Lebanon is a hair's breadth away from civil war. But even if a lull is reached, it will not last for long in this divided country.
In one of his more militant speeches to the domestic populace last week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the Lebanese government's decisions "are a declaration of war on Hezbollah." Nasrallah was referring to a government decision to dismantle the private telephone network his organization set up in southern Lebanon and other parts of the country, and a decision to dismiss the official in charge of security at Beirut's airport because he allowed surveillance cameras to be installed there. That official, General Wafik Shoukeir, is a Hezbollah loyalist, and his dismissal is considered a blow to the organization's ability to monitor what is happening in the airport.
In response to the Lebanese government's "declaration of war," Nasrallah has himself launched a war against the government, which he considers an illegal entity. Within hours, Hezbollah managed to take over government posts in western Beirut, leaving the majority leaders trapped in their homes. One can assume that any compromise attempt proposed today at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers will need to take Nasrallah's new position of power into account. That is the heart of Lebanon's internal political struggle, which should greatly concern Israel.
The recent events in Lebanon are not isolated occurrences, unrelated to the results of the Second Lebanon War. Israel continues to star as a "political side" in Lebanon, with Nasrallah continuing to use Israel to goad the government, accusing it of collaborating with Israel and the United States. He even attributed the installation of Hezbollah's telephone network to a military need: protecting Hezbollah outposts from Israeli wiretapping or damage to the wireless communication networks. As is his wont, he cited an Israeli report - the Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War - which he said determined that the signal corps constitutes one of the key elements of the war. This naturally leads to the conclusion that in damaging Hezbollah's military instruments, the Lebanese government is damaging the country's security.
Nasrallah's rhetoric in the internal Lebanese dispute is not the important point, but it does once again portray Hezbollah not as an opposition organization, but as a force competing with the Lebanese army. Nasrallah comes off as someone who intends to rack up all the political achievements he feels he deserves. It seems he will not rest until the current Lebanese government is gone, to be replaced by a unity government in which his supporters have veto power over important decisions. Thus, while Israel continues to view Hezbollah as nothing but a militant organization that can be crushed by a military operation, it is ignoring the possibility that Lebanon will shortly be run by that very organization. In effect, one can say even now that the person running Lebanon's domestic politics is Nasrallah - no less, and perhaps more so, than the government.
Seeing Hezbollah solely as an organization is quite similar to Israel seeing Hamas as an organization, while ignoring the public foundation on which both groups rely. The result is that Israel prefers to stick with counting Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets, or Hamas' Qassams, as the sole index of the threat those groups pose. In order to intensify the threat, Israel terms both organizations as "Iranian," thereby fulfilling its obligation to issue an alert.
There is no argument over the fact that the amount of missiles and rockets is not just a potential threat - both organizations use them against Israeli targets. But the way that Israel has dealt with these groups thus far proves that military solutions alone are not practical. Hezbollah was not weakened by the Second Lebanon War. Instead, the war made it even stronger, both militarily and politically. And the military offensives in Gaza have not made much of an impression on Hamas, which holds the key to continued political negotiations.
In both cases, Israel has a political alternative. If it so greatly fears Iran's expansion into the Mediterranean, Israel can advance talks with Syria, and if it is concerned by a Hamas takeover of the political process, Israel would do better to move forward with negotiations with the Palestinian Authority - or at least to create conditions in Gaza to relieve the threat posed by Hamas. Israel sees the political threat developing in Lebanon and in the territories, but is prepared to respond only through the sights of its guns.
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