This is the kind of piece that one writes sincerely hoping to be wrong on all counts. Of the four scenarios considered nearly three weeks after the bloody Hamas attack in Israel, only one could potentially lead to positive results for Lebanon.
In the other three, Lebanon would lose. The degree of defeat would vary depending on the options.
First scenario: Israel abandons (partially or completely) the invasion of Gaza to eliminate Hamas, and the feared regional escalation is averted. While the Israeli state has expressed its determination to carry out a ground operation in the enclave, the fact that it has been postponing it for almost two weeks opens up the possibility that it may have misgivings. The human and economic cost of such an operation, diplomatic pressure from Western and Arab countries, the survival of Hamas’ hostages, the threat of Hezbollah's intervention on the northern border and, above all, the absence of a clear military and political strategy could lead Tel Aviv to revise the scale of its objectives. This would be excellent news for Gazans and for Palestinians, but not necessarily for Lebanon. This would mean that the "Axis of Resistance" has won. Not only can it claim to have had a major impact, but it has also pushed back Israel and the United States. The direct consequence would be to strengthen Iran's position in the Middle East and Hezbollah's in Lebanon.
Nationally, Hezbollah is currently the big winner of this episode. It has "revived" the spirit of "Resistance" and reaffirmed its deterrent capacity at little cost. It was said to be isolated: no one has dared challenge it directly since the Israel-Hamas conflict began. The authorities admit their powerlessness. The "sovereignists" are conspicuous by their absence, Walid Jumblatt has chosen his side, and Gebran Bassil is only thinking about what he can gain from the situation. Never before has the Lebanese political class appeared more mediocre in the face of the challenges facing the country. The omnipotence of Hezbollah in Lebanon is often exaggerated and does not take into account its political and communal limitations. This time, it is not exaggerated: the party is the only master on board. If Israel retreats or fails to achieve its goals in Gaza, it will be very difficult to contest this reality. And it would be illusory to expect it to make any concessions in the context of the presidential election or on any other issue.
Second scenario: Israel enters Gaza and Hezbollah responds by targeting major cities or key Israeli infrastructure. According to American threats, such an intervention would lead to the involvement of the world's most powerful country and an escalation on multiple fronts (Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the Gulf).
Let's assume that Iran and the United States want to confine this war to Lebanese territory in order to avoid an uncontrolled escalation. Let's also assume that Israel, too busy with its Gaza offensive, "settles" for aerial strikes on Lebanon to weaken Hezbollah's military capabilities. To some extent, this would be a reenactment of the 2006 war, with Israel and Hezbollah’s goal being to avoid being drawn into a total war. In this scenario, Lebanon would pay a heavy price without Hezbollah being defeated. It could lose part of its military capacity, but would probably emerge politically strengthened, having proven its ability to "resist" Israel. Not only would the country be even more divided and partly destroyed, with no prospect of short-term reconstruction, but the balance of power on the local scene would remain in favor of the Party of God.
Third scenario: The Israeli army enters Gaza, leading to a regional conflagration. If the United States gets involved and carries out strikes on Iran, Syria, and Iraq (unlikely in Lebanon), it is difficult to imagine how the escalation could stop before Iran and its proxies admit defeat. Can they do so before being completely defeated? It is difficult to assess. It is also difficult to imagine, in this scenario, how Lebanon could avoid being a theater of a total war. Supported by the United States, Israel may be tempted to try to finish off Hezbollah in the style of the "Peace for Galilee" operation in 1982, which aimed to eliminate the PLO in Lebanon. This would involve a long and uncertain war. If some "sovereignists" give the impression of betting on this possibility to weaken Hezbollah, nothing positive would come out of it. In the event that Israel shakes or eliminates Hezbollah — assuming it is possible — it would come at an exorbitant cost to Lebanon, in addition to further stoking hatred and division within the country. How can one hope to (re)build a country after such trauma?
Fourth scenario: Israel conducts a limited operation in Gaza without provoking a significant reaction from Iran and its allies due to American deterrence. In parallel, under Western and Arab pressure, Israel agrees to restart the peace process with the Palestinians. This is the most optimistic scenario but perhaps the least realistic today.
First, it is necessary to define what a limited operation in Gaza means in light of Israel's stated goal of eliminating Hamas. Can it accept to scale back this goal? And if it doesn't, will American deterrence suffice to prevent Tehran and its allies from wanting to respond? All of this is difficult to assess. However, it can be assumed that, even if Israel launches a massive operation in Gaza — which in itself will be extremely complex — the Islamic Republic will be content with a limited response to avoid an uncontrolled escalation that could ultimately jeopardize the regime’s survival.
A real breakthrough on the diplomatic front would be excellent news for the Palestinians, but also for Lebanon and the region in general. This would bring the Palestinian Authority and the Arabs back to the forefront at the expense of Iran, and would calm tensions. Unfortunately, there is nothing today to suggest that this is possible with an extreme right-wing Israeli government and a Palestinian representation whose popular legitimacy is unproven. The Israelis have killed the possibility of a two-state solution. It would take an extraordinary alignment of the planets to even hope to resurrect it.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.