Lebanon must put itself first to avoid a full-scale war with Israel
Israel and Hezbollah have engaged in low-intensity conflict since Hamas senselessly slaughtered 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped another 240 hostages from Israel on Oct. 7. A full-scale war between Israel and Hezbollah is nonetheless avoidable.
Lebanon has endured countless conflicts, including the consequences of Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization terrorism, a civil war and Israeli and Syrian occupation. The Lebanese people have also suffered enough on behalf of private interests and foreign powers.
Lebanon has not had a functioning government for more than a year. The Lebanese pound has lost 98 percent of its value since 2019, inflation has skyrocketed up to 253 percent and the economy has collapsed.
Riad Salameh, the former governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, failed at managing monetary policy for 30 years but succeeded in stealing up to $330 million from the Lebanese people.
In 2018, Lebanon’s GDP was $54 billion. In 2021, its GDP was $23 billion. The Institute of International Finance expects that figure to shrink to $14.8 billion by the end of 2023.
Lebanon’s economic crisis was foreseeable and avoidable, in the same way that Hezbollah launching a full-scale war against Israel is.
Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, is loyal to his sponsors in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even if members of Nasrallah’s political party sit in Lebanon’s parliament, he himself has never held high office.
Despite the separation of powers outlined in the Lebanese constitution, this unelected and unaccountable official is still the most powerful person in Lebanon’s history. Earlier this month, millions watched Nasrallah’s speeches fearing that Hezbollah would lead Lebanon down the destructive path of full-scale war with Israel.
In 2006, Hezbollah brought death and destruction to Lebanon by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. Years later, Nasrallah admitted that if he had known Hezbollah’s action would lead to such a devastating war, he would not have done it.
At the time, Lebanon obtained funding for reconstruction from the West, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. The world has changed, however. The European Union, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have all since designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.
It is unlikely that any of them will have the risk tolerance to finance the reconstruction of Lebanon if Hezbollah goes through with this avoidable war with Israel.
Whatever Hezbollah decides, escalating the low-intensity conflict into a full-scale war with Israel will not save Lebanon’s economy or improve the living conditions of the Lebanese people. There are countless alternative policies that Lebanon can pursue to improve its strategic position.
To build trust with the international community and secure a much-needed bailout to save the economy, it can start by arresting Salim Jamil Ayyash, a Hezbollah operative who was found guilty in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri by the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2020.
The last war between Hezbollah and Israel ended more than 17 years ago. Yet Hezbollah still hasn’t withdrawn north of the Litani River, pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, let alone disarmed as per Resolution 1559. In fact, Hezbollah’s weapons arsenal has grown exponentially to an estimated 150,000 rockets pointed at Israel.
If Lebanon lacks the institutional mechanisms, coercive power and political will to disarm the most powerful non-state actor in the world, compromise by integrating Hezbollah’s military wing into the Lebanese Armed Forces. There is no legal or practical reason why Hezbollah hasn’t been brought under the command of the LAF for all these years.
A country cannot function, let alone succeed when non-state actors threaten or infringe on the state’s monopoly on coercive power.
In Lebanon, one pole of coercive power — the LAF — is accountable to the Lebanese people and the other — Hezbollah — serves the strategic interests of Iran. To say that this unsustainable status quo has paralyzed Lebanon’s political institutions and compromised its national interest is an understatement.
The international community is nonetheless committed to Lebanon’s success. America alone has invested more than $3 billion in building, training and arming the LAF since 2006. In 2023, the U.S. even helped subsidize the salaries of the LAF to assist the cash-strapped government of Lebanon.
Washington also pays most of the more than $500 million annual budget for the 13,000 peacekeepers from dozens of countries serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, now in the 45th year of its “interim” mandate. That $500 million is a waste of money.
The Interim Force has done little to help Lebanon implement the countless legally binding Security Council resolutions it is subject to, and nothing to prevent Hezbollah from launching terror attacks against Israel. The LAF should be receiving that funding instead. It should also be responsible for defending Lebanon’s southern border with Israel rather than Hezbollah.
Put Lebanon first. The Israel Defense Forces can do to Beirut what it is doing to Gaza. Echoing Nasrallah’s regret, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been unequivocal regarding the repercussions of Hezbollah escalating the conflict into a full-scale war: “Lebanon would not survive.”
Put Lebanon first. No country can escape geography. The Lebanese people have no choice but to live next door to 10 million Israelis. If the Mullahs of Tehran want to destroy the State of Israel, they should do it with their own blood and treasure — not with Lebanon’s.
Like the historic U.S. brokered Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement, all outstanding issues between Jerusalem and Beirut can be settled through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms instead of full-scale war.
Blind hatred of Israel has kept countless societies fixated on the past, instead of looking forward optimistically to the year 2100. Too many actors, including in Lebanon, have lost sight of their priorities, forgotten the interests of their people and put their economies on pause in the name of freeing Palestine from “the river to the sea.”
Meanwhile, with every passing day, Israel only grows wealthier and more powerful than at any other point in history. Five years ago, Israel’s economy was roughly seven times bigger than Lebanon’s. Today, it is more than 20 times bigger. If the status quo remains unchanged, this trend is likely to continue, not reverse.
There is nothing forward-looking about picking up your great-grandfather’s cause to destroy the State of Israel right where he failed. That is ultra-conservatism at its finest. It is far more progressive to stand defiantly for peace with Israel, despite the public shaming, social rejection and physical bullying you are likely to experience.
Put Lebanon first and avoid full-scale war with Israel.