Israel-Gaza: Lebanon is on the brink (once again)

Lebanon, a nation scarred by conflict and economic crisis, finds itself once again teetering on the edge of another war. As the Lebanese people anxiously watch Gaza’s Israeli siege and the border skirmishes between Hezbollah and IDF, they can’t help but wonder how their country, already ravaged by years of turmoil, is at risk of descending into chaos once more.

Beirut, August 14, 2006. Hezbollah supporters celebrate the "Divine victory" over Israel. But now, no one could predict what would happen if the Israel-Gaza war spreads to the Lebanese border. @David Hury

Will the Lebanon-Israel border turn into another front in the coming days? Everyone in Beirut and South-Lebanon has on opinion about that. But one thing is for sure: the price to be paid will be very, very high. Lebanon has already endured multiple hardships in recent years, including a severe economic crisis that has left many struggling to make ends meet. The port explosion in 2020, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and a financial crash have all taken their toll on the Lebanese people. With the outbreak of violence on October 7 between Israel and Hamas, the fear among many Lebanese is that their country could become the second front in Israel’s war against its militant enemies.

The Role of Hezbollah

Last Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned about “a huge earthquake” if Israel doesn’t stop its attack over Gaza, saying that Hezbollah could join the battle on the Israeli North front. Some commentators think that neither Hezbollah or Israel wants to be dragged into a new war. But the main question stays: what is the real decision-making autonomy of Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah?

Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and militant group based in Lebanon, has long been a concern for Israel. Israeli forces have declared a closed military zone along Lebanon’s southern border, where they have engaged in exchanges of fire with Hezbollah. There are reports that Hezbollah has moved elite units to the Golan Heights, a region occupied by Israel and located to the southeast of Lebanon. Iran’s involvement in the region further complicates the situation, as Tehran has been known to support and arm Hezbollah.

The Anxiety of Regional War

The recent regional diplomacy efforts by Iran have heightened anxiety that Hezbollah may be drawn into the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Iran’s Foreign Minister warned that if Israel does not halt its military campaign in Gaza, Hezbollah is prepared to take action. This has raised concerns that Lebanon could become a battleground in a larger regional war.

Recognizing the potential for escalation, the United States has dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region and publicly warned Iran and Hezbollah not to get involved. President Joe Biden’s firm stance has been welcomed by some Lebanese, who hope that Hezbollah will heed the warning.

The constant threat of war has left the Lebanese people exhausted and uncertain about their future. In upscale neighborhoods like Manara, discussions about the possibility of war and the economic crisis are common among affluent Lebanese who are considering leaving the country. The economic situation has already prompted many to flee, with an estimated 85 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

Lebanon’s Fragile Government

Lebanon’s caretaker government, lacking the power to influence events, faces a daunting challenge. Prime Minister Najib Mikati has admitted that Hezbollah has not given any assurances about whether they will enter the conflict or not. With a fractured political landscape and a government that has been in limbo since 2022, Lebanon lacks the stability and leadership necessary to address the current crisis.

The Specter of Past Wars

Lebanon’s history is marked by periods of intense conflict, including the devastating civil war from 1975 to 1990. The war, fueled by sectarian divisions, drew in outside powers and resulted in an estimated 120,000 deaths and a mass exodus of people. In 2006, Lebanon was plunged into war once again when Hezbollah seized the opportunity to strike Israel during another conflict in Gaza8. The month-long war ended with a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations, but it revealed Hezbollah’s capabilities and shocked Israel with its “swarm” attacks.

Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War provided an opportunity for the organization to enhance its capabilities. With support from Iran, Hezbollah has amassed an estimated 150,000 precision-guided missiles. These missiles, supplied through Syria, pose a significant threat to Israel, as Hezbollah has the ability to strike anywhere in the country. Furthermore, Hezbollah has gained valuable battlefield experience and improved its tactics during its intervention in Syria.

The Dilemma for Hezbollah

Hezbollah faces a dilemma as it weighs its options in the current conflict. While the organization gained popularity across the Arab world during its fight against Israel in 2006, its involvement in the Syrian Civil War caused some to question its priorities. Hezbollah must now navigate the need to regain legitimacy as a resistance force against Israel while avoiding becoming embroiled in another conflict that could further strain its resources and support. Firing rockets as we witness during the last days made us fear the worst, as UNIFIL forces were hit on Sunday and as Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah was killed in southern Lebanon, while 6 others were wounded. Lebanon finds itself caught in the crossfire of regional tensions and power struggles. As the threat of war looms, the Lebanese people are left grappling with the economic crisis and the uncertainty of their future. The fragile government is ill-equipped to address the challenges at hand, and the potential involvement of Hezbollah only adds to the complexity. The international community, particularly the United States, has called for restraint and warned against further escalation. The path forward for Lebanon remains uncertain, but the hope for peace and stability endures.