Palestinian nation, the scope of conflicts in the region will increase,” Raisi said on the eve of his trip to Riyadh.