Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BEIRUT - Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday that calm will continue along the border with Israel. Attack tunnels? No worries, he hoped that the spotlight would remain in Beirut as he tries to prod Lebanese political parties and his Hezbollah ally to form a government. He indicated that the US had conveyed a message to Lebanon that Israel had no “aggressive intentions,” according to reports. Aoun’s downplaying the tension on the border is part of a larger strategy adopted by Hezbollah and Iran which does not see tensions in their interest at the moment.
Aoun spoke in general and opaque terms Tuesday. “We are ready to remove the causes of the disagreements, but after we get the full report and decide what are the issues we need to handle,” The National in Abu Dhabi reported. UNIFIL has confirmed Israel’s reports of two tunnels at the border and UNIFIL Maj. Stefano Del Col spoke with Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri on Tuesday. The message his meetings also carried were the same as Aoun: There is no risk to the peace, calm will prevail. Israeli media have picked up this narrative, as well as regional Arabic media, which shows the narrative being pushed by Beirut and others is a systematic attempt to portray this operation as almost routine.
Lebanon is mired in a political crisis, and Aoun is intervening to try to get the country’s different factions to form a national unity government. An ally of Hezbollah, he doesn’t want tensions on the border with Israel to sabotage his efforts. Aoun understands that too much spotlight on Israel’s discovery of tunnels might lead to pressure from the US and tensions with Iran, and that this could all throw Lebanon into crisis. The reports in Al-Akhbar and other Lebanese media, including The Daily Star and Al-Joumhouria, all point to a focus on the government formation consultation.
An article in Al-Mayadeen, which tends to support Hezbollah, admits that Lebanon, as well as Hezbollah and its Iranian allies, are concerned about a “psychological war” on Lebanon. A December 12 piece published in Al-Mayadeen warned Israel is engaged in “moral terror” against Lebanon by “inciting public opinion against Lebanon and Hezbollah.” The moral terror in this case was Israel discovering that Hezbollah built tunnels under the border and showing them to the international media. For Hezbollah this is a problem because its violations are revealed for the world to see. But the problem impacts Lebanese stability more because it will shed light on the government’s entanglement with Hezbollah. If Aoun can keep talking about calm and if Hezbollah can keep focusing on being part of the next Lebanese government, then its policy on the border might be ignored. But if Hezbollah’s actions bring international condemnation or tension with Israel and the UN, then all the plans laid by Hezbollah and its allies in Damascus and Tehran may be undermined.