The stakes at the Israelís regime change campaign in Lebanon

by Giorgos Kentas,

PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels

Research Fellow, Research Center - Intercollege


 

Israel is aiming at regime change in Lebanon. Its ultimate goal is to annihilate the capacity of Hezbollah to strike the Israeli territory and to take the leaders and the militias of that organization out of business. In practical terms, Israel is striving for the establishment of a sustainable buffer-zone that would deny Hezbollah the capacity to launch artillery missiles towards Israel. Literally, however, the current campaign cannot be successful without a comprehensive political agreement between Israel and Lebanon (including the leadership of Hezbollah).  Such a decision is quite difficult to achieve if both sides do not share any assumption as to the form of a diplomatic initiative to bring the crisis to an end. On the one hand, Israel is demanding the unconditional release of its soldiers captured by Hezbollah. Tel-Aviv also contends that negotiations may begin only after a demilitarized zone is established across the Israeli-Lebanese border and after Hezbollah suspends its missile strikes. On the other hand, the Prime Minister of Lebanon is calling for an immediate cease-fire and Hezbollah is proposing prisoners exchange only. So long as the conflict continues, the odds are growing against a comprehensive solution.

 

Israelís campaign comes with destabilization. It is difficult to asses whether Tel-Avivís military actions will lead to the escalation of war across the Middle East. Hezbollah is deriving its strength from political support from the Muslim population of Lebanon and from the military support of neighboring countries. Its artillery missiles are allegedly imported from Syria. Most of its military equipment is allegedly developed in Iran. The governments of Syria and Iran deny these allegations. They contend that they only support the cause of Hezbollah. A decision to retaliate Iran and Syria for their support to Hezbollah would be a difficult one, for it will bring the conflict to an all-out regional war. Although Israel has the military capability to take further retaliation measures, it is difficult to asses whether it has the capacity to fight a four-front war against Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the militias of Hamas.

 

Hezbollah enjoys political legitimacy and public support across Lebanon and the Middle East. Some time ago, when the leadership of Hezbollah decided to engage in politics and participate in elections, some analysts thought that this organization will follow a civilian orientation in its relationship with Israel. Although two members of Hezbollah are Ministers of the Lebanese Government and several others are elected in the Lebanese Parliament, this organization operates independently of the Government or the Parliament. The escalation of the crisis in the Gaza hardened Hezbollahís approach toward Israel. It seems that its current strategic aim is to keep politics with Israel at a balance of fear. Hezbollahís leadership knows that it cannot bring Israel to its knees. It hopes, however, that the ongoing war will have a decisive impact on the Middle East and the Arab World in general. The organizationís ultimate goal is to give rise to an anti-Israel coalition that consists of State and nonstate actors who will be in position to contain the Jewish State.

 

There is little faith in a diplomatic breakout. The major actors of the international community, namely the five permanent members of the UNís Security Council, do not look eye-to-eye and seem reluctant to take action. Prime Minister Tony Blair and UN Secretary-General co-sponsored a proposal for the deployment of an international force in the Israeli-Lebanese border to reinforce stability and guarantee the security of Israel. This idea is now supported by other states. Both the US and Israel deem that this idea is premature. Their line of argumentation is based on two points. First, they hold that Hezbollah cannot be forced to comply with a cease-fire. It follows that the deployment of an international force would be possible only after the organizationís missile capability is critically damaged. They also contend that the UNís peace-keeping mission has so far failed, for it could not prevent the escalation of the crisis. Those who support the Blair-Annan idea reply that the current UN force is very small in size and in scope. They call for an international force, probably a UN mandated NATO force, which will be capable of implementing and verifying a cease-fire.  On top of that, they contend that the soonest an international force is deployed, the better it is for the de-escalation of the crisis and the elimination of humanitarian disaster.

 

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