Biden Has No Answer To Hezbollah’s Spreading Threat – OpEd


By Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Amid increasingly violent cross-border exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and growing fears of a full-scale war, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah last week threatened to attack Cyprus if the Mediterranean island made its military bases available to Israel.

Washington has cautioned Israel against any escalation that might encourage other Iran-backed Shiite militias from Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria to join in, but that warning poses questions: What would the US advise European capitals to do if Nasrallah threatened them over any disagreements they might have with Tehran? And who will guarantee that Tehran, once it produces nuclear weapons, will not threaten to use them against Cyprus or the rest of Europe?

Cyprus has caught Iran’s attention for its role in inspecting humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. Hamas opposes aid not channelled through its militia, fearing that losing control over aid distribution might weaken its grip on power.

It is no secret that America is restraining Israel from restoring calm in its north by engaging Hezbollah. What is puzzling is that Washington offers no alternative other than asking Israel to accept Nasrallah’s terms: Hezbollah will stop attacking Israel only if it ends its war in Gaza, a position Nasrallah restated last week.

If Israel followed American advice and Lebanese demands, it would give Nasrallah a say in matters that do not concern him — specifically, relations between Israel and the Palestinians. That would undermine the concept of the nation state and the foundation of the global order, but US President Joe Biden appears to be fine with it.

In July 2006, Hezbollah initiated a devastating 33-day war with Israel, ostensibly to force the latter into a prisoner swap, which occurred after the war. The conflict ended with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ordered the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, the redeployment of Hezbollah fighters north of the Litani River (about 30 kilometers from the Lebanese Israeli border), and the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces alongside an expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon between the river and the border.

The resolution also required Lebanon and Israel to negotiate border disputes. In 2022, they demarcated their maritime border, but Hezbollah has since refused to negotiate the 13 disputed land points, insisting that Israel withdraw unilaterally or face battle.

Hezbollah launched an offensive against Israel last October, the day after the Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s retaliatory invasion of Gaza. Nasrallah declared that this war was not about the border, but to pin down Israeli forces in the north, diverting them from the Gaza front. Hezbollah’s offensive had not only occupied 100,000 Israeli soldiers in the north but also displaced tens of thousands of Israelis and inflicted economic and tourism losses, he said, and analysts were now discussing a Hezbollah security zone in northern Israel.

Taking a victory lap even before the fighting has escalated into full-scale conflict, Nasrallah assured his followers that the forthcoming battle with Israel would change the region, be the most honorable battle since 1948, and lead to Israel’s annihilation.

The Biden administration appears to have few strategies to help Israel beyond asking it to stop its southern offensive to avoid northern conflict. Washington merely echoes Iran and Hezbollah’s threats, advising Israel — and perhaps now Cyprus too — to heed them. This reverses the classic diplomatic strategy of speaking softly while wielding a big stick. Instead, the Biden administration talks tough against Iran and its militias but has yet to make its threats look believable.

Nasrallah probably understands that Biden is more focused on his re-election in November than on Middle Eastern affairs, and he may believe the US will allow Hezbollah to continue its aggression against Israel — and now apparently Europe too.

  • Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC. X: @hahussain

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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