Preventing a war on Lebanon

Preventing a war on Lebanon

Even if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza, Israel will intensify its attacks on Lebanon (File/AFP)
Even if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza, Israel will intensify its attacks on Lebanon (File/AFP)
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Israel will intensify its attacks on Lebanon even if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza. This is the message that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivered while visiting the northern command center. He added that Hezbollah will have to retreat to where it should be (beyond the Litani river) whether by force or through an agreement. Escalation reached a new level on Monday. Hezbollah shot down a Hermes 450 drone and in retaliation Israel bombed Baalbek. As usual, Israel is bullying its way through. However, the path Israel is taking is not really smart. Diplomacy is better for everyone.

War is a risky business; there are a lot of unknown unknowns. Does Israel know for sure that it can achieve its goal of weakening Hezbollah? And what does it mean to weaken Hezbollah? Pushing Hezbollah will not be easy. Hezbollah supporters live in the south. Pushing the militant group is not very realistic. Hezbollah does not have formal facilities where weaponry is manufactured and stored. It is impossible to check every home and every building. The more realistic option would be to keep Hezbollah under control and prevent the south from being used as a launch pad for missiles toward Israel. Basically, the best realistic option is to make sure Hezbollah keeps its missiles in the basement.

A war will not make Israel safer; it will only prolong the survival of Netanyahu. Here diplomacy needs to be activated. US special envoy Amos Hockstein is shuttling between Beirut and Washington. The US has one major drawback: It does not talk to Hezbollah. It is talking to Abbas Ibrahim, the former head of the General Directorate of General Security in Lebanon, who is the link between the Americans and the militant group. However, this is not enough. Washington needs to delegate the task to a mediator. It needs to involve Qatar.

Qatar has established relations with some unsavory actors: Hamas, the Taliban and Hezbollah. However, those unsavory relations are very useful, even necessary, and valuable in times like these for everyone. The important question is what can be done to prevent a war?

A war will not make Israel safer; it will only prolong the survival of Netanyahu

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

The obvious answer is enforcing UN Resolution 1701, which calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and the cessation of ground, maritime, and aerial violations. Unfortunately, there is no one to take decisions in Lebanon. The country has no president, no prime minister and no government. No one has the authority to take any relevant actions and no one wants to take responsibility without having the adequate authority. Who will enforce 1701? The caretaker prime minister? The commander of the army?

The first step would be to elect a president and a credible government. Qatar had already started the mediation for presidential elections. They were faced with the greed of Lebanese politicians. Everyone started asking them for money. This was a major turn-off for Doha. Perhaps today, as they are facing an imminent attack, those corrupt politicians might accept to cast their vote for free.

In this critical moment, Qatar can play a role in Lebanon by resuming the mediation for presidential elections and extending their assistance to the enforcement of UN Resolution 1701. Qatar would be accepted as an impartial mediator in Lebanon. At the same time, it has the financial muscle to incur any payments that are required by any arrangement. Hence, it is well placed to conduct the mediation.

Who will enforce 1701? The caretaker prime minister? The commander of the army?

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

Once a credible government is elected, the following step would be to come up with an agreement that would provide security guarantees for both Lebanon and Israel. This will require commitments from both parties to avoid breaching any agreement. It is true that Hezbollah has been in breach of UN Resolution 1701 but so has Israel. Israeli planes have cruised into Lebanese airspace with impunity. There should be a firm commitment from Israel that if an agreement is reached, it will stop these wild excursions.

More Lebanese forces should be deployed in the south to make sure Hezbollah keeps its weapons in the basement. The army is overstretched. It has no capacity to increase its presence in the south. This is why the military should recruit or deploy its reserve forces. However, someone needs to foot the bill as the state is bankrupt. In addition to increasing the number of Lebanese troops, UNIFIL forces should be increased and their mandate widened.

This should be an urgent matter for both Israel and the US as much as it is for Lebanon. A war on Lebanon will totally change the equation. Hezbollah is far more valuable to Iran than Hamas. The Iranians will not let the group go down. A war with Hezbollah will be of a different caliber. Hezbollah has far more destructive capabilities than Hamas. They can overwhelm the Iron Dome. Actually, the attack on Safad was a demonstration, though Hezbollah never claimed responsibility. However, they intended to send a message.

As much as security guarantees are needed for both parties, so are the optics of a win or a certain type of gain. No one wants to come across as the loser. Netanyahu needs to offer the Israeli public something. Hezbollah needs to do the same with its constituency.

So far, the situation is relatively under control. However, if the escalation continues, both parties will find themselves in a position where they have no choice but to go to war. Both sides need a graceful exit from this faceoff. This is where skillful diplomacy is needed, now and urgently.

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.
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