A Hezbollah member carries a mock rocket next to a poster of the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the 10th anniversary of the July 2006 Lebanon War approaches, tensions remain high in Lebanon in anticipation of a next round, which could much more severely disrupt the country as a functioning state this time around.
Due to regional and internal political conditions in Lebanon, that country would fare far worse after a devastating round of Israeli attacks targeting Hezbollah and state infrastructure.
Lebanon is already suffering a refugee crisis with 1.5 million Syrians among its population of 4.5 million, giving the country the highest per capita refugee count in the world, according to a New York Times
report earlier this month.
In addition, Hezbollah’s war to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad has led to a spillover of the sectarian conflict into the country.
Moreover, Hezbollah is more powerful inside the country now than it was in 2006 – so much so that Saudi Arabia has cut off military aid and the Gulf states have imposed sanctions on Hezbollah.
Tony Badran, a Lebanon expert and research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post
in addition to the refugee situation resulting from the ongoing war in Syria, “the level of destruction during the next war with Hezbollah promises to be even greater than in 2006, as Hezbollah military infrastructure is dispersed in civilian areas, which will now be treated as military targets.”
“What’s more, Syria is no longer a safe haven for Shi’ite refugees,” he said.
It took Hezbollah several years to complete reconstruction in Shi’ite areas destroyed in the second Lebanon war. “Now, unlike in 2006,” Badran said, “it is not necessarily a given that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states will rush to donate money for reconstruction.”
Saudi abruptly cut $3 billion in military aid and $1b. to the security services in February. The Saudi action was triggered by Lebanon’s failure to join other Arab governments in condemning attacks earlier this year on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Saudi Arabia spearheaded efforts to get Gulf Arab states and the Arab League to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, which led to reports of Lebanese nationals being forced to leave Gulf countries because of alleged Hezbollah links.
Various statements by senior IDF officials in recent years have threatened to deliver a blow in the next war against Hezbollah more devastating than the destruction wrought on the Lebanese state the last time around.
For example, Israeli Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel warned in 2014 that “thousands” of Hezbollah bases in residential buildings would be destroyed in a future conflict, even at the cost of civilian lives.
“We will have to deal aggressively with thousands of Hezbollah bases that threaten the State of Israel and mainly our interior,” Eshel said in a speech, citing Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon among the locations of the bases.
“And that is where the war will be. That is where we will have to fight in order to stop it and win. Whoever stays in these bases will simply be hit and will risk their lives. Whoever goes out will live.”
contacted numerous Lebanese citizens for this article; all but one refused to comment because of the risk involved and the ban on contacts with Israel.
One anonymous source from Beirut told the Post,
“First, I hope there will be no future war – not least as it will be destructive for both sides. Secondly, I think the repercussions of the 2006 war are more dramatic than the mere casualties that occurred.”
This, continued the source, is because Lebanese see the Israeli government as preparing in a more deliberate and calculated manner to wage another war, “in contrast to previous decades when the decision to go to war was more whimsical and hardly ever planned for in an educated manner.”
“I am not even sure why the Israeli government would want to go to war with Lebanon at this stage. There is no clear conflict at this point in time after the withdrawal and prisoners’ release. Would the Israeli government want to attack us just because Hezbollah is arming up more heavily?”
Asked if the feeling is another war is coming, the Beirut resident responded that it does not seem likely since both sides prefer not to wage war now.
“No one is thirsty for war [here],” said the source.
Mentioning that the Israeli government sees Hezbollah as the enemy not the Lebanese people, the source responded, “The Lebanese don’t trust that because the Israeli governments are famous for their disproportionate response and collective punishment.”
Badran went on to point out that in a future war, Lebanon will be hit much harder because of how Hezbollah has effectively turned much of the country into a military base.
“Hezbollah has effectively painted a target on the back of Lebanon, both with its ongoing war in Syria as well as in a future war with Israel.”
Reuters contributed to this report.