Sam Menassa

The Implications of the Gaza War Ending for Lebanon

A ceasefire agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas hangs in the balance. The two men principally concerned know that it would spell the end of the war, and that ending the war means the beginning of their political end. The war will end one day, whether through a negotiated ceasefire that leads to a prisoner exchange and gives rise to discussions regarding the future of the Strip, or after Netanyahu goes berserk and invades Rafah, ending it in his own way despite all the American and international pressure to deter him from doing so.
The war has reached a climax. There is nothing more to be gained than adding blood, destruction, and Palestinian suffering. Most importantly, after all this destruction and its impact on the two sides’ prestige, both have lost. Hamas will not be able to rule Gaza after the war, and Israel will not be able to stay there and realize the religious extremist right-wing government’s dreams of expelling the Palestinians. There is no doubt that the very existence of Hamas is at stake, as is the future of the Israeli government, and the political future of Netanyahu himself.
What about Hezbollah and the Lebanese support and distraction front? Will it also lose? What are the repercussions of the end of the Gaza war for Lebanon?
Logic dictates that the end of this horrific war will reflect positively on Lebanon, especially if the region takes the path of negotiation- albeit an inevitably long one- for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This path could open the door to an unprecedented phase of political stability and economic cooperation.
For multiple local and regional reasons, however, this could not apply at all to Lebanon. Regionally: negotiations between the Arabs and Israel and Arab-American cooperation do not mean that the Axis of Resistance sit idly by and retreat. It could be surrounded and weakened politically, but it will preserve the gains it has accumulated in the countries it controls.
Its slogans will not change, and the path to peace could impel it to intensify its efforts to obstruct any kind of Arab-American alliance, the expansion of normalization between the Arabs and Israel, a two-state solution project, and the attempts to bring Gaza under the Palestinian Authority’s umbrella. Thus, given the presence of Hezbollah and its dominant role in shaping Lebanon’s foreign and defense policy, as well as everything related to security and several domestic issues, Lebanon will remain within the Iranian orbit. It will continue to reject any settlement, the two-state solution, and cooperation with the US and the West. It will not join the moderate Arab state or the path to peace and regional cooperation.
In addition, Iran may intend to strengthen the capabilities of its leading proxy in South Lebanon to compensate for the harsh blow suffered by Hamas. Indeed, this blow to its strongest Sunni arm in the region has left it in a weaker position in its conflict with Israel. As for Tel Aviv, which is living in existential fear after the success of the Al-Aqsa Flood, it will not sit on its hands. It wants to eliminate the threat Hezbollah poses from the north.
Hezbollah’s support war might not be the middle ground the party had hoped it would be. The rules of engagement with Israel will go back to being what they had been before the end of the war, especially with the pressures that the residents of northern Israel have put on the Israeli government. They have stressed that they will not accept temporary solutions.
In the end, the southern front could remain active. The war of attrition and exchanging messages could continue and become a broader war that destroys what is left of this country. The weakness of Iran’s “unity of arenas” strategy could encourage Israel to wage this war. The party has miscalculated, and no Israeli government will allow it to use its arsenal to target Israel to serve Iran’s interests. There is no doubt that the dynamics created by the October 7 operation have changed the “status quo” that had prevailed on the border since the 2006 war, and it has not changed in Hezbollah’s favor.
We must also account for the fact that Hamas- as it currently exists or in a new form (whose keys are in the hands of Iran and Hezbollah)- seeks to establish a foothold in Lebanon. It sees Lebanon as a safe haven that its leaders and activists could turn to after the Gaza War. This could mean that it takes control over Palestinian refugee camps, which would turn the country into even more of a hotbed of armed groups operating outside the state’s control.
Locally, the party will declare victory after the war stops. It will seek greater influence as a reward for defending Gaza and Palestine. It has incurred hundreds of casualties among its best youths and heavy losses have been inflicted on southern villages, whose residents support the party, it says. Moreover, it will present its actions as having prevented a devastating war. Hezbollah will claim that the balance of deterrence has so far prevented Israel from waging a wide-scale war against it that would affect all of Lebanon. Second, it will boast that its conduct over the past months was wise and well-calibrated, preventing the war from expanding and destroying the country.
Then, it will emphasize its concern for Lebanon and its safety, claiming that it cares more than the parties who oppose it. In addition, and to convince its base of its narrative of victory, Hezbollah will do what it does best, accuse its local opponents of treason under the pretext that while he and the people of the South were paying the heavy costs of this war, the rest other parties went about their lives, almost ignoring what was happening in country's southern borders, worse, demanding the implementation of UN Resolution 1701.
This narrative is being discussed. It has many loopholes, and its claims are weak. In the end, however, when the fighting stops, it will return as a major Lebanese party seeking to reap what it had sowed in the South over the past forty years. Even if an understanding is reached regarding the party’s presence south of the Litani River, with the party retreating, in one way or another, in line with the arrangements put forward by Washington, Paris, and other capitals, the party will
keep its arsenal. It will reap the fruits of the war between Hamas and Israel without losing everything it has accumulated militarily since 2006.
In the event of a settlement that does not include Iran, Lebanon will remain a prisoner of Hezbollah, its weapons, and its regional ties, and will continue to pay the price of remaining outside the circle of moderate Arab countries.
If no comprehensive settlement is reached and the conflict continues, the gates of hell will open again. The southern front will once again be inflamed, and Lebanon will face a devastating war.
Amid the minefield of Syrian displacement, economic and financial collapse, and state decay, are Hezbollah’s opponents capable of confronting it? They reply that they managed to prevent it from going further, legitimizing its power and imposing a president of the republic. This answer might be realistic. However, the double-edged weapon of obstruction also serves the party, as it has hollowed out the country of its communities and accelerated the disintegration of the state.