Lebanese experts have warned of the risk of rising tensions, or even a conflict, between Israel and Lebanon as the U.S. continues its economic pressure on Lebanon to incite the public opinion against the Hezbollah.
“The United States is putting economic and financial pressure on Lebanon to weaken the country and prepare it for an Israeli war this summer,” Rafic Nasrallah, director of the Lebanese International Center for Media and Research, told Xinhua. The U.S. and Israel aim to incite public opinion in Lebanon against Hezbollah and push Lebanese citizens to hold Hezbollah accountable for the economic and financial deterioration in the country, Nasrallah said. Lebanon has been facing the most difficult financial and economic crisis in its history amid severe shortage in U.S. dollars. The country has held several sessions of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in hope to gain foreign aid which is conditional that it implements various necessary reforms.
However, the U.S. and its allies are concerned about the nature of the current Lebanese government, which is headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab with ministers named by the two Shiite parties, Hezbollah and Amal Movement. Also, the Lebanese government has so far been incapable of implementing necessary reforms to unlock international aid from the IMF and CEDRE, the France-hosted international donors conference for Lebanon. This has led to renewed nationwide protests recently against the government following the easing of anti-coronavirus measures, urging the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 which calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the strengthening of the Lebanese government to impose its authority over all of Lebanon’s territory. “A campaign is taking place inside the country to create chaos and prompt people to ask for U.S. help to save Lebanon from Hezbollah,” Nasrallah said. He expects more chaos and protests to take place in the country in an attempt to drag Hezbollah into these clashes, which would then encourage the U.S. and Israel to start a war against the party.
Israel has, in the past few months, used Lebanon’s airspace repeatedly during launching attacks on Syria, despite the repetitive complaints by Lebanon to the U.N. Security Council about Israeli violations of its sovereignty. Colonel Roman Goffman, leader of the Golan division of the Israeli army, announced on Thursday that the growing strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which attempts to position itself in the Syrian part of the Golan and rebuild the Syrian army, is forcing Israel to have a broader vision and greater preparedness. Hezbollah released in last month a video in which Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that the Shiite party is not only capable of targeting precise points in Tel Aviv in Israel, but also any targets in the occupied Palestinian territories. “Our mission is accomplished,” the Hezbollah leader said, hinting at the fact that Hezbollah is already capable of developing very precise missiles.
Hilal Khashan, chair of the Political Studies Department at the American University of Beirut, told Xinhua that Hezbollah usually declares that it has great capabilities but it has never released such a video before. “We all know that Israel has been trying, for years, to prevent Hezbollah from developing precision missiles. When Hezbollah announces that they have this capability and their mission was accomplished, this can indicate that they are inviting Israel for a war,” Khashan said.
The increasing economic and financial pressure in Lebanon may mean that a war is favorable in such situation since it would prompt other countries to remove their embargo on Lebanon, Khashan argued. “When the Lebanese army says we cannot offer meat to soldiers, this means that the cost of war may be less than that of poverty and hunger,” he said. However, Khashan believes that chances of a conflict will become higher if Israel moves forward with its plan to annex parts of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank. “If the Israelis decide on annexation, they will strike; but if they don’t, then chances are they may not start a war for the time being,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aimed to start the annexation process on Wednesday, to bring some 30 percent of the West Bank under permanent Israeli control, while giving the Palestinians limited autonomy in parts of the remaining land. But the plan was postponed as many countries have expressed opposition to it, citing that it violates international law.
Sami Nader, director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Lebanon, believes that all of the factors that may lead to a war between Israel and Lebanon are present today. “We have missiles entering Lebanon against Hezbollah, the borders demarcation between Lebanon and Israel is not done yet, not to forget that Iran has become very weak economically which may encourage Israel to wage an attack,” Nader warned. However, Nader added that Israel and the U.S. may want to economically and financially weaken Iran and the Hezbollah further, without taking the risk of engaging in a full war.
Stefano Del Col, head of mission and force commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), urged on Thursday Lebanon and Israel to “avoid activities that could be deemed provocative by the other side, or that otherwise have the potential to escalate with uncontrollable consequences.” Del Col’s remarks came during the second special tripartite meeting since the COVID-19 outbreak with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces at a UN position in Ras Al Naqoura.