By Arab News
By Nadim Shehadi
Like the people of Gaza, Lebanon feels powerless and hostage to an armed militia that could drag it into a destructive war it does not want and for objectives that go beyond its borders.
Watching the horror of the Israeli attack on Gaza, many Lebanese are reliving the nightmare of the destruction of their own country in the Israel-Hezbollah war of July-August 2006. This followed another war in Gaza after Hamas militants abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid.
Hamas and Hezbollah appear to have the same playbook. On July 12, 2006, in another cross-border raid, Hezbollah fighters killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two, which triggered the second Lebanon war.
Hezbollah and Hamas originated in two different, even opposing, Islamist militant schools. Hamas branched out from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah is part of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s export of the Iranian revolution. Members of both groups had the opportunity to mingle in 1992 when Israel deported about 400 senior Hamas figures to a camp near the village of Marj Al-Zuhur in south Lebanon.
For about a year they met and bonded before Israel took Hamas leaders back. Hamas’s ally, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, is a creation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, who are also behind the creation of Hezbollah. Relations were consolidated in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where both groups were allied with Syria against the mainstream Palestinian organizations Fatah and the PLO.
The main rift is about the Oslo peace deal, which was negotiated by the PLO and opposed by Hamas and by Hezbollah both part of the so-called “axis of resistance” led by Iran which rejects any peace with Israel. The parallel between 2006 and 2023 is that in both cases wars were started to reestablish the dominance of the doctrine of armed resistance over that of peaceful negotiations.
The 2006 Gaza war disrupted the signing of a document of national reconciliation by Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh. This was known as the “prisoners’ document” negotiated by prominent political prisoners in Israeli jails, under which Hamas and the PLO would both join efforts for the creation of a Palestinian state and peace with Israel.
The 2006 Lebanon war also happened when Hezbollah was in a corner and needed to reestablish its resistance credentials. It faced the argument that both Syria and Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, whichwas back under international protection. Hezbollah was under pressure to give up its arms and join the political process. Igniting a war with Israel was its answer.
In Hamas’s terms, the attack on southern Israel last month succeeded beyond expectations. Again, it was a surprise cross-border raid with the capture of hostages, but on a much larger scale than before. It also threw a spanner into the works of possible Saudi-Israeli rapprochement and the Abraham accords, and broughtthe whole region to the brink of war.
It was a shock to the Israeli system and triggered a brutal reaction in which the victims are mainly innocent civilians in Gaza. If the intention was to provoke a war and then international rage at the predictable Israeli response, then Israel has fallen into that trap again with every massacre it commits.
Israel’s double defeat in both cases is that it sets itself the impossible objective of eradicating an enemy thatnot only cannot be militarily defeated, but also emerges stronger by the very fact of its survival.
Hamas’s victory is not over Israel, but over its Palestinian rivals the PLO and Fatah. The result is the total marginalization of the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas has now established itself as the main interlocutor. Hezbollah’s victory is against its political opponents, who are now isolated from their allies in the West and the Gulf.
In Lebanon, the government and state institutions are irrelevant; people are hanging on Hassan Nasrallah’s words and trying to interpret his silence, while the US sends aircraft carriers to the region in anticipation of his decisions.
Such armed guerrilla movements be defeated only politically. They follow the textbook model created by revolutionaries such as Mao Zedong and Che Guevara, which prescribes three simple steps: infiltrate the population, deal a heavy blow to the enemy whose retaliation causes massive civilian casualties, and the outrage caused by the slaughter rallies people around the guerrillas and dents the reputation of the enemy.
As a result of these wars, both Hamas and Hezbollah have destroyed state institutions and built their own parallel ones. Both have used the same violent tactics of assassinations, paralysis and maintaining a state of war while creating conditions of siege and isolation in which they also control resources.
There is no good outcome for Lebanon: war will be destructive at a time when the country’s medical infrastructure is weak and its economy and banking system have collapsed. The country will be turned into another Gaza with little prospect of recovery.
A state of no war is not much better. If Israel backs off, Hezbollah will claim victory and say its arms were a deterrent and its alliance with Iran protected the country. Its control will be almost total, with no prospect of discussing a return to sovereign state institutions.
The third option of long-term instability on the border with Israel and periodic exchanges of violence meanscontinuous isolation, a slow death for the economy and an exodus of talents from which the country may never recover.
Seventeen years after that hot summer of 2006, we find both Hamas and Hezbollah having gained almost complete political control. Their victory is total but it is not against Israel, it is against their internal rivals. They have hijacked their societies and hold their finger on the trigger that can ignite a third world war.
• Nadim Shehadi is a Lebanese economist. X: @Confusezeus