LEHAVOT HABASHAN, Israel—In the days after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel, Orna Rayn searched frantically for someone to build a wooden barricade to secure the door of a safe room in her house about 6 miles from the Lebanon border.
Rayn’s sister, Einat Rothem-Nechushtan, moved into the safe room on Oct. 10, even before the Israeli government ordered the evacuation of her own small farming community in northern Israel because of fears of all-out war with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed army in Lebanon.
For weeks now, the southern Lebanon hills less than 2 miles from Rothem-Nechushtan’s home in She’ar Yashuv have become an undeclared second front for the Israeli military, while it tries to rout Hamas fighters from the Gaza Strip 165 miles to the south.
The sisters have mapped out a plan of escape if Hezbollah fighters stage an Oct. 7-style cross-border attack.
“This is the first time in my life that I don’t feel safe in my home,” said Rothem-Nechushtan, 54 years old, who remained at her family’s bed-and-breakfast near the Lebanon border throughout Israel’s 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006, even after a rocket injured one of her neighbors.
Many Israelis who live near the border say their military can’t end the fighting without assuring them that Hezbollah can’t do to them what Hamas did to Israelis in the south. Israeli military officials have amplified the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a decisive blow.
The issue has become a point of contention in Israel’s war cabinet, where Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has pushed for broader military action against Hezbollah, and in Washington, where the Biden administration has put consistent pressure on Israel to refrain from taking provocative steps in Lebanon that could drag the American military deeper into the fight.
On Monday, Amos Hochstein, a senior Biden adviser who recently traveled to Lebanon, arrived in Israel to continue U.S. efforts to prevent the fighting from escalating.
Netanyahu has so far acceded to American pressure, but military officials say Israel is one deadly Hezbollah strike away from a new war in Lebanon. Netanyahu, aides say, hopes that a clear victory over Hamas in Gaza will push Hezbollah to pull its forces back from Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
“I have warned Hezbollah: Do not make a mistake and enter the war because this will be the mistake of your lives,” Netanyahu said earlier this month. “Your entry into the war will decide Lebanon’s fate.”
Tens of thousands of Israelis from 42 communities near the Lebanon border have been officially evacuated by the government because of fears that weeks of low-level Hezbollah attacks on Israel could erupt into a full-fledged war.
“I think that we are in a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something serious,” said Gideon Harari, a 66-year-old retired military officer who stayed behind in She’ar Yashuv as a member of the community’s local security force. “People will not come back because they are afraid, so you should do it now.”
Hezbollah and Hamas militants in southern Lebanon have used rockets, mortars and drones to attack northern Israel. Israel has responded with airstrikes and artillery fire. On Monday, Hezbollah said it fired four more-powerful missiles at an Israeli base and an Israeli news outlet showed extensive damage from the apparent attack, which the Israeli military didn’t discuss.
More than 70 Hezbollah fighters and 10 Lebanese civilians have been killed and 10 people, including seven Israeli soldiers, have been killed along the border in the past month, the deadliest surge in violence here since 2006.
If the Israeli invasion of Gaza has taken a high civilian toll, Israeli officials say a war with Hezbollah could be worse. In 2006, Israeli airstrikes killed more than 1,100 people, most of them civilians, according to human-rights groups. Israeli missiles flattened large sections of Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods in Beirut, a city with a population greater than the entire Gaza Strip.