Lebanese people firmly reject prospect of war

Lebanese people firmly reject prospect of war

Lebanese people firmly reject prospect of war
Smoke billows from a building hit in an Israeli strike on the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila on Jan. 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Since Oct. 7, when Hamas carried out its brutal attack on Israel, Lebanese citizens have been closely monitoring the public statements and actions of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

The Lebanese are eager to speculate on the potential direction of his leadership and any new, uncalculated risk upon which he might embark. This heightened interest stems from their collective recollection of the significant events that unfolded during the July 2006 war with Israel — a period that is etched in their collective memory as it brought about substantial challenges and adversities. The anticipation surrounding Nasrallah’s pronouncements reflects the Lebanese population’s concern for regional stability and the potential impact of any reckless actions taken by Hezbollah.

The 2006 war was a deeply traumatic experience for Lebanon, marked by widespread destruction, loss of life and displacement of civilians. Its aftermath left a lasting impact on the nation’s infrastructure, economy and social fabric. Consequently, the memory of this conflict has left many Lebanese citizens understandably wary of any new military ventures or conflicts that could jeopardize their security and well-being.

The Hamas attack fueled Nasrallah’s enthusiasm, leading him to publicly endorse the operation and issue a series of menacing threats directed at the Israeli state. Moreover, he has declared his readiness to provide immediate support to his fellow comrades when called upon.

Nasrallah’s vocal support for a terrorist operation has raised concerns among both domestic and international observers

Dalia Al-Aqidi

This sequence of events underscores the escalating tension and rhetoric in the region. The militia leader’s vocal support for a terrorist operation, coupled with his aggressive posturing, has raised concerns among both domestic and international observers. Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah has launched more than 1,700 rockets into Israel.

Then came Israel’s Jan. 2 killing of Hamas deputy secretary-general Saleh Al-Arouri in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahieh, which represented a crucial moment in the ongoing conflict. The attack carried a clear and wide-reaching message that extended beyond Hamas, implicating Hezbollah and Iran. Al-Arouri played a significant role in fostering cooperation among these three entities, making this act of violence all the more significant.

It served as a potent reminder of the intricate relationships and alliances at play in the region. Furthermore, it highlighted vulnerabilities within Hezbollah’s security apparatus, particularly in light of Nasrallah’s prior warnings against Israeli strikes crossing into Lebanese territory.

Last Monday, Wissam Al-Tawil, a senior Hezbollah commander who was deeply entrenched within the Iranian-supported Lebanese organization, was killed in a targeted Israeli airstrike. He held a prominent position and was instrumental in the cross-border kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers back in 2006. This was the most significant loss among Hezbollah militants since Oct. 7.

Then, a day later, Hezbollah carried out an attack on an Israeli army base using explosive drones launched from Lebanon. The militia said this was a direct retaliation for the deaths of Al-Tawil and Al-Arouri. On the same day, an Israeli drone strike in Lebanon resulted in the deaths of three Hezbollah members. This incident contributed to the growing number of casualties suffered by Hezbollah during more than three months of hostilities with Israel.

Israel has continued to conduct a relentless series of airstrikes in southern Lebanon. However, the ongoing cycle of attacks and counterattacks suggests that neither party wants to escalate the conflict to the point of no return. Israel, the US, Iran and Hezbollah all share a reluctance to revisit the 2006 scenario — and there are various reasons for this reluctance.

Israel has several objectives it wants to achieve. These include the complete elimination of Hamas, the safe liberation of the remaining Israeli hostages, planning for the postwar scenario and implementing measures to reassure its citizens that the events of Oct. 7 will never recur. As a result, engaging in a conflict with Lebanon is not in Israel’s best interest.

Washington is escalating its diplomatic efforts in an attempt to avoid a potentially catastrophic conflict that could worsen the already fragile political, economic and humanitarian situation in the region. President Joe Biden has dispatched senior advisers to the Middle East with a critical mission to prevent a full-scale war between Israel and Hezbollah. The immediate goal of this diplomatic mission is to initiate negotiations for a land demarcation agreement, outlining the boundaries and deployment conditions for both parties along the border. In addition to these diplomatic endeavors, the US aims to protect its military presence in Syria, Iraq and in the region’s waters.

Causing a full-scale war would significantly diminish Hezbollah’s influence and power in the aftermath

Dalia Al-Aqidi

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby emphasized that the White House wants to avoid conflict with any nation or actor in the Middle East and does not want to see the Israel-Hamas war escalate further. He highlighted the significant US military presence in the Middle East, which includes the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and an amphibious ready group in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Iran is inclined to avoid direct engagement in any conflict, given the potential high costs and the risk of destabilizing its already fragile political and security landscape. Instead, it sees the utilization of proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon as a more strategic means to achieve its objectives.

Hezbollah is well aware that the threat of war represents a crucial bargaining tool. However, once deployed, this strategic leverage cannot be quickly reinstated. Causing a full-scale war would significantly diminish Hezbollah’s influence and power in the aftermath.

Public sentiment in Lebanon remains firmly opposed to any form of armed conflict. However, prevailing sentiments within the country underscore that support for any cause should not come at the expense of Lebanese lives.

Beirut’s international airport last week suffered a cyberattack by domestic anti-Hezbollah groups. They replaced flight information with a message accusing Hezbollah of risking an all-out war with Israel. The message warned Nasrallah that he would lose support if Lebanon were drawn into a war and that he would be held accountable.

The Lebanese have also not forgotten the 2020 Beirut port explosion and its economic repercussions. And they have not forgotten the assassinations that targeted national figures who were demanding a strong state independent of the guardianship of the jurist, as well as the disarmament of militias operating outside the framework of the state and an end to the rampant corruption in the country. Today, Nasrallah fears that the Lebanese will rise up against him with everything they have. After all, they have nothing left to lose.

Dalia Al-Aqidi is Executive Director at the American Center for Counter Extremism. X: Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi

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