Hezbollah decides alone in face-off with Israel
No one was shocked at the news that Hezbollah targeted an Israeli patrol on the border. Ever since Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and other senior party members took to the pulpits and warned of a calculated, limited response to Israeli aggression, it was only a matter of time.
Israel denied that the anti-tank rocket attack September 1 killed any of its troops but Hezbollah and its fellow travellers carried on with their customary celebratory speeches and bragging rituals.
The only real surprise was that Hezbollah’s blatant breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which has been in effect since Hezbollah’s confrontation with Israel in July 2006, did not prompt a harsh Israeli reprisal. Instead, Israel fired 100 artillery shells into Lebanon, striking positions Hezbollah used to launch its attack.
What is certain is that both sides were strictly advised by the United States and, more important, Russia to avoid open warfare. Israel is being careful not to steer away from the far more serious threat on its eastern borders as Iran expands its hegemony across Syria and beefs up its arsenal of long-range and accurate ballistic missiles.
Hezbollah, which has most of its forces stretched thin across the region and is reeling from crippling US financial sanctions, wants to delay a serious confrontation with Israel until a more opportune moment, i.e. when US President Donald Trump loses next year’s United States presidential elections or the United States strikes a new deal with Iran, not necessarily in that order.
The most shocking part of the showdown between Israel and Iran’s operatives was the Lebanese state’s complete lack of control. Rather than objecting to Hezbollah’s declaration of war, the state bolstered its claims, saying that the so-called resistance had the right to defend Lebanese territory from Israeli aggression.
By giving Hezbollah its blessing, the Lebanese state, or what remains of it, effectively condoned Hezbollah’s nefarious activity in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
After the military debacle, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri phoned US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and French President Emmanuel Macron’s adviser with the request that they rein in Israel, without acknowledging that Hezbollah had breached Resolution 1701.
As soon as Hariri ended his urgent pleas, the US Department of State snubbed him by releasing a statement saying Hezbollah should refrain from “hostile actions that threaten Lebanon’s security, stability and sovereignty” and affirming that “the United States fully supports Israel’s right to self-defence.”
The Lebanese government’s irresponsible handling of this incident reveals its deep state of delusion: It believes it can continually refuse to take responsibility for Hezbollah’s actions, without understanding what is at stake.
In an interview with US cable channel CNBC, Hariri even stuck to one of his weakest talking points, repeating that “Hezbollah is not a Lebanese problem but a regional problem.”
This is what Hariri conveniently left out: Hezbollah is not merely an Iran-sponsored Lebanese outfit that operates outside of Lebanon but a political party that holds three seats in Hariri’s cabinet.
By giving Hezbollah political cover, as the Lebanese government has done time and again, the state has transformed from being a helpless hostage to the group to its eager accomplice. This has been acknowledged by Gulf countries that shed their amity and financial largesse to Lebanon and its struggling economy.
One day after the Hezbollah attack, in a scene resembling the Twilight Zone, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah’s main Christian ally, opted to go ahead with a roundtable on Lebanon’s abysmal economic situation.
The meeting, which included all Lebanese political factions, was another missed opportunity to confront Hezbollah over its weapons’ stash. Such a move would have strengthened Aoun in his quest to rejuvenate the economy and prove to the country that he is not merely Hezbollah’s lackey.
No sane individual would consider investing in a country whose political elite fail to ensure state sovereignty and stability, which are essential elements for economic prosperity. Aoun ended his roundtable by declaring a state of national emergency and asking that all factions come together. He warned that Lebanon had only six months to go before total economic collapse.
While total war between Iran and Israel in Lebanon might be delayed, Beirut has equally critical issues at stake. The disturbing reality is: Not only is Hezbollah a regional problem but the Lebanese state’s failure to confront Iran’s unheeded ambition has turned it into a problem for the region and beyond.