Iran puts Lebanon in the firing line

Last month, General Yahya Rahim Safavi (below), military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement was ready to fire more than 80,000 rockets at Israel if the latter attacked his country. It was not the first time Safavi had made such a threat, which has been echoed by other Iranian officials.

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Tehran is putting its ally – indeed the whole of Lebanon – in a very dangerous predicament. It would be highly irresponsible for Hezbollah to oblige, particularly in light of current regional developments – doing so would be against the national interest as well as its own. Iran is itself capable of retaliating – its Sajjil 1, Sajjil 2, Shahab 3 and Ghadr 1 missiles are all capable of reaching Israel.

Lebanese lives are not worth less that Hezbollah should fight on Tehran’s behalf. That sounds less like a genuinely mutual alliance, and more like one party using the other as a proxy force (a description both vehemently reject). After all, Iran has never attacked Israel in defense of Hezbollah or Lebanon, and has not threatened to do so.
Israel has made it brutally clear how it would respond to a Hezbollah attack. “We will raze Lebanon to the ground. We will return it to the Stone Age,” Yisrael Katz, minister for transport, and for intelligence and atomic energy, said in November 2014.
Earlier last year, Benny Gantz, then-chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), said his country would knock Lebanon back “70 or 80 years, in all areas… It could also turn out that we’ll need to capture Lebanese territory.”

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon last month said: “We are going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family.” In January, he said: “Israel will view governments, regimes and organizations that lie beyond its northern border as being responsible for what happens in their territory.” In other words, the Lebanese state and its people would be collectively punished, as has always been the case with Israel’s aggressions against its northern neighbor.

In April, Brigadier-General Moni Katz, commander of the Israeli army’s Galilee Formation, said Lebanese border villages would be razed. The next war will “look entirely different” from Lebanon’s perspective, he added. “Hezbollah will receive an even harsher blow” than it did during Israel’s last invasion in 2006.
As such, it is worth reflecting on what Israel inflicted on Lebanon during that 34-day war. Israel launched more than 7,000 airstrikes, and its naval vessels launched 2,500 shells. Almost 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed, of whom a third were children (117 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians were killed). More than 4,000 Lebanese were injured and almost 1 million displaced.

israel-missilesSome 30,000 houses were destroyed, as were other civilian targets and infrastructure such as hospitals, airports, ports, water and sewage treatment plants, electrical facilities, businesses, places of worship, bridges and roads. The overall cost of the damage was $3.5bn.

Amnesty International said Israel “deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure and committed war crimes.” Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “reckless indifference” toward the fate of civilians, and of “disregarding” its “legal duty to distinguish between military targets sand civilians.”
It is obvious, then, that Israel would have no qualms acting on its recent threats, and has the capability to do so. As such, while Hezbollah would be perfectly entitled to defend itself and Lebanon against Israeli aggression (as was its founding raison d’etre), it has no place inviting widespread death and destruction to avenge an ally that can defend itself.

Lebanon is struggling with a gargantuan refugee crisis, with Syrian refugees comprising a quarter of the country’s population. “The impact of the Syrian crisis – including on the economy, demographics, political instability, and security – continues to deepen across Lebanon,” said the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in its 2015 overview.

The last thing the country needs is another devastating war, at the behest of a state that claims to have Lebanon’s best interests at heart. This would further damage Hezbollah’s domestic and regional popularity, which according to opinion polls has nose-dived due to its direct intervention in Syria.

Its involvement there, which is deepening amid recent battlefield losses by the Syrian regime, has left Hezbollah dangerously over-exposed in the event of a conflict with Israel. Last month, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his forces were fighting across all of Syria, not in certain areas as before.

As such, the movement – already bogged down in one conflict – cannot afford a full-scale war with the most powerful military in the region. Neither should the Lebanese people be held hostage to the rivalry between Israel and Iran. It is they who risk enduring the brunt of that rivalry, and it is their wellbeing that should be Hezbollah’s priority.

This article by award winning journalist Sharif Nashashibi, was originally published by  Al Arabiya News.

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