Ethan Sirhal

As war looms, what future will Lebanon/Israel choose?

Martyrs' Monument in Beirut commemorates Lebanese patriots who resisted Ottoman rule in the fight for independence. Today, the monument lies battered and the patriots, without personification. [Sirhal/2022]

“The submissive and indifferent Arabs will be brought to account for their attitude,” declared Salah Khalef during the summer of 1982. By August, Mr. Khalef—then chief deputy to Yasser Arafat—and the rest of the PLO contingent would begin their final departure from Beirut while foreign combatants and peacekeepers looked on. As Israel enters its fifth day of operations in and around the Gaza Strip 41 years later, the Palestinian cause continues to punish Lebanon and invites the Israelis to do so as well.

Since the commencement of Hamas’ surprise attack on southern Israel early Saturday morning, the terrorist group has demonstrated its utter disregard for human life, Jewish or otherwise, to the world. Reports circulating Kibbutz Be’eri and Kfar Aza highlight the savagery of Islamist fighters and the terror among Kibbutzim lucky enough to escape the killings. 200 kilometers to the north, however, a second front has not opened, despite clashes between IDF forces along the Lebanese border, and Hezbollah militants to their opposite. Within Lebanon, unease about the escalating tension with Israel hits a similar nerve as the July War and the Civil War before it—bloodshed on account of paramilitaries—and the question remains: what response will Hezbollah provoke?

Following the 2006 hostilities which Hezbollah lauded as a significant victory, the U.S. redoubled its efforts to fund, train, and equip the Lebanese Armed Forces as a countermeasure against instability and foreign militants acting with impunity on Lebanese soil. During the 17 years since, the U.S. Embassy’s return on investment has proved largely positive, with the LAF boasting multiple successes against Islamist uprisings from Palestinian refugee camps and incursions from the Syrian border. Yet the military’s status quo not to interfere with or attempt disarmament of Hezbollah militants, while navigable in peacetime, will prove catastrophic in wartime. Moreover, its growing efficacy enables Hezbollah’s brazen behavior by serving as a deterrent to full-scale invasion by its Israeli counterpart. Nevertheless, as Lebanese journalist Hussain Abdul-Hussain aptly noted in recent days, the reality of a full-scale war in Lebanon is less than certain.

Its provocations aside, Hezbollah has occupied a comfortable position within Lebanese society since its founding shortly after the PLO’s retreat. Among Iranian proxies, this luxury is not shared, and Hamas’ actions, albeit audacious, provide Israel with the critical mass needed to ensure the terrorist group’s rapid and unadulterated destruction.

In Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s effort at forming a unity government does little to distract from his current coalition’s gaping unpreparedness for this crisis. Throughout this year, MK Simcha Rothman—bulwarked by Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, and Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir—has driven spike after spike into Israeli society in an effort to lessen the High Court’s authority within the Israeli government. Together, the trio is also the collective face of the Israeli far-right and regularly eschews Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in favor of radical, religious Zionist ideals. With a death toll reaching 1,000, Hezbollah may be wary of testing Israelis’ willingness to score-settle in Lebanon and provoking a war more congruent to 1982 than 2006, as Abdul-Hussain also noted.

For obvious reasons, the coming days will be consequential in the fate of the region. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, foolishly, have elected to pursue the same impossible outcome that collapsed the Camp David Summit in 2000: a one-state solution. Israelis—their power over Palestine left unchecked by Arafat’s recklessness—will have to choose the path forward. Whether to sink into untethered violence like Hamas, and stamp out the Palestinian cause, or to earn their allies’ support and demand resolute steps toward a two-state solution before the far-right paves the way for annexation. To the north, the Lebanese people—Christian, Muslim, Druze, and otherwise—will have to ask themselves if the Palestinian cause is worth giving their country up a second time to Islamists and foreigners. Whether they will continue to allow malfeasance to corrupt their society and government, or stand together as Lebanese and earn their nation back.

Time will tell, and the people, for better or for worse, will bear responsibility for their future.

About the Author
Ethan Sirhal is a graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans and native of Massachusetts. His research focus is US civil-military cooperation, anti-base movements, and inter-communal mediation in split nations. Ethan is also of Lebanese-Druze heritage and an avid travel photographer.
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