Hezbollah still has a (destructive) role to play
What can the Lebanese do when their leaders place them face-to-face with unbearable choices?
On the one hand, they are squeezed with a budget that carries painful austerity measures expected to become even more painful. On the other hand, Hezbollah threatens them with a fiery summer that would put the country in danger and wipe out all their sacrifices to comply with the 2019 budget, a budget that is being heralded with a great deal of intimidation.
While politicians are trying to reach a consensus on this year’s budget and overloading the Lebanese with messages about the need to avoid financial collapse through painful austerity measures, they are also competing to see who refuses the most to revise the military’s and low-income people’s wages.
The Lebanese have become preoccupied with how to deal with austerity measures and even though their salaries will not be affected by them, the purchasing power of those salaries will be seriously affected by expected tax increases and price hikes, perhaps to a larger extent than if their salaries were reduced by certain percentages.
It is at this juncture that Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported leaked declarations by Hezbollah, which place the Lebanese between a rock and a hard place. Hezbollah denied the authenticity of the leaks but that denial will not erase their consequences.
What is the purpose of the leaks now? Have circumstances changed this much to expect a broad and overwhelming war against Lebanon and Hezbollah?
Al Rai reported that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, speaking during an internal party meeting, said: “There are many signs that Israel is seeking to surprise everyone, like it did in the 2006 war but [Israeli Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu is not like the hesitant Ehud Olmert.
“Like it had done in Gaza in 2008, Israel is likely to do the same in 2019 with the aim of removing the threat coming from Hezbollah forever. Therefore, the Lebanese people’s and Hezbollah’s nurturing environment must prepare for all possibilities.”
In a pessimistic look at that expected war, rarely felt in Nasrallah’s speeches, Hezbollah’s strongman said: “I may not remain among you for a long time and most of the first-line leaders will be gone (killed) with me and therefore Israel may succeed in assassinating the party’s leadership. This does not mean the end of Hezbollah, which does not rely for its existence on individuals but it is part of the Lebanese society remaining in this country.”
Nasrallah added that “provisions have been made for worst-case scenarios and in the event of the assassination of all (party) leaders. So there is no need to worry.”
What are the intended objectives of these leaks, both internally and externally, even if they have been denied?
Locally, Hezbollah and its allies will bear the responsibility, as the strongest forces inside the circle of power, for the worsening living conditions of the Lebanese people.
As the financial support Hezbollah receives from the Iranian regime dries up, tens of thousands of Shia Lebanese working in Hezbollah’s civilian, social and military institutions are going to suffer the consequences of that, in addition to their suffering from austerity measures in the state budget.
Therefore, the leaks, at this time, will push those Lebanese — the popular incubator for Hezbollah — to give priority to defending the existence of the party over the choice of defending their living.
At the international level, we know that factors are converging on the implementation of the next package of US economic sanctions against Tehran, as well as on tightening control of Hezbollah’s finances.
In Syria, there is an undeclared war between the Russians and the Iranians on the one hand, and, on the other, there is a serious fracture in the forces of the Assad regime between the 5th Battalion led by Russia and militias led by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Living conditions are deteriorating in areas controlled by the Syrian regime, especially when it comes to fuel and food prices.
The leaked declarations of Nasrallah may be a prelude to Tehran’s intention to take military actions by proxy, through Hezbollah, or the Iraqi Al-Hashed al-Shaabi militia or Palestinian organisations against Israel or even the US military presence in the region, turning the region once again into a hot spot.
In any case, regional circumstances and the intersection of international interests can encourage Netanyahu to take any action, including war, especially after the comfortable victory of the far-right in recent Israeli elections. Even though all of these wars might be thought of as paving the way for the “Deal of the Century,” a war to get rid of Hezbollah is highly unlikely because the party has not completed its missions of perpetuating extremism, division and civil strife that is more destructive than any wars waged by Israel.