We are not out of the woods yet. Hamas’ bloody attack and the retaliatory carnage that Israel has rained on the Gaza Strip will have regional consequences for months, probably even years to come.
The shape the region will take after this never-ending tragedy is yet to be known. How far is Israel ready to go to prove to the whole world, and above all to itself, that the Oct. 7 attack was just an “accident of history?”
What will remain of Gaza when the guns finally stop firing? What impact will this war have on regional balances, on Israeli relations with the rest of the world and with Arab countries in particular, and on Iran’s plans for the Middle East?
On day 65 of the war one thing is clear: the aftermath of this war will leave the world worse than before. The idea that a local, regional or even international order can be rebuilt after that is a utopian fantasy that no one really believes.
Lebanon is not to be outdone. On Oct.7, the relative stability that governed Israel-Hezbollah relations on the southern border was disrupted, and the political trajectory that the party has taken since its last confrontation with Israel in the summer of 2006 was seriously called into question.
Since then, Hezbollah has chosen to focus on strengthening its local base and its influence in the Arab world to the detriment of “resistance,” which over the years has been relegated to pure rhetoric.
Has Hamas forced Hezbollah out of its “comfort zone?” Or has Hezbollah decided that now is the time to rekindle the flame of “resistance?” Did Operation al-Aqsa Flood surprise the party, as it claimed, or was it caught by surprise, along with its Iranian sponsor, by the US-Israeli reaction?
In any case, Hezbollah’s strategy has been based on an extremely delicate balance since Oct.8: it is about waging war without waging it completely and without causing Lebanon to pay an exorbitant price. The Iran-aligned group does not want an all-out confrontation with Israel, let alone the US, and has shown some degree of restraint since the start of hostilities. Despite heavy losses (over 100) in its ranks, this approach has so far paid off for the party, making it stronger locally and regionally.
However, its calculations have been disrupted by those of the opposing side, which is much more determined to change the status quo at the border.
What had been rumored behind the scenes for weeks was made official last Wednesday by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Israel “will take Hezbollah beyond the Litani River, either through an international political settlement or through military action,” Gallant warned.
Washington seems to have convinced its ally to give diplomacy a chance. As surprising as it may sound, Hezbollah is not completely closing the door on this option, which would require it to comply with Resolution 1701 by withdrawing its fighters, in particular the al-Radwan elite force, to the north of the Litani River.
In exchange, however, Hezbollah would demand that Israel also comply with the UN resolution by withdrawing from all Lebanese territory in southern Lebanon, which would pave the way for a settlement of the border dispute between the two countries.
Hezbollah does not want a war that could turn Lebanon into a new Gaza — the images of destruction coming out of southern Lebanon this weekend give a glimpse of what an all-out war would look like — and neither does it want to risk undermining everything it has achieved on the Lebanese scene in a conflict that it cannot win.
But neither can it give the impression of backing down when the latter is in the process of reducing Gaza to ashes and defeating its Palestinian ally. A diplomatic agreement, which would involve Hezbollah agreeing to re-freeze its “resistance” — its reason for being — presupposes that the party can sell it as a victory rather than a failure.
Hezbollah seems to be betting on time and an Israeli setback in Gaza to avoid having to make this impossible choice. But if Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas militarily in the Palestinian enclave, Lebanon will become its next target and Hassan Nasrallah will have no choice but to make a decision: back down, in a position of weakness, or accept the risk of all-out war. We are not at the end of our tether.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.