As the eyes of the international community fall on a Syria that continues to spiral out of control, there are other rumors—founded or unfounded, it remains to be seen—that the region may be heading for another sideshow conflict in the shape of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. While such an event has been predicted for many years now, it would be a move of breathtaking silliness, should the Israelis actually carry it out, not least because, according to military analysts, it probably wouldn’t achieve its military aims; it would only foment greater regional instability, perhaps even offering a lifeline to the embattled Assad regime in Damascus. We are also in an American election year, and the last thing Israel’s main sponsor wants is a war as it heads to the polls.
Another side effect, a scenario on which almost everyone is agreed, is that an Israeli strike would draw an immediate military response from Iran’s regional proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, with the latter expected to open up a front on Israel’s northern border. This in turn, we can safely assume, would draw an uncompromising response from the Israelis who, having been humiliated in the 2006 summer war, have made it clear that in the next “round” of fighting the gloves will come off, and the Lebanese government, now effectively run by Hezbollah, will, unlike in 2006, be held responsible for the act of aggression. Back then, with over 1,000 dead, 1 million displaced and billions of dollars in damage, the war was, in the famous words of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, a “divine victory.” One shudders at the prospect of a reversal.
But that is neither here nor there. In 2006 it was Hezbollah, not the government, that dragged Lebanon—wittingly or unwittingly—into war, something that is often overlooked by the hysteria surrounding Israel’s clearly disproportionate response to the cross-border raid that triggered the conflict. The incident was a terrifying reality-check that the nation was hostage to the military ambitions of one party and there was very little we could, or can, do about it.
Since then, and since the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, a ruling that called for the eventual disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, Hezbollah has made no secret of its ambitions to rearm in anticipation of a rematch. Party officials speak quite candidly, in private at least, that such an eventuality is not a case of “if” but “when.” The Israelis hold a similar sentiment. Both sides expect any outcome to be decisive, verging on the existential.
It is a reality of political life in Lebanon today that Hezbollah will clearly never disarm simply because at least half the Lebanese feel that having a militia that operates outside the authority of the state is essentially a bad thing. We can only hope that, away from the fiery martial rhetoric, the Party of God will think long and hard before subjecting its constituents, let alone the rest of the country, to another terrifying war.
But the Iranian scenario throws up new calculations. Will an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities prompt Tehran to call in arguably the biggest favor of all? Given what’s at stake, it would be nice if Hezbollah told the Lebanese what it would do should such a scenario come to pass. Will it stand by its claim that it is essentially a nationalist Shia party with an Iranian-inspired ideology and promise that a military action over 2,000 kilometers to the east will not drag it into a war that might very well catapult Lebanon back to the stone age? Will it promise restraint? We have a right to know.
The likelihood is that Hezbollah will not allow itself to be cornered on such an issue. If pushed, the party would no doubt baffle us with half-speak, reinforce the total commitment of the Resistance to protecting Lebanese sovereignty and question the patriotism of anyone who thought otherwise. In the meantime, we continue to live in the knowledge that we could be taken to a war not of our making by a man who holds no public office and who takes his orders from the Iranian president.
When will we wake up?