Hapless Lebanon is stuck with Hezbollah’s tunnels

In keeping with its militia ideology, Hezbollah does not mind moving around in tunnels. It is likely to escape the quandary posed by such tunnels but Lebanon might not be that lucky.
Friday 21/12/2018
A UN Interim Forces in Lebanon  soldier monitoring the border between Lebanon and Israel. On his right is a flag of the Hezbollah movement. (AFP)
Eerie silence. A UN Interim Forces in Lebanon soldier monitoring the border between Lebanon and Israel. On his right is a flag of the Hezbollah movement. (AFP)

It is hard not to see the question of Hezbollah’s tunnels as a premeditated trap cleverly laid out by Israel.

Stories in the Israeli media said the country’s intelligence services knew about the tunnels for years and were monitoring their progress in northern Israel.

Israel could have easily neutralised the tunnels or blown them up secretly or publicly and basically rendered them useless for any military purposes but Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu chose to turn the tunnels into a political crisis he could exploit to the fullest advantage for his party and its military options.

Netanyahu and his party are using Hezbollah’s tunnels to score points inside Israel, of course, and over Lebanon’s government and people in addition to creating a crisis for Lebanon.

There are no international agreements between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The strip is not an internationally recognised sovereign state nor is it part of the international community of the United Nations. So the war on the tunnels there has been part of the logic of confrontation that was free of the conventional constraints of making war.

Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip, however, is quite different from its northern border with Lebanon.

From Israel’s point of view, the issue of the tunnels is simple: Israel, a state of law, is being subjected to an act of aggression by militias controlled by terrorist regimes here and there. In the eyes of Israeli and US law, Hezbollah is a “terrorist organisation,” even if some countries try to create a distinction where there is none between the so-called political and military wings of the party.

Israel is presenting itself as a victim defending itself against infiltration across its border. Israel wants the world to bear witness that a devastating terrorist attack is going to happen, coming from the territory of a sovereign state and an independent and recognised member of the international community.

In just a few minutes, precisely at the moment, Netanyahu dropped the bomb of the news of the tunnels on December 4, Hezbollah lost the tunnel network it quietly and painstakingly dug in the years after the 2006 war. The party lost its tunnels before using them and before even finishing their construction. It did not lose them by fighting a war but thanks to the militias’ naive understanding of international events and because of the wiliness of the enemy.

It is clear Israel found Hezbollah’s tunnels easy prey; so it patiently let Hezbollah move into its trap. Now Hezbollah is crippled.

Thanks to Hezbollah and its tunnels, Israel has the proof it needs to have the UN Security Council absolve it of future sins against Lebanon. By the same token, and thanks to its notorious party, its crippled government and its fractured political system, all of Lebanon has been turned into a threat to Israel’s famous strategic security.

While Hezbollah can fudge about its rockets in Lebanon, it cannot deny the existence of the tunnels. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon confirmed their existence and Israeli cameras have shown them in a way that is preparing Israeli public opinion to accept the next war as a necessity.

International public opinion is also being prepared to accept an eventual war as part of Israel’s right to self-defence, a right guaranteed by all international security and sovereignty laws.

Hezbollah is observing total silence about Israel’s Northern Shield campaign. This silence seems to be more of an expression of confusion rather than an expression of the militia’s propensity to discretion.

Hezbollah has been using for a long time the concept of “resisting the occupation” to market itself inside the Lebanese society. It has arrogantly used the excuse of “defending the shrines” to justify its actions in Syria.

It seems that the party is facing difficulties selling the story of its tunnels to its popular base. These are offensive tunnels and cannot be part of the basics of defensive actions. They can only be part of larger foreign agendas that lie outside people’s daily life.

Regardless of Israel’s Machiavellian designs, the issue of the tunnels exposed the rot inside the Lebanese legitimate power system in comparison to what it was during the 2006 war under Fouad Siniora’s government.

The Lebanese political system seems helpless, having no plans for countering Israel’s boisterous diplomatic and military campaigns and having simply surrendered to whatever mood is going to emerge from the international community.

Hezbollah’s silence should have given Lebanese diplomacy enough room to manoeuvre and retake the initiative of dealing with the impasse but this did not happen and it exposed grave structural impotence. The power parties are just happy that they get to nominate a minister here and another one there in a “mighty” government that is merely a puppet in Hezbollah’s hand.

Hezbollah’s tunnels have crashed. The party’s image as crucial to Lebanon’s defence has crashed with them. So now the weapons of the resistance are no longer a deterrent to aggression but rather an invitation to aggression.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah can no longer persuade his followers and opponents that his forces “will enter Galilee and beyond Galilee in any future battle.”

With Hezbollah’s fall, the shameful image of Lebanon is exposed. Beirut can only pledge to observe UN Security Council Resolution 1701 but it does not possess the keys to honour this pledge.

In keeping with its militia ideology, Hezbollah does not mind moving around in tunnels. It is likely to escape the quandary posed by such tunnels but Lebanon might not be that lucky.