Can war be averted? Hezbollah's shadow looms on US-Israel talks to prevent south Lebanon conflict

Press Highlights
2023-11-15 | 00:32
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Can war be averted? Hezbollah's shadow looms on US-Israel talks to prevent south Lebanon conflict
Can war be averted? Hezbollah's shadow looms on US-Israel talks to prevent south Lebanon conflict

During the Lebanese rounds of discussions with envoys and foreign ambassadors regarding the potential threat of war on the Lebanese front, Lebanese officials have not obtained decisive and conclusive answers or guarantees from countries capable of influencing the Israeli stance, ensuring that the confrontations in the south do not escalate into a war.

This article was originally published in and translated from Lebanese newspaper Nidaa Al-Watan. 

During the rapid visit of Amos Hochstein, the Senior Advisor to the US President, to Beirut on November 6 to affirm Washington's commitment to preventing the expansion of the war, he agreed with Lebanese officials that they would engage in dialogue with Hezbollah to avoid any escalation leading to the opening of the southern front. 

The US would, in turn, speak with Israel and play its role in preventing military advances toward opening the front with Lebanon.

The American side has repeatedly, both implicitly and explicitly, asked the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, to refrain from opening a war front with Hezbollah, advising Gallant not to undertake this option, which he had been inclined to since the first week following October 7.

He considered it an opportunity for the Israeli army to strike a blow against Hezbollah. 

However, the US disagreed and insisted on abandoning this idea, leading to the public positions of the Israeli side stating that they did not want to escalate the war, linking it to Hezbollah's "discipline."

However, the extremist faction has not entirely abandoned this option and seized the opportunity to reconsider it. 

This is evident in the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin describing some of the strikes by the Israeli army from the north to southern Lebanon as "provocations" against Hezbollah, attempting to provoke the party into war.

In the Israeli military and even among the public, there is a belief that the same reasons that led to the war on Gaza apply to southern Lebanon. 

Just as settlers in the Gaza Envelope want assurance that their return home will be safe from new attacks by Hamas, settlers in the Galilee in northern Israel, who have evacuated to secure areas, want reassurance that Hezbollah will not launch similar attacks to those carried out by Hamas. 

This requires dealing a blow to Hezbollah, according to this security logic in part of the public opinion and the military in the Hebrew state.

However, it is difficult for Tel Aviv to launch a second war front if Washington does not want it, and if the news is accurate, that dialogue away from the spotlight has begun between the US and Iranian sides in Geneva, including regulating the Lebanese front and avoiding escalation there.

On the Lebanese side, officials took on the task of communicating with Hezbollah before and after the visit of the US envoy. 

However, they did not, at any time, obtain a firm confirmation from its leadership that a broad confrontation with Israel would not occur. 

Even when Lebanese officials communicate with Iranian officials, as happened during the meeting between Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on the sidelines of the joint Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh last Saturday or in meetings between Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Tehran's response has always been that it does not want to expand the war. 

However, it does not interfere in the decisions of its allies because they are better able to assess the situation compared to continued Israeli attacks and massacres in Gaza.

While some Lebanese officials see that any involvement of Iran's allies in a broad war, under the slogan of "unity of arenas," requires a decision from the Iranian leadership, they believe that Hezbollah has a degree of independence in the calculations that dissuade it from venturing into a comprehensive war with Israel. 

Even if it can cause harm and losses to Israel, it calculates the damage that will affect its areas and the material losses that will hit its environment in the south and the Bekaa, destruction, and casualties in light of the economic and social crisis the country is going through.

Some take this view from the signals in the speech of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah last Saturday, emphasizing the following:

- "Performance on the Lebanon front has reached a certain level, increasing its concern [...] and we will continue in this performance [...] and this front will remain 'pressured.'" This means he set limits to its function.

- Emphasis on showing the sacrifices of "the immediate environment that bears the burden of this confrontation and the burden of presenting martyrs, wounded, displacement from front villages, and material losses." 

This means he is aware of the weight of the costs borne by this environment, which refuses to repeat the tragedies of war.

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