Lebanon’s Very Existence Imperilled By Escalating War Of Egos – OpEd


By Baria Alamuddin

Intensifying regional conflict is being fueled by a raging war of words as extremist Israeli leaders relentlessly beat the drums of war against Lebanon. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant pledged to intensify operations against Hezbollah, warning that Israel could attack to a depth of 50 kilometers “toward Beirut and anywhere else.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reciprocated with a threat that Hezbollah’s “precision missiles” could target any location from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Eilat in the south. Nasrallah further asserted: “The enemy will pay the price of spilling blood with their own blood,” and pledged to “escalate resistance activity at the battlefront.” 

At last week’s Munich Security Conference, Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz warned: “If a diplomatic solution is not found, Israel will be forced to act to remove Hezbollah from the border” to return 70,000 displaced Israelis to their homes. “In such a case, Lebanon will also pay a heavy price,” he said. He failed to mention that nearly 100,000 Lebanese have also been displaced by the conflict, a number that will soar in the event of a full Israeli invasion. Lebanon’s already bankrupt economy has suffered further damage estimated at $1.6 billion.

A newspaper poll suggested that 71 percent of Israelis want a major military operation against Lebanon. A politically mortally wounded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may find it difficult to resist such pressures as an illusory route to rebuilding his popularity, even though it would be massively destructive for both sides, given Hezbollah’s huge missile arsenals and Israel’s access to unlimited US weaponry.

The rapid trajectory of this escalation illustrates how such retaliatory cycles can be self feeding: Israel in recent days struck Nabatieh and Al-Sawana, resulting in numerous civilian casualties, and Hezbollah retaliated by firing dozens of rockets into northern Israel. Over 170 Hezbollah fighters are among the 200 Lebanese deaths so far.

This trajectory is further reinforced by Israel’s remorseless airstrikes on Iran’s proxy assets in Syria, including the assassination of Republican Guard leadership figures. Hezbollah-aligned paramilitaries have been strengthening their presence in southwest Syria with the objective of ensuring that Israel would be fighting on a widened northern front in the event of conflict fully erupting.

In the view of Israeli military hawks, the encircling chain of Iranian proxies linking Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sanaa makes it necessary for Israel to strike a blow against this amassed “resistance” before it becomes all prevailing. Indeed, Israel’s direct war with Tehran appears to have already begun, with a series of devastating sabotage attacks against gas infrastructure across Iran. Israel has in the past used such tactics against Iranian military and nuclear sites. 

Immediately after Oct. 7, only vigorous US diplomatic intervention deterred a vengeance-thirsty Netanyahu from striking an immediate and massive blow against Hezbollah. With the recent deterioration in relations between the prime minister and US President Joe Biden, America’s ability and will to moderate Israeli military policy is diminished. Despite supposedly working to end the conflict, the US is preparing to send large volumes of additional weaponry to Israel.

French and US initiatives for defusing the crisis are premised upon implementation of UN Resolution 1701, i.e. Hezbollah withdrawal to behind the Litani River. This is a dim prospect in the current circumstances, unless Hezbollah is offered political concessions, which would be destabilizing for Lebanon; or if Israel militarily intervened to enforce Hezbollah’s withdrawal, which would result in a bloodbath.

The Gaza carnage has aroused global anger, but war in Lebanon would be an entirely different prospect: first, because it would enmesh the US and Western and Arab states further into the conflict; but also because of the vast Lebanese global diaspora, including highly influential figures. Lebanese citizens of the Shiite-majority rural south take enormous pride in building and establishing their homes, so the massive destruction of 2006 and the bombardment of recent weeks have been particularly traumatic. Likewise, the massive disturbances to agriculture due to shelling, phosphorous bombs and cluster munitions, as well the displacement of laborers, have taken their toll. Citizens who’ve already lost so much fear that far worse is yet to come.

With Netanyahu basing his political choices on gambits for remaining in power; Biden premising his Gaza policies on requirements for re-election; Nasrallah seeking to match Israel’s bellicose language blow for blow; and Russian President Vladimir Putin perpetuating his own conflict in order to avoid having to lose face — international politics has become a grudge match of posturing, muscle-flexing egos and warmongering rhetoric. Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and the wider region risk utter destruction because of these strongmen’s refusal to back down, with zero regard for the millions of civilians who have been caught in the crossfire.

Netanyahu has never hidden his lifelong aim to kill off the two-state solution. The current conflagration, international disarray, the failure of global institutions, and a vengeful hawkish consensus within Israel toward illusory maximalist solutions offer him the perfect opportunity to permanently destroy Palestinian dreams of statehood.

Nobody believes Nasrallah wants war, but he has too often been a prisoner of his own fire-breathing rhetoric and the agenda of his Iranian paymasters. Addressing the Lebanese public last week, Nasrallah claimed: “We are faced with two options: resistance or surrender. The option of resistance is the least costly, and the price of surrender is very high.” Have Nasrallah’s memories of how Israel incinerated southern Lebanon in 2006 not been reinforced by the Gaza genocide?

With Israel’s extreme-right regime willing to stop at nothing to destroy Lebanon and aspirations for Palestinian nationhood, scattering Arab citizens to the four winds, both sides’ mutual provocations resemble two racing cars hurtling toward each other. Cooler heads should compel disengagement from this collision course and putting citizens’ lives first. The only way to prevent conflict regionalization is an immediate halt to the Gaza mass murder.

We all stand with the people of Gaza, but allowing the precious Lebanese nation to be utterly destroyed as collateral damage in this infernal battle of egos can never further the Palestinian cause one iota.

• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

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