Lebanon protests increase possibility of Hezbollah attack against Israel
A SIGN reads ‘Go now. Everyone means everyone,’ at a protest near the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 2020
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
Over the past few weeks, protests in Lebanon have regained strength, mainly in response to economic distress and the deterioration in the value of the Lebanese currency, the pound. As the protests were not convenient for Hezbollah when they broke out in October 2019, they are still not convenient with their renewed strength now. (Hezbollah is accused by the protesters as being the major factor of the deterioration of the Lebanese economy due to its activities that prevent foreign aid and economic investments.)
Alongside the protests within the internal Lebanese arena, Hezbollah suffers from various additional international pressures.
First, there are the international sanctions targeting Hezbollah, both from the United States and Europe, where more and more countries have recognized Hezbollah’s civilian wing as a terrorist organization.
Second, there are the Lebanese government’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), alongside the conditions it put in place against Hezbollah (implementation of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680, regarding dismantling of its weapons and the placing of a border control between Syria and Lebanon).
The third is the American attempt to change the UNIFIL forces’ mandate in southern Lebanon and to extend its jurisdiction until the end of August.
Fourth is the Caesar Act, which came into effect on June 17, allowing the imposing of sanctions on anyone doing business with Syria, threatening the Lebanese banks that are having difficulty providing services to Hezbollah.
For many of us in Israel, the pressure that Hezbollah is now experiencing reminds us of the events that preceded the abduction of Israeli soldiers in 2006, and the events that led to the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Back then, there were also internal and international pressures on Hezbollah demanding its disarmament. The question that arises is: Will Hezbollah choose to attack Israel again in order to divert attention and change the rules of the game?
In our estimation, Hezbollah has a number of options. The first is simply to continue its routine without taking special action, settling only on distributing warnings and threats (during Hassan Nasrallah’s last three speeches, the last on June 16, in which the Hezbollah secretary-general issued quite a few warnings and threats, all of which were directed against Israel and the United States).
The second option is to drag the Lebanese domestic arena into a blaze and start another wide or limited civil war, similar to the actions taken by Hezbollah in May 2008. At that time, Hezbollah took control of the airport and centers of power affiliated with the camp of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri.
THESE DAYS, Hezbollah can perform similar but wider and more aggressive activities, thus conveying a warning to the protesters on one hand, and to international bodies on the other. Then again, today, Hezbollah has more political power than before with complete control over the government, so it is not certain that such an action would serve its purpose.
The third option is to drag the regional arena (together with the Lebanese interior arena), into a flare-up and confrontation against Israel, which is Lebanon’s “true enemy,” establishing the narrative of the “unity of siege and conflict” (this narrative was published in the headlines of the Hezbollah affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper last week).
This option has the potential to create new regional conditions that may be more convenient for Hezbollah.
To eliminate any doubts, Hezbollah will not operate independently before receiving approval from its Iranian patron. Iran will ensure that the chosen course of action will first and foremost serve its purposes and the goals of the Shia axis, which is entirely with its back against the wall, and which is also influenced by the above factors.
In his June 16 speech, Nasrallah warned that the Americans are wrong if they believe that Hezbollah will allow itself or Lebanon to starve (referring to international sanctions and the Caesar Act). Nasrallah stated, “To those who believe that we will turn submissive and humiliated by hunger and give you our state and security to live under the mercy of the Israelis, I tell you that our weapons will remain in our hands, we will not starve and we will kill you.”
It should be emphasized that the internal and external pressure on Hezbollah did not, and does not, hurt or impair its operational capabilities. Israeli security experts have estimated in recent years that Hezbollah has no interest in risking war with Israel. Nonetheless, the considerable pressure it is subjected to, alongside high operational capability as expressed on the border several times in recent years, strengthens the likelihood that Hezbollah will choose to heat up Israel’s northern border.
At this stage, it is unclear whether Hezbollah will settle on intimidating threats or deterrent actions – similar the breaches in the fence made by Hezbollah activists two months ago – or carry out offensive actions against Israel under Iranian directives, which would also serve the conflict between Iran and the United States. The writer is the head of the research department at the Alma Center for Research and Education, specializing in the Israel’s security challenges on the northern border.
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