Sam Menassa

After Gaza… Assumptions Were Debunked and Developments Emerged

The "2023 Gaza War" that began just over three weeks ago has turned long-held beliefs and formulas for understanding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on their head. The developments seen will inevitably have political and military implications for the countries of the region. It will change their relationships with one another and major global powers. The debate around rogue regimes and the dual identity they export to other countries, that of revolution and statehood, has resurfaced. These rogue states pursue this strategy by establishing local proxies that undercut the established global order and threaten regional stability, with Lebanon being a prime example. The question now is, where does Lebanon stand amid these developments? More specifically, what position will Hezbollah occupy in this war, which could introduce new burdens in a country already grappling with numerous crises of governance, sovereignty, national identity, and regional relations?

It seems that the horror of this war was a warning bell to all Lebanese, both those who support the resistance and those who oppose it. Most significantly for Lebanon, it showed that the wounds of the “2006 war” between Israel and Hezbollah have yet to heal. It remains on the minds of the Lebanese and the supporters of the resistance, especially after the euphoria of Hezbollah’s so-called “divine victory” faded away and its economic and political consequences were exposed. The most severe of its ramifications emerged in 2019 when the country’s ongoing various political, social, and economic crises began. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah admitted this when he said: “If I had known,” referring to the extent of the destruction resulting from this war, saying that he would not have instigated it if he had.

The lessons from the “2006 war” are clearly influencing Hezbollah's current carefully calibrated engagement with the developments in Gaza. While there have been minor border skirmishes with Israel, their involvement has been restrained despite the internal criticism of its calm reaction as Hamas fights the most consequential battle in its history against Israel. Hezbollah appears to be prioritizing Lebanon's national interests so far, as it does not want to be held responsible for sparking a war while the country is in crisis. Hezbollah might be adopting this stance because it is currently the strongest party in Lebanon. It does not need a victory to reinforce its position, so why take unnecessary risks that could destroy the country, drain it further, and leave it governed by scattered remains?

On the other hand, Hezbollah and Iran are undeniably mindful of the US military buildup in the eastern Mediterranean, especially the deployment of two aircraft carrier groups. Moreover, Washington is expected to bolster its missile defense capabilities in the region, ostensibly to shield its forces. Iran is probably particularly aware that this military build-up goes beyond backing Israel. It is also intended to prevent Iran from intervening in the ongoing conflict by opening new fronts. Iran has reportedly received both direct and indirect communications to this effect.

While Washington has stated that there is no evidence that Iran ordered Hamas to attack, the US recognizes Iran's role in enhancing Hamas's military capabilities and enabling it to execute the intricate and effective assault on Israel. Iran is keenly aware that instigating a conflict on the Lebanese front could provoke a US response that could diminish Iran’s most prized asset in the region, Hezbollah. Thus, Iran does not want to drag Hezbollah into a conflict whose flames would burn the party, regardless of the outcome.

Furthermore, Iran acknowledges that while the "Al-Aqsa Flood" operation was remarkable in its scale, audacity, and damage, it has already peaked. Implicating Hezbollah might be more detrimental than beneficial, and utilizing Hezbollah might be left for potential regional developments that Iran would rather avoid.

The “Gaza War” reaffirmed the fact that Lebanon has become a non-state entity reduced merely to a post office for regional and global rivals. The entire country has been turned into a launching pad for missiles and an arms depot. The prudence that has marked Hezbollah's actions to date won't erase memories of the party boasting of its militants and arsenal and threatening its rivals with them. This raises questions about when and where it might deploy its arms and manpower.

The “Gaza War” has also exposed the country’s political parties, both those that support and oppose Hezbollah. Every faction, regardless of stance, appeared inept. None of them could do anything but applaud in admiration or cry out in despair. Their fear, indecision, and confusion are evident, especially in the face of what might be the gravest crisis in recent memory.

Regionally, the paramount lesson from this ongoing tragedy, which seems set to develop and last a long time, is that we must push for Iran, Hezbollah, and other factions concerned to tell us the ultimate goal behind the “Al-Aqsa Flood.” A steep price has already been paid, as thousands of casualties have fallen and nearly half of Gaza has been destroyed. Is the objective to wipe Israel off the map, push for resolutions to end the conflict, overthrow the Palestinian Authority, disrupt the peace process between the Arabs and Israel, turn Iran into the lead negotiator, or a combination of all of these objectives? This crucial question remains unanswered.

This ongoing war has confirmed previous convictions that had been controversial in the past. First of all, it has shown that both Israel and the Resistance Axis cannot avoid accepting a two-state solution. The Axis cannot eradicate Israel or push the Jews into the sea, while Israel cannot nullify Palestinian rights with financial incentives and employment opportunities, nor can Israel deprive the Palestinians of their rights through brute force, tyranny, or oppression. The most profound discovery, however, was that of the United States, which was forced to recognize its enduring ties and responsibilities to the Middle East.

To conclude, this war has debunked old notions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is paving the way for a novel and distinct but unpredictable new phase that will split the region between proponents of peace and warmongers.