Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Marina Rwshrwsh and Etti Elihai clean streets in Shlomi, a town in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon that stands largely empty after six months of war, on April 10.Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

Asaf Geva pulls shut the heavy armoured door on his pickup and gestures to a passenger to keep the seatbelt off. “If something comes, you have to get out,” he says.

That something could be an anti-tank missile, a mortar or some other weapon fired by Hezbollah militants from Lebanon.

Mr. Geva is head of security for Shlomi, an Israeli town that sits so close to the border with Lebanon that residents get at most four seconds of warning before projectiles reach their target.

Shlomi once counted 8,650 residents, but most fled at the outset of war.

Only two things will make people feel safe enough to return, says Mr. Geva, a former combat engineer who now does some of his work from an underground bunker: either a long period of peaceful silence, “or a big war with Lebanon.”

After six months of brutal war, Shlomi, like much of Israel, stands at a precipitous crossroads, caught between a yearning for peace, an eagerness to vanquish enemies – and a fear of revenge from Iran and the heavily armed surrogates it has amassed around Israel’s borders.

In Cairo, an international team of negotiators continues intensive talks toward a potential ceasefire in Gaza, with Israel agreeing to allow 150,000 Palestinians to return to northern Gaza without prior security clearance, Reuters reported. Israeli forces withdrew from parts of Gaza earlier this week, although an air strike Wednesday killed three sons of top Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in the territory.

In Tehran, meanwhile, the threat of reprisal continues to mount after a strike last week that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals, in Syria. Israel is widely believed to be responsible and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday pledged retaliation. “The evil regime must be punished, and it will be punished,” he said at a prayer ceremony.

A retaliatory strike is imminent, Bloomberg reported, citing U.S. intelligence sources.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz responded with a post on X, written in Hebrew and Farsi: “If Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack in Iran.”

For some of those who remain in Shlomi, the possibility of new conflict on a northern front with Iran and its powerful Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon is a welcome prospect.

“There must be a war. That’s the only solution,” says Etti Elihai, who has remained in Shlomi to keep its streets and sidewalks tidy, criss-crossing the town in a utility vehicle to sweep fallen leaves and gather litter.

Ms. Elihai is no stranger to the destructive force of battle. She has been called to clean the debris from Shlomi homes attacked over the past few months. She spends her days outside, often far from bomb shelters. When an alert sounds for an incoming air attack, she dives to the ground. “There is no one who is not afraid,” she said.

It’s a fear, she believes, only bloodshed can alleviate. Hezbollah possesses a formidable arsenal, far more potent than that wielded by the Hamas militants who orchestrated the Oct. 7 attacks, which killed 1,200 Israelis.

Earlier this week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that Israel had “miscalculated” with its strike in Syria, saying “the Iranian response to the attack on the Iranian consulate is coming.”

Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah and Israel have regularly exchanged fire, although such attacks have been calibrated by both sides to avoid further escalation. Diplomatic talks are under way with Hezbollah; Israel has demanded that the group back its forces away from the border.

Ms. Elihai dismisses diplomacy as insufficient. She wants a much larger fight against the militants she can sometimes see across the border, saying her country’s northern residents cannot feel confident that they will not be next to endure an attack like that on Oct. 7 if Israel does not seek Hezbollah’s destruction.

She opposes a ceasefire in Gaza, which she believes will also ease tensions on the northern border, dimming the prospect of a broader conflagration.

The possibility of such conflict has already shattered Shlomi as a community. Cats outnumber cars on its streets. Postal mail is not delivered and public transit does not operate. Repairs to basic services like the internet can take a month to complete. Only a single restaurant remains open, a falafel shop that caters largely to soldiers who have gathered here in force. In one small apartment building, a desiccated rat lies in a dusty stairwell.

Yuri Gershovich, the town’s youth co-ordinator, drives thousands of kilometres a month between the cities where most of Shlomi’s former residents now live in hotels and rented apartments. The town’s 480 students are now scattered across 136 different schools.

“People really want to come back. But they are also worried,” he says.

Among them is Ms. Gozlan, an ultra-Orthodox Jew from Shlomi now living with her family in a Jerusalem hotel. The Globe and Mail is identifying her only by her surname because she fears reprisal for speaking publicly.

“In the current environment, I don’t believe in peace or any agreement with Hezbollah,” she says. “We need a big war. Something needs to change completely in order for me to come back home.”

Such sentiment contrasts with warnings from the international community, with Lieutenant-General Aroldo Lázaro, the head of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon, saying this week that “the only way forward” lies with diplomacy. “There is no military solution to the current confrontation and violence,” he said.

In northern Israel, too, some hold out hope for a different path forward. Israel has already spent many years of its existence at war, but “nobody is going to finish Hamas and nobody is going to finish Hezbollah,” says Eli Noylandr, a Shlomi resident who returns regularly to check on his home.

On Wednesday, he sipped coffee in his garden, which overlooks the jagged wall that marks the border with Lebanon. It was, on this afternoon, a scene of tranquil verdure, the only sound from birds flitting past his lemon tree.

Mr. Noylandr likes to imagine what it would be like to see peace in the region, with roads open from Egypt to Turkey. “This would be like heaven,” he says.

“I know,” he adds, “that it’s naive.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe