Israel Warns That It Could Send Lebanon 'Back to the Stone Age'

A civilian tries to put out fires caused by multiple Israeli strikes on Bint Jbeil, Lebanon on June 26, 2024.

(Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Israel Warns That It Could Send Lebanon 'Back to the Stone Age'

Critics of Israel denounced the bellicose rhetoric and U.N. leaders called for de-escalation as attacks mount along the Israel-Lebanon border and the threat of a full-scale war looms.

Despite efforts by the United Nations and others seeking to decrease tensions and prevent a wider war, Israel's defense minister on Wednesday warned that his military could send Lebanon "back to the Stone Age" as tensions continue to escalate between Israel and Hezbollah.

The remarks by Yoav Gallant, Israel's defense minister, followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declaration on Sunday that Israeli troops would be transferred from Gaza to the Lebanese border, with some experts predicting an Israeli incursion into Lebanon.

Cross-border strikes between Israel and Hezbollah, a non-state militia and political party in Lebanon, have intensified in recent weeks and have left hundreds dead, mostly on the Lebanese side, over the last nine months.

"Hezbollah understands very well that we can inflict massive damage in Lebanon if a war is launched," Gallant told reporters in Washington, D.C.

Gallant said the Israeli military is capable of taking Lebanon "back to the Stone Age, but we don’t want to do it."

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned Wednesday that a war in Lebanon could be "potentially apocalyptic" and draw in other countries such as Syria. It would be "the flashpoint beyond all flash points," he said.

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had issued a similar warning about the stakes of a war in Lebanon.

"Let's be clear: The people of the region and the people of the world cannot afford Lebanon to become another Gaza," Guterres said, calling for "immediate de-escalation."

"One rash move–one miscalculation–could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination," he added.

Owen Jones, a left-wing columnist at The Guardian, wrote on social media that Gallant's remarks were a threat to commit genocide.

An escalation of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict could be imminent. Politicoreported on Monday that "U.S. officials appear resigned to the possibility that Israel will make a major move against Hezbollah inside Lebanon in the coming weeks."

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said there would be "no restraint and no rules and no ceilings" if Israel invaded Lebanon, Al Jazeerareported.

Hezbollah, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and U.K. governments, receives military support from Iran and is estimated to have ten times the military capability of Hamas, with an estimated stockpile of 150,000 rockets and missiles, many of them with precision capabilities. Last week, according toCNN, U.S. officials expressed concern that Israel's Iron Dome defense system could be overwhelmed by Hezbollah's arsenal.

Hezbollah held Israel to a standstill during a 2006 war that lasted just over one month, and the group is regarded to be better equipped now. Israel and Lebanon have a longstanding border dispute; in practice the border is a U.N.-instituted and heavily militarized "Blue Line."

Though the media focus has been on a possible escalation, the last nine months of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah have already been costly. Al Jazeerareported Thursday that 543 Lebanese and 21 Israelis have been killed since October 7, though Reuters reported an overall lower figure earlier in the month. In addition, about 150,000 people in southern Lebanon and northern Israel have been displaced because of cross-border strikes.

The Biden administration, like the U.N., has called for de-escalation. Last week Biden sent a State Department official, Amos Hochstein, to Israel and Lebanon to push for peaceful solution.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that "we are urgently seeking a diplomatic agreement that restores lasting calm to Israel's northern border and enables civilians to return safely to their homes on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border."

Another top U.S. military official warned on Sunday that an Israeli incursion into Lebanon could draw Iran into the conflict.

But the U.S. also warned Hezbollah this week that it can't stop an Israeli attack and that it will support Israel's defense in the event of Hezbollah retaliation, Politicoreported.

The specter of war led several Western countries to call on their citizens who are in Lebanon to leave, with Canada planning to evacuate 45,000 of its nationals from the country in the event of a war.

Gallant's bellicose rhetoric on Wednesday echoed a line that Benny Gantz, an Israeli politician and former member of Netanyahu's coalition government, had used on the campaign trail in the past.

Gantz, who is often characterized as moderate in his hawkishness compared to Netanyahu and who recently quit the war cabinet, bragged in 2019 campaign ads about having sent Gaza "back to the Stone Age" during the 2014 Gaza war, which he helped lead.

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