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The risks of wider war over Gaza, as Iran’s ‘axis’ activates

Whether the war between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip broadens into a regional conflict depends in large part on whether or not Iran’s allies, what it calls the “Axis of Resistance,” choose to join the battle, and at what level.

The jewel in the crown of that “axis” is the Lebanese Hezbollah, which has an estimated arsenal of more than 150,000 missiles. On Friday, in his much-anticipated first public comments since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his fighters had taken a calculated “risk” to tie down Israel to benefit Hamas.

Why We Wrote This

Around the Middle East, militias backed by Iran seem eager to join the fight against Israel in support of Hamas. To what degree will that happen? Will the war expand? That could depend largely on how Iran manages these groups.

“Whoever wants to prevent a regional war,” he warned, “and I am talking to the Americans, must quickly halt the aggression on Gaza.”

Iran’s “axis” faces divergent scenarios, analysts say.

“If the Israelis don’t topple Hamas in Gaza … then it would be a major victory for the whole ‘Axis of Resistance,’” says Fabian Hinz, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

But the sheer scale of the Hamas attack may prove to be a “major miscalculation,” he says, by triggering such a powerful Israeli response against Hamas that possibly no action – even from Hezbollah – could stop it. If the “axis” is “not able to deter the Israelis from marching into Gaza, it is a major setback,” he says.

Near Lebanon’s border with Israel, a Hezbollah missile specialist now braces for war like never before.

Wearing black tactical trousers, green camouflage, and a pistol – capped by a fatigued look that is by turns elated and anxious – the officer in the Iran-backed Shiite militia says his morale and expectations of imminent battle could not be higher.

That is because he believes Hamas’ surprise Oct. 7 raid, which left 1,400 Israelis dead and triggered an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, is heralding a broader, long-awaited fight against Israel and its staunch American ally by every regional armed wing of Iran’s self-declared “Axis of Resistance.”

Why We Wrote This

Around the Middle East, militias backed by Iran seem eager to join the fight against Israel in support of Hamas. To what degree will that happen? Will the war expand? That could depend largely on how Iran manages these groups.

“Oct. 7: We can call it the day of the beginning of the fall of Israel; that makes our morale shoot sky high,” says the Hezbollah veteran of 22 years, who gives the name Hassan.

“We can assure you, as Hezbollah, when we do receive the order to intervene and take sides with Hamas against the Israelis, immediately you will see the difference,” Hassan says. “We are definitely going to put a stop to all these massacres committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians.”

Indeed, from Yemen to Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, the range of offensive moves taken so far by the Iran-backed factions – which have been cultivated, armed, and supported for decades by the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – indicates that they have already been activated.

Hussein Malla/AP

Hezbollah fighters mourn as they attend the funeral procession of two comrades killed in recent cross-border fighting with Israel, in Kherbet Selem village, south Lebanon, Oct. 10, 2023.

The jewel in the crown of that “axis” is the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is battle-hardened after a decade of war in Syria and has an estimated arsenal of more than 150,000 missiles that has for years ensured mutual deterrence with Israel.

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