The Pyongyang-Seoul gap is often depicted in night-time pictures: the darkened, Communistic North versus the well-lit, free South. Something similar can now be said of the light gap, illustrated above, between Tel Aviv (above) and Beirut (below).
Beyond endless electric outages, Lebanon is suffering a perfect storm of bad news. The last thing on the minds of its rulers, therefore, should be a war with powerful (and well-lit) Israel. Except, as seen in a series of recent incidents, it isn’t.
Beirut’s mid-20th century reputation as “Paris of the Mideast” is long forgotten. Corruption, war, internal strife, and too much reliance on the kindness of strangers have taken their toll. Far from a liberal Arab city of lights, the country is on a long, dark march downward.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his cronies get rich while inflation is rampant, social services are non-existent, and few can afford basic necessities. Coronavirus casualties are on the rise. A mysterious, deadly mega-explosion Tuesday at the Beirut port added to the feeling that no one is in charge. Worse: Lebanon has long been occupied by the Iranian puppet organization Hezbollah, the country’s true power and the only decider on national security matters.
Hezbollah gradually took over after its last all-out war with Israel, in 2006. Hassan Nasrallah, the terror organization’s long-time chief, tacitly admitted afterwards he wouldn’t have started that losing battle. Yet, he managed to convince the entire Arab world he’d won it. That rhetorical victory, and some ruthless maneuvering, including deadly attacks on top political rivals, made him Lebanon’s most powerful political player.
Since 2006, even as Hezbollah claims it needs to arm to defend the country from Israel, Mr. Nasrallah has carefully avoided major border flare-ups. He fears the wrath of the Israeli Defense Forces. Now, however, tensions are rising.
“The last thing Hezbollah needs now is war with Israel, but I’m not sure that’s also Hezbollah’s logic,” says a former IDF officer, Sarit Zehavi, who resides near the Lebanese border. “Remember 2006,” Ms. Zehavi, founder of Alma Center, a think tank specializing in security issues at Israel’s northern border. Like now, she notes, Lebanon then was under much internal and external pressure.
Hezbollah spent the following uneasy 14-year ceasefire solidifying its political control over Lebanon’s politics and, most importantly, modernizing its arsenal. A wholly-owned subsidiary of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, it also became involved in the Syrian civil war, helping to secure Bashar Al-Assad’s hold on power.
The IDF, meanwhile, targeted transfers of precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah from Iran and hit munition plants in Syria and Lebanon. It also worked to prevent attempts, by Hezbollah and Tehran’s IRGC, to establish a permanent presence on Israel’s doorstep on the Syrian side of the Golan.
Two weeks ago tensions rose after IDF jets hit a Syrian missile factory, killing a high-ranking Hezbollah operative. Mr. Nasrallah long ago claimed such attacks were a red line. Last week a Hezbollah unit was chased away after attempting to infiltrate a mountainous IDF border base. No casualties were reported on either side.
Then “IDF troops on the southern Golan Heights just thwarted an IED attack by four former terrorists,” army spokesman Jonathan Conricus tweeted on Sunday. ‘“Former,” he later clarified, means the terrorists were killed. Mr. Conricus noted that Israel considers the Syrian government responsible, rather than Hezbollah. Either way, the IDF retaliated Monday night, when it bombed the Syrian position.
For now, then, Hezbollah’s attempts at retaliation for the recent killing of its officer proved unsuccessful. Still, on Wednesday Mr. Nasrallah intends to deliver a speech about the organization’s next moves. He may eye August 7, when a United Nation-mandated tribunal is expected to issue a final verdict on the 2004 assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister. The tribunal has named only four suspects, all Hezbollah members.
Nasrallah may be tempted to direct the attention elsewhere — in speech, and perhaps in deed, in the form of raising border tensions, as well.
If Hezbollah launches a rocket attack, “my husband, children and I have nine seconds to run to shelter,” Ms. Zehavi says. She adds that by now the entire country is in Hezbollah’s rocket range, including the many precision missiles it possesses despite the IDF’s attempts at eliminating them. Yet, if past is prologue, the worst pain will surely be inflicted on the Lebanese people. They, let it be remembered, are already the ones in the dark.
Correction: Former prime minister is the title of Saad Hariri; this was incorrectly given in the bulldog.