(December 16, 2018 / JNS)
Bolstered by its success uncovering Hezbollah’s terror tunnels on the northern border, Israel now wants to leverage the the Israel Defense Forces’ operational and intelligence coup by conveying it to the diplomatic arena.
This week, the U.N. Security Council will discuss Israel’s complaint that Hezbollah violated its sovereignty. It is hard to believe that the council will pass a resolution condemning Hezbollah or calling for action against it. At most, the member states will express concern over the rising tensions and call on both sides to show restraint.
After all, any connection between the Security Council and the United Nations to peace and security is purely coincidental. Case in point: The U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, did not lift a finger to prevent Hezbollah from digging its tunnels and is generally apathetic to the terrorist organization’s deployment along the Israeli border.
Meanwhile, Israel has also turned to Russia—the new responsible adult in the neighborhood—and even sent a senior military delegation to Moscow last week to debrief the Russians on the operation to eliminate the tunnels. It is safe to assume that the Russians were not taken by surprise.
The Russians, unlike the Americans, do not harbor any illusions about the players in the region. However, the Russians have their own interests, which necessitate their embrace of Iran and Hezbollah. Perhaps the Russians will pressure Hezbollah not to provoke Israel, so as not to jeopardize their gains in Syria, but they will continue viewing Hezbollah as a legitimate actor whose existence in Lebanon must accepted as an absolute fact.
The United States, which was quick to condemn Hezbollah publicly, also poured cold water over Israel’s efforts to amplify pressure on Hezbollah by refusing to impose additional sanctions on Lebanon. The Americans believe that a distinction must be made between Lebanon and Hezbollah, and that the moderate foundations of Lebanese society should continue to be strengthened in the hope that one day, which will likely never come, these forces will gather the courage to rise up against Hezbollah.
The United States insists on continuing to arm the Lebanese army, while rejecting Israel’s claim that Hezbollah has access to its weapons. As a reminder, during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, America pressured the Israeli government to spare Lebanese government institutions and focus solely on hitting Hezbollah targets. By doing so, Washington prevented Israel from possibly altering perceptions of that war.
The truth is that Lebanon and Hezbollah are not one and the same. The majority of people in Lebanon, and many Shi’ites as well, oppose the organization, feel threatened by it, and wish someone would do the dirty work for them and pummel it. They mainly hope someone will wipe out Hezbollah’s military power, which first and foremost, beyond Israel, poses a threat to Lebanon itself.
However, Hezbollah’s detractors in Lebanon are irrelevant. Due to its military clout, the organization can force its views and decisions on any national matter, certainly on the ongoing construction of its military capabilities against Israel. The fact is that no one in Lebanon—neither in the government nor in the army—is asked their opinion on whether to dig tunnels and risk a possible clash with Israel.
Finally, beyond everything mentioned above, Hezbollah and the country of Lebanon are symbiotic. In its current iteration, Hezbollah cannot function outside the Lebanese system in which it exists and without the government institutions from which it draws its power. It is not for nothing that the organization has worked to assimilate within the political system and join the Lebanese government as a coalition member. This is the only way it has been able to advocate for the Shiites, who in turn mostly support Hezbollah because they want it to continue fighting for their political interests in the Lebanese system. A weak Lebanon means a weakened Hezbollah, an organization with fewer capabilities and resources, and with credibility problems among the country’s Shi’ite population.
Anyone desiring stability in the region must focus the pressure on the government in Beirut. It will not be enough to neutralize the threat posed by Hezbollah, but it will help to weaken and deter it.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.