When Hezbollah foolishly beats the drums of war

By Nasrallah’s logic, Israeli aggression in Lebanon would help repair his shattered image as a national protector, especially after Hezbollah’s reckless adventure in Syria.
Sunday 28/04/2019
Lebanon’s Hezbollah supporters chant slogans in Beirut, last September. (Reuters)
Wishful thinking. Lebanon’s Hezbollah supporters chant slogans in Beirut, last September. (Reuters)

There are two major questions being debated on the streets of Beirut: When will the Lebanese economy collapse? When will Israel declare war on Hezbollah and Lebanon?

Those seemingly challenging questions are easy to address. Lebanon’s economy is steadily deteriorating and it is time the political establishment publicly acknowledged that. Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah would not be well served by a war given the conditions.

The Israeli Air Force is fully engaged in hunting Iran and its various militias across Syria. Those nightly raids are more lethal and effective than any projected assault against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This makes one wonder why Hezbollah and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah are vociferously pushing for imminent Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai, citing exclusive information from within Hezbollah, recently reported that Nasrallah had warned his senior commanders that war with Israel was looming and that his own demise was forthcoming.

Hezbollah quickly denied that Nasrallah had made such remarks and the Hezbollah chief followed up calling the report a fabrication. Nasrallah assured his television audience that an Israeli attack on Lebanon is rather unlikely. That would require the Israelis to launch a full-scale land invasion, he said, which they are wary of doing.

What also seems unlikely is that Al Rai would fabricate such remarks. Al Rai has an impeccable record for accuracy. Nasrallah, not so much. In fact, the Hezbollah chief seems to have purposely orchestrated the confusion for his own political ends.

The renewed talk of potential war between Hezbollah and Israel, bolstered by Al Rai’s report, was just before the United States announced a new round of sanctions against Iran and its subsidiaries, including Hezbollah. These sanctions included ending exemptions given to eight countries to buy Iranian oil, worsening Iran’s economic predicament and further straining its ability to supply its militias across the region.

This tightening noose of US sanctions could help explain why Nasrallah sought to covertly push the war narrative. Despite the monumental risk of any confrontation with Israel, Hezbollah apparently thinks it could use the war to its advantage and potentially avoid the crippling US sanctions.

By Nasrallah’s logic, Israeli aggression in Lebanon would help repair his shattered image as a national protector, especially after Hezbollah’s reckless adventure in Syria, which put it at odds with the Sunni community in Lebanon and beyond.

In addition, any Israeli hit against Hezbollah, though tacitly welcomed by most Lebanese, would force the government and the Lebanese at large to publicly denounce such aggression.

That would enable Hezbollah to readily capitalise on the temporary sense of national unity. With the Lebanese state unable to impose the US sanctions in the absence of the appropriate mechanisms, Hezbollah would likely smuggle in containers of cash like it did after the war of 2006, helping it gain influence and garner support.

All of this is wishful thinking on the part of Hezbollah and Iran, showing just how confused their understanding of the US and Israeli positions is. The form of economic warfare they are engaging in cannot be ended with a ceasefire.

One need only look so far as the United States’ recent offer of a $10 million reward for information helping to disrupt Hezbollah’s financial network and expose its network of businessmen who handle its money laundering activities. This reward is geared especially towards three Lebanese Shia businessmen — Mohammed Bazzi, Adham Tabaja and Ali Charara — whom the United States identified as the backbone of their financial operation.

While the West was previously focused on tracking down key military figures, such as field commanders Imad Mughniyah and Mustapha Badreddine, both of whom were killed in Syria, the prime targets today are accountants and financiers like Bazzi and his associates. Neutralising them is far more effective than gains that could be made in any war Nasrallah might be craving.

With this in mind, Nasrallah’s attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which are decisive to Lebanon surviving its economic onslaught, look even more imprudent. Nasrallah might know how to beat the drums of war but, with an economic apocalypse looming, no weapons or ballistic missiles will be able to save anyone.