What Will Hezbollah Do? Lebanon's Fate Hangs In The Balance
Memories are still clear of the war in 2006, which exploded after a Hezbollah attack in northern Israel. Nobody wants war again, even as solidarity for the Palestinian cause is stronger than ever.
BEIRUT — From the balcony of his flat in Baabda, a hillside town near the Lebanese capital, a local engineer named Omar gestures towards the southern quarter of Beirut. That was the neighborhood that became a prime target of the Israeli air force in July 2006.
"The raids followed one another, every day for 32 days," he recalled. "The area wasn't just bombed, it was completely razed to the ground."
The trauma of 2006 is still fresh in everyone's mind in Beirut.
At the time, Israel retaliated against a Hezbollah incursion into the north of the country. The Shiite group's forces succeeded in penetrating Israeli territory, ambushing a Tsahal patrol and capturing Israeli soldiers. It was a vastly smaller operation than the one carried out by Hamas Oct. 7, but it provoked a devastating response from Israel.
"If Hezbollah gets involved in the conflict, we'll be reliving 2006 in a worse way, because Lebanon is much worse off," Omar says, noting that the country is still recovering from the massive explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020.
Residents of the capital remember the widespread displacement of people fleeing the war-torn south of the country 17 years ago, with several hundred thousand forced to leave their homes.
For the time being, Hezbollah is keeping out of the Gaza conflict, contenting itself with essentially symbolic actions on the border with Israel. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has so far remained silent about the movement's intentions.
If Gaza is crushed, it will be difficult for Hezbollah to not react militarily.
Still, the grassroots are mobilizing. Rallies in support of Gaza have grown in recent days, like the one on Friday in front of the Mohammed Al Amine mosque in the centre of the Lebanese capital, but also in many places in southern Lebanon. "We are all Palestinians" shouts one supporter.
The yellow flags of Hezbollah were everywhere, mingling with those of Palestine. Women march with their heads covered in keffiyehs. "All it would take is one word from the head of Hezbollah for these demonstrations of support to turn into a mobilization," a Lebanese member of Parliament told Les Echos. "Everything will depend on the intensity of the Israeli response. If Gaza is crushed, it will be difficult for Hezbollah to not react militarily. They will have to fight to help their Hamas brothers. That's the worst-case scenario.”
August 09, 2022, Beirut, Lebanon: Militants of Hezbollah, the Lebanese pro-Iranian Shia Islamist political group, parade during a mass rally.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who has been a prominent Lebanese politician for decades, says it's hard to see a way out of the current conflict in the region. “"I don't know how it will end. War? Anything is possible," he told Les Echos during an interview in his Beirut home. "Look at the state of this country. It would be catastrophic."
Founded in 1949, a year after the creation of the State of Israel, his Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) has always supported the Palestinian cause. Today, Jumblatt criticizes Arab countries for not doing more to support the Palestinians: "The Arab League has not even been able to call for a ceasefire. It has condemned the attacks on civilians on both sides, but no more," he said. "Arab leaders are still repeating the same outdated rhetoric about resolving the Palestinian cause. And this has been going on for 75 years."
The war is not here, but it is in people's heads.
The Druze leader is disillusioned with an Arab world that "no longer exists." Iran's support for Hamas is a case in point: "Hamas is a Palestinian movement. But what liberation movement in the world hasn't called on someone to help it? That someone happens to be Iran. If the Arabs had helped Hamas, we'd be in a different situation."
While supporting the Palestinian cause, Jumblatt hopes that Lebanon will escape the war and not be drawn into the conflict by Hezbollah.
Still, most Lebanese are preparing for the worst. Another politician in the north of country says locals in his region have seen "people from the south, including Hezbollah, have been renting hotel rooms just in case...".
Back down in Beirut, residents are stocking up on water and restaurant visits have been down for a few days. No, the war has not arrived in Lebanon, but it's already in people's heads.
- Is Lebanon's Hezbollah Doing Assad's Dirty Work In Syria? ›
- Has Lebanese Politics Finally Freed Itself Of Iran's Influence? ›
- Will War Spill Over Into Lebanon? It's Up To Hezbollah — And That Means Iran ›
- Biden In Israel After Hospital Blast, Darfur Ethnic Cleansing, Twitter Rolls Out $1 Fee - Worldcrunch ›
- Lebanon On The Brink: Where External And Internal Threats Collide - Worldcrunch ›