Mustafa Fahs

Netanyahu Leaves Lebanon On The Brink

Tehran's retaliation for the assassination of its senior “military advisor” in Syria, Quds Force Brigadier General Razi Mousavi, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike near Damascus, will probably not be any more forceful than its retaliation for the assassination of the former Quds Force Commander General Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad Airport three years ago. After the latter’s assassination, Iran merely launched 'Scud' missiles at the US Al-Asad Airbase - strikes that Tehran and Washington have agreed to before, per former US President Donald Trump. Since Tehran is somewhat committed to the rules of engagement in strategic arenas, namely Lebanon - despite the tensions there - and Syria, despite its calm, Iran does not seem inclined to push for escalation or allow things to get out of hand.
Since the 'Al-Aqsa Flood operation was launched, Tehran has been adhering to all the rules of engagement on hot fronts like Lebanon, despite the pressure that Hamas has come under and the systematic destruction of the Gaza Strip. It affords its proxies in other arenas the freedom to make tactical decisions themselves. That means it is not interested in entering any open-ended confrontations outside Gaza. At the same time, it is open to negotiations with Washington that limit the scale of the conflict and prevent it from spiraling out of control, as both parties are keen on avoiding its escalation into a regional war.
From Muscat to Doha, both parties have so far succeeded in containing the escalation. Tehran quickly understood the message conveyed through the introduction of US aircraft carriers. Accordingly, it opted for negotiations with Washington while maintaining pressure to bolster its negotiating position and rearrange its regional influence after the assault on Gaza ends. Tehran aims to shift from a strategy of expansion to a consolidation phase, through direct negotiations with the current US administration at the highest level. Tehran is taking advantage of the fact that the administration is dazed one month away from the start of the presidential race, which has somewhat incapacitated it. Tehran believes that Washington’s confusion presents it with a golden opportunity to secure its gains and avoid potential confrontation and losses.
The fact that the negotiation between the two parties being attended by high level officials, and their acceptable results so far in Muscat and other regional capitals, along with the fact that the Iranians have maintained discipline, strategically excluding Gaza from the “unity of the arena,” have allowed Iran to avoid total war and to limit the attacks by members of the axis to tactical strikes or diversions. This is evident in the Lebanese front, though Iran has not ruled out the possibility of opening another front.
On the contrary, the Israeli enemy has tried to escalate border tensions with Lebanon and attempted to lure Hezbollah into a broader conflict, hoping to benefit from the US negotiating pressure on Tehran and its absolute support in any war. Moreover, Tel Aviv is also betting that, with the US administration about to enter the election race, its ability to apply pressure on Israel to prevent the expansion of the conflict, as happened in the first week of the “Al-Aqsa Flood," will be limited.
The recent statements by Israeli officials suggest that there is a domestic consensus behind a Lebanon war under the pretext of implementing UN Resolution 1701, or that the threat from the northern border must be removed and that the settlers must return to their settlements. The Israel minister whom some see as the closest to Washington in the Israeli war government, Gantz, said as much. “The time for a diplomatic solution on the northern front is nearing its end.” In turn, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said, “We will force (Hezbollah) to retreat north of the Litani River, either through diplomacy or war.” The clearest statement was recently made by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, who said that his forces are on high alert in the north, “the plans have been approved, and we are ready for a clash if necessary.”
It is clear that Tehran and Hezbollah are intent on avoiding war and are preparing to begin consolidating and capitalizing on their influence after the Gaza war ends. They are benefiting from US confusion and some disagreements within the Biden administration, especially with regard to UN Resolution 1701, as its understanding of the resolution differs from that of Israel. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv believes this is its last chance to fight a final war; thus, it is keen on overturning the negotiating table in Muscat and in dragging the US administration into its electoral field in the presidential race. With Netanyahu's intransigence and his push for a confrontation to the very end, the stability of Lebanon hangs in the balance.