Will War Spill Over Into Lebanon? It's Up To Hezbollah — And That Means Iran
The widely believed inability of Lebanon to control Hezbollah has sparked fears among Lebanese that the Iranian-backed group will join Hamas’ war against Israel and dragged their troubled nation back to a dark chapter in history.
PARIS — "We're starting to get very scared..." a friend from Beirut messaged me last night to share the growing fear of a new confrontation between Israel and its “other” enemy — Hezbollah, the armed Palestinian group based in Lebanon.
The fear is shared by many in Lebanon is that their powerless government has no control of its own destiny. It has no say whether there will be peace or war with Israel. Nor will Hezbollah itself, for that matter, as Iran ultimately will decide whether to drastically escalate the conflict or not.
In the French-language daily L'Orient Le Jour, editor-in-chief Anthony Samrani writes that "no journalist, no analyst and no diplomat can seriously claim to be able to say with any certainty whether or not the Shiite group will cross the Rubicon in the next few hours, days or weeks. Everyone speculates, but no one knows."
It is this uncertainty that darkens the morale of the Lebanese, still haunted by the memory of the terrible 2006 war: 33 days of fighting, 1,200 Lebanese dead, 150 Israelis killed, a million people displaced in Lebanon, infrastructure destroyed. Seventeen years later, Lebanon is in far worse shape and scared: without a president, an economy in tatters, and an impoverished population.
Since the Hamas attack in southern Israel on Saturday, the Lebanese border has been under intense scrutiny. There have been several deaths on both sides. On Wednesday, an anti-tank missile attack on Israel was claimed by Hezbollah in retaliation for the death of three of its men in an Israeli attack.
Hezbollah's potential motives
Elsewhere on the border, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad faction has claimed responsibility for rockets into Israel and an aborted commando incursion into the Jewish state. Civilians have been encouraged to leave the most vulnerable towns, fearing an incident that will provoke all-out war.
Political rationality is often neglected when it comes to starting wars.
The question, then, is to understand what Hezbollah is playing at, and by extension, Iran. To put it plainly, is there a strategy aimed at opening two fronts against Israel, or are the limited incidents in the north merely intended to show solidarity with Hamas in the South?
In recent months, many Lebanese have had the feeling that Hezbollah wanted above all to influence the national debate. It had given the green light to a maritime border agreement with Israel, and even had its own candidate for the presidency of Lebanon. This poses problems for the non-Shia Lebanese.
Looking over the border with Israel from the Marjayoun area in south Lebanon, on Oct. 11.
A tool of Iranian policy
But in Iran's regional game, Hezbollah is not autonomous: its army, which is more powerful than the Lebanese national army, is equipped and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and obeys Tehran's strategic choices.
What would be Iran's interest in triggering a war between Hezbollah with Israel today? They must know that such a war would entail the risk of regional escalation that would likely leave Iran impaired?
Tehran doesn't really have the means to wage such a conflict, but political rationality is often neglected when it comes to starting wars. For this reason, Lebanon is holding its breath — along with all its friends around the world.
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