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Lebanon and Expectations on the 'Iranian Response’

Lebanon and Expectations on the 'Iranian Response’

Sunday, 5 January, 2020 - 13:45

While the Lebanese were glued to their television screens, watching the news of the killing of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and its aftermath, a breaking news headline appeared on the screen: “Israeli planes fly at low altitudes over Sidon and the south”.

It seemed clear that the Israelis immediately started preparing themselves after they heard the news and the calls for retaliation and revenge. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his trip to Greece and returned to Israel. The Defense Minister Naftali Benet called for an emergency meeting among his high-ranking officials, announcing that he would meet Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and the most prominent security officials at the military headquarters in Tel Aviv. Talk of the northern front returned to the forefront.

Obviously, Israel’s involvement is no secret. It brings back flashes of the nightmare of an Iranian-Israeli war fought in the Levant. Those who hate the Iranian regime and its behavior are aware that what Israel is doing will not further their interests, that it only acts against their interests. Death and destruction are the only prospects on the horizon in the region, especially in tormented Iraq.

However, what would be worse than Israeli interference in Lebanon is if there were intentions to call on the Israelis to interfere. Amos Harel, in his Op-ed for Haaretz, which opposes Netanyahu, writes that his state “has every reason to stay out of the escalating conflict, although regime in Tehran will try to storm Israel because of its ideological grudge against us”.

However, summoning an intervention through an "Iranian response" from Lebanon would almost be suicidal. It would harm the Lebanese people, especially Hezbollah and its milieu. For this reason, regardless of the rhetoric of the enthusiastic orators, the Secretary-General of the party was keen to avoid pledging anything specific in his statement. He said: "The just retribution for those who were killed by criminals, the worst villains in the world, will be the responsibility of all the resistance fighters and Mujahedeen throughout the world." The word "all" means everyone, but it could also be seen to concern no one. According to the same logic, the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, which is aware that the available options are limited, claimed that "the response to the crime will cover the entire region and will be heavy and painful”.

Thus, given the precedence of Iran refraining from responding to the many Israeli strikes in Syria and Iran igniting wars through its proxies, it is useful to remind ourselves of well-established facts of the Lebanese situation:

First, war is an expensive project, and Iran, the presumed funder of this project, is bankrupt; on top of that, the killing of Soleimani will not suffice to quell its internal unrest.

Second, and in contrast to the 2006 war, no post-war Arab money will be received, and the bankrupt Lebanese state will not be able to provide any emergency support.

Third, and because of Hezbollah's political behavior, especially since 2008, there will be no substantial communal receptions for civilian victims who may be displaced northward by another Israeli war.

Fourth, which is more accurate in the case of Iraq, any appearance of an appetite for war will be interpreted unambiguously as an appetite for counter-revolution. Advocates of war will be seen wanting Lebanon and Iraq to exclusively be war zones. Allegations, shared in the past few weeks, about the link between the Iraqi and Lebanese revolutions with "embassies and Americans" may form the base of rationalizations for repressive measures.

In addition, a fighter, that is any fighter, must take his rival’s calculations into consideration.

Netanyahu, who does not lack the desire or appetite to harm Iran and Hezbollah, is facing a very complicated general election, an election in which his personal future and reputation are on the line. Donald Trump, who will automatically support Israel, is also awaiting an election before which he hopes that the killing of Qassem Soleimani, after Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, will be equivalent to Barack Obama’s killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, especially that the latter was defeated and hidden when he was killed, while Soleimani was wandering victorious between Imperial capitals.

This is not to say that Netanyahu and Trump's wishes are necessarily fateful. But defeating those desires requires extraordinary Iranian power which is not available today, neither economically nor militarily. It is true that this force can carry out separate terrorist acts here and there, such as killing or kidnapping Americans, and bombing oil tankers, but those same actions may become, in light of the direct confrontation with Washington, a double-edged sword.

Therefore, it is for the best that no one dies in the defense of the Iranian regime, especially that winning the war is impossible. Tehran, whether it will respond or not, has already lost many of its sources of power, and perhaps the last event was its entry point to the gradual loss of what remains of those sources of power. As for Lebanon in particular, the lower the zeal of some of its parties for the confrontation, regardless of its size, the lower the cost of pain and devastation that may follow.

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