The Israel Defense Force reinforced its northern border with Lebanon yesterday in anticipation of retaliation by Hezbollah for Israeli jets killing one of its fighters in Syria. Terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah has announced an “equation of deterrence” with Israel, where Hezbollah would retaliate for every fighter killed in Syria and Lebanon.
What makes the situation doubly tense is that Lebanon is dissolving economically and socially. According to Haaretz, the crisis is the worst in Lebanon’s crisis-riddled history.
“Economically, Lebanon is probably in its worst situation ever,” Baram says. “It’s approaching the period of the civil war there in the mid-1970s. Unemployment is running at 40 percent, and about half the population is now below the poverty line. There are reports of people committing suicide because of hunger.” This week the London Times reported that the power grids in Lebanon are only operating for a few hours a day.
“All of that is not directly related to us. If you ask a Lebanese citizen, I doubt that Israel is even 10th on his list of concerns. He is upset by the lack of hope for the future and apparently understands that one of the reasons for this is the comportment of Hezbollah. The doubts are also trickling down into the country’s Shi’ite community. Lebanon is in a true Catch-22, under increasingly harsh external sanctions which stem from American measures against Iran and Syria, compounded by the international institutions’ lack of confidence in the Lebanese economy. The coming year will be fateful for Lebanon; it could result in the country falling apart, becoming insolvent.”
The Lebanese lira has lost 80 percent of its value since October. Food inflation is at an astonishing 200 percent. With a worthless currency and people unable to buy even basics like bread and oil, the population is beginning to starve.
Nasrallah, the power behind the throne in Lebanon, has been unable to cope. He’s busy winding down a successful war in Syria and continuing to threaten Israel, but the economic and social crisis is beyond his abilities. So Lebanese money men and their foreign backers are getting what they can from the failing banks and getting gone while the going is good.
Nasrallah is no fool. The last thing he wants is another war with Israel. He remembers the strategic standoff with Jerusalem in 2006 where some of Hezbollah’s best fighters were badly mauled by the IDF. He doesn’t want a repeat of that episode.
But his “retaliation” may slip out of his control and Hezbollah many find itself in another war. It’s not a likely scenario but it’s more than possible when it comes to Hezbollah. Lt.-Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the U.S. Central Command, believes Nasrallah would be crazy to take on the IDF again.
“I think it would be a great mistake for Hizballah to try to carry out operations against Israel. I can’t see that having a good ending,” he told journalists in a telephone briefing.
Before the coronavirus hit Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets protesting the government’s paralysis in the face of the crisis and calling for a revolution. That’s not going to happen. Hezbollah has guns. And they’re not disposed to allow the people to threaten their hold on power.
With financial aid from Iran reduced to a trickle thanks to U.S. sanctions, Nasrallah literally doesn’t know what to do. He’s reached out to the IMF for aid but there would need to be massive reforms in Lebanon before the fund would give them any cash. The EU might be disposed to help but they’re long on talk and short on opening their wallets.
He’s not at the end of the road yet, but Nasrallah can clearly see the brick wall in front of him.