Exclusive Israel, Hezbollah conflict will remain ‘below boiling point’: Gen. McKenzie

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The conflict between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group will remain “below the boiling point,” avoiding a full-scale war, retired General Kenneth F. McKenzie told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview.

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When asked if the Lebanese-Israeli front could flare up suddenly, McKenzie said that while Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah will make their own strategic choices, they are aware of Israel’s potential for a powerful response.

While cross-border exchanges are expected to continue, “the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel will remain below the boiling point” and will not escalate into a major war, McKenzie told Al Arabiya.

“The Lebanese Hezbollah and Nasrallah, their leader, will make their own strategic decision on this,” the retired general said. “I think he recognizes that if he goes to war with Israel, the Israeli response will be overwhelming and violent.”

Israel and Hezbollah have engaged in cross-border fire since the war in Gaza began in October. So far, at least 15 Israeli soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in northern Israel. In Lebanon, Israeli strikes have resulted in at least 455 deaths, mostly fighters, but also including 88 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

General McKenzie’s new book ‘The Melting Point’

In the wide-ranging interview, McKenzie discussed several other topics, including his new book, ‘The Melting Point: High Command in War in the 21st Century.’

The book addresses key events in the Middle East, including the killings of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

McKenzie on Soleimani’s assassination

Regarding Soleimani’s assassination, McKenzie delved into the strategy behind the attack, highlighting the imminent threat the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander posed to Americans and the careful planning aimed at minimizing civilian casualties.

In his book, McKenzie mentions that shooting down Soleimani’s plane was one option, but it was ultimately dismissed to avoid civilian casualties.

“If we had shot down the airplane that Soleimani was flying in, innocent people would have died,” McKenzie said. “That is not what we wanted to do. We wanted to strike Soleimani where no innocent people would die. When the strike occurred, I would argue that no innocent people died.”

He added that Soleimani’s assassination temporarily reestablished deterrence with Iran, stressing that deterrence “must be continuously reinforced.”

“Deterrence has to be reestablished,” McKenzie said. “I believe we have reestablished deterrence again and we’ll probably have to do it again in the future.”

US withdrawal from Afghanistan

McKenzie’s book also explores the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

During the interview, he expressed concern about a potential resurgence of ISIS after the US exit, especially in areas not controlled by the Taliban.

“I remain concerned that ISIS Khorasan is gathering strength in areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban are unable to exert control. I believe this is a more dangerous time now than it was before,” the retired general said.

“They do intend, if possible, to conduct attacks against the United States in our homeland. They recently stuck at Russia and Moscow. I think this will continue and it is something we’re going to need to watch very carefully.”

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