Threatening Lebanon

Israel is trying to pick a fight. But the Lebanese won’t to be intimated.

By Abdel Bari Atwan

Israel’s leaders have unintentionally achieved a great accomplishment. They have united the people of Lebanon, of all sects and shades, against Israel’s repeated border provocations, whose escalation in recent days has reminded the Lebanese of its expansionist and aggressive designs against their country.

Lebanon’s southern border has been unusually tense in of late, prompting many to predict that another war could break out at any moment, a war for which Lebanon – its army, people and resistance – have been bracing for some time, both mentally and militarily.

The first aggressive provocation came when Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed that Lebanon’s offshore gas block Number 9 lies in Israeli waters, and warned the French-Italian-Russian consortium that was recently awarded an exploration and production contract in the area not to carry out any work there.  The second, and no less serious, provocation was to start building a wall along the so-called Blue Line, which does not correspond with the Armistice Line demarcating the border, and that would effectively annex tens of square kilometres of Lebanese territory to Israel.

Israeli officials have meanwhile been repeatedly threatening to inflict utter devastation on Lebanon in the event of another war – or to “return it to the Stone Age” in the words of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

Israel is clearly trying to pick a fight with Lebanon. But the Lebanese have refused to be intimated.

When Israel sent military reinforcements to the border with Lebanon, Hezbollah responded by deploying elite forces it had withdrawn from Syria along the length of the frontier and put them on maximum alert. The Lebanese army did the same.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council held a meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda – chaired by President Michel Aoun, and attended by the prime minister, parliament speaker, army commander and senior officers — which took an unambiguous decision to prevent Israel from building a border wall on Lebanese territory. It described this as an act of aggression and violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and issued orders for it to be confronted without hesitation.

The Israeli provocations on both the land and sea borders were a deliberate display of contempt for Lebanon’s dignity and sovereignty and amount to a declaration of war. The country’s top political and military leaders were duty-bound to declare that they would resist these measures. And they have the capacity do so.

The Israelis may fantasize about returning Lebanon to the Stone Age, as many of their officials have threatened, but the reality could prove quite different. An assault on Lebanon could trigger a counter-strike that would see tens of thousands of missiles pouring like rain on Israel and is settlers from more than one front.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has long been alert to these aggressive Israeli plans.  In a speech in 2011, he warned that anyone who harms Lebanon’s oil and gas installations would have their own offshore installations harmed too. At the time, Hezbollah had nothing like the missile capability it possesses today, nor the military experience it gained during four years of fighting in Syria.

Israeli experts and former generals have sounded the alarm about this capability, warning that Hezbollah could have up to 150,000 missiles stored beneath the hills of southern Lebanon. Taking into account the similar, and probably more sophisticated, weapons in the arsenals of Syria and Iran, Nasrallah’s confident and repeated warnings of massive missile retaliation in the event of an Israeli attack are understandable. A few months ago he “advised” Israeli Jewish settlers to return to their countries of origin to avoid becoming cannon-fodder in a future war. 

Lebanon is not minded to give up is newfound oil and gas resources nor surrender any of its national territory. It will also continue to demand the recovery of the seven Lebanese villages that were seized by Israeli occupiers along with northern Palestine in the 1948 war.

During the July 2006 war there was divisions among the Lebanese between supporters and opponents of Hezbollah. This will not be the case in any forthcoming conflict. The country is far more united in support of the army and the resistance, who would fight side-by-side against any Israeli assault.

Walls have not protected Israel’s settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. They could become a curse, even an existential threat, if built on Lebanese soil. If the much-vaunted ‘Iron Dome’ has failed to protect them from home-made projectiles launched from the Gaza Strip, why should they fare better against more accurate and sophisticated missiles coming from Lebanon, possibly accompanied by others from Syria, Iran and the Gaza Strip?

What kind of state needs to build walls all around it to protect its settlers? Israel is deluding itself and is in total denial. The walls are an indication of terror, fear and alarm — about both the present and the future. More seriously, its leaders have become disoriented, continuing to make provocations while ignoring the fundamental fact that times have changed. The enemy has changed too. It no longer flees, raises white flags and sheds is military uniforms after the very first air-raid, as the Arab armies once used to do.