Lebanese held hostage to Hezbollah's decisions on war

Hezbollah's calculated military engagement could spiral out of control any minute amid Israeli escalations. As always, the Lebanese people have little say on where their leaders take them.

Lebanese held hostage to Hezbollah's decisions on war

Since 7 October, Lebanon and its citizens have been in a state of heightened tension and uncertainty—one which reveals much about how the people are treated by their leaders.

The day Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, Lebanon was rife with speculation that Hezbollah might join the war as Israel’s brutal military assault unfolded against Palestinians in Gaza.

Lebanese waited for Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general, to speak. They knew his words would define their destiny and the future of their nation.

In the four weeks it took for Nasrallah to break his silence, Lebanon was engulfed in uncertainty and anxiety.

To be safe, schools cancelled classes, and foreigners were encouraged to evacuate. Meanwhile, Lebanese already in the throes of a suffocating economic and financial crisis, scrambled to stock up on essential supplies.

When Nasrallah finally spoke, he stopped short of declaring war. In the eight televised addresses now made since 7 October, he has consistently stated that his party has been actively opposing Israel, aiming to alleviate the pressure on Gaza.

And yet, any informed observer would recognise that the interactions between Israel and Hezbollah have neither mitigated Israel's hostility towards the Palestinians nor are likely to do so.

Read more: Is it the beginning of the end of Hezbollah?

Pervasive uncertainty

The situation as of today remains unclear. There is speculation that a truce currently being crafted between Israel and Hamas could have stipulations about Hezbollah's presence in southern Lebanon.

At the same time, there is a very real possibility that the war could widen to Lebanon. Israel has already carried out provocative assassinations of Hezbollah leaders in both Lebanon and Syria. It also killed Saleh Al-Arouri, a senior Hamas figure, in Hezbollah's stronghold in southern Beirut.

There is a very real possibility that the war could widen to Lebanon as Israel escalates its provocations.

Despite these provocations, Hezbollah has opted for "strategic patience," mirroring the Syrian regime's long-standing tolerance of Israeli transgressions, while periodically pushing the rules of engagement to demonstrate to its supporters that it remains committed to resistance.

From the outset of the conflict in Gaza, it was evident that both the United States and Iran were keen to prevent an escalation of the war.

Hezbollah – relying chiefly on the stance of the US administration but also on the internal discord within the Israeli government regarding the conflict's expansion – took a significant risk involving the lives of Lebanese people, especially those in the south.

Israeli assaults have already killed hundreds of Lebanese, including Hezbollah fighters and leaders, as well as civilians.

Throughout the conflict along the border shared by Israel and Lebanon, US envoy Amos Hockstein has made several visits to Beirut. On his latest trip, he emphasised that a truce in Gaza does not automatically guarantee a similar ceasefire in Lebanon.

Hockstein's insights are underpinned by his understanding that the reasons for the Israeli operation in Gaza are distinct from the tensions along the Lebanese-Israeli border. His perspective is informed by his role as a mediator in 2022 on the landmark agreement over maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel.

Currently, he is channelling that experience to broker another diplomatic settlement between the two parties. The agreement on maritime boundaries, which was endorsed by both Hezbollah and Israel, saw the Lebanese government acting as a mediator between the US envoy and Hezbollah.

This extra level of diplomacy was needed because the US classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, precluding direct negotiations with the group.

The role as an intermediary allowed Lebanon to facilitate discussions toward a resolution that could potentially ease tensions and foster a more stable regional environment.

Lebanese now find themselves in a familiar predicament: being held hostage to the politics of its current leaders.

Now, there is a sense of déjà vu. Negotiations currently underway between Israel and Hezbollah aim to solidify agreements related to Resolution 1701 and the demarcation of land borders.

Amid these discussions, Lebanon's official institutions, including the government, its prime minister, and relevant cabinet members, facilitate the dialogue between Hochstein and Hezbollah.

Lebanese held hostage

But their position is not entirely neutral. When negotiations encounter obstacles, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib do not primarily advocate for the conditions and interests of Lebanon or its people.

Instead, their actions seem to align more closely with serving the interests of Hassan Nasrallah, the de-facto ruler of Lebanon.

Read more: Lebanese army rejuvenation stuck in perpetual limbo

This leaves Lebanon in what has become a familiar predicament– as a hostage to the politics of its current leaders.

For years, the selection of the country's president has been contingent upon Hezbollah's approval, leading to vacuums in government without their consent. Similarly, parliamentary elections proceed only under legislation favoured by Hezbollah. The government has become an instrument in this political hostage situation, with no immediate prospects for change.

The Lebanese people are caught in the crossfire of external conflicts, negotiations, and agreements. They find themselves imprisoned by circumstances beyond their control.

Once again, Lebanon has once again become a consolation prize in the wars of others.

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