Can a Hezbollah-Israel battle cause Lebanon’s civil war?

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By Creative Media News

  • Hezbollah efforts spark mixed reactions in Lebanon
  • Christian leaders criticize Hezbollah’s actions
  • Rising sectarian tensions amid Israel-Hezbollah conflict

Hezbollah’s efforts to contain, rather than terminate, the low-level struggle with Israel have elicited praise and condemnation from across Lebanon.

The schism dates back to the 1975-1990 civil war when political groupings were divided along class and sectarian lines in favour or opposition to the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel, which was undertaken from Lebanon.

Now, as Israel threatens all-out war against Iran-backed Hezbollah, sectarian tensions are rising.

Critics and political rivals accuse Hezbollah of launching a war against Israel without consulting other factions while Lebanon tries to recover from a crippling economic crisis.

Hezbollah began engaging Israel on October 8, stating that it will continue until there is a cease-fire in Gaza, where Israel has killed over 37,000 Palestinians and uprooted the majority of the population.

Israel’s war on Gaza began on October 7, following a Hamas-led offensive on Israel that killed 1,139 people and kidnapped 250 others.

With no win or accomplishments to boast nine months later, Israel may be in a predicament in Gaza. However, it is still responding disproportionately to Hezbollah assaults and threatening another war there.

Nobody wants a war right now, but Israel is the one fighting it, according to Qassem Kassir, a Lebanese political expert considered to be close to Hezbollah.

“If Israel launches a [full-scale] war, it will be an open and major one.”

Not a team player?

Some individuals in Lebanon, notably Christians, are extremely dissatisfied with Hezbollah.

Samir Gagea and Samy Gemayel, Christian leaders who lead the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb parties, respectively, accuse Hezbollah of plunging Lebanon into a needless “war of attrition” and inviting Israeli strikes on Lebanese land.

Since October 8, Israel has murdered about 88 civilians in south Lebanon, with Hezbollah assaults killing ten Israeli citizens.

Geagea and Gemayel’s language may indicate they do not want to be drawn into a regional confrontation. Michael Young is an analyst on Lebanon and the author of The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle.

“Many Christian leaders are opposed to Hezbollah’s decision to open a front against Israel,” he stated. He went on to say that another goal might be “to show that not all of Lebanon is behind Hezbollah in hopes of perhaps sparing their areas the worst of a war with Israel”.

Others agree that Hezbollah should not have made “unilateral” decisions.

“Hezbollah has plainly announced that they have established a front [in south Lebanon] to back Hamas against Israel’s assault. But as a Lebanese citizen… “Hezbollah made this decision without consulting anyone,” claimed Doumit Azzi, a Lebanese Christian human rights campaigner.

Azzi regards Hezbollah as an arm of the Iranian regime, citing the group’s intervention in Syria’s civil war to back President Bashar al-Assad against a rebellion.

The situation in Lebanon is not black and white. I will not support Israel’s colonial project or any other imperialist that committed crimes in Syria during the rebellion.

Grassroots resistance heroes?

Others see Hezbollah as a grassroots resistance organization that liberated southern Lebanon from Israel’s 18-year occupation in 2000.

Hezbollah has advanced since then, increasing its fighting capabilities, weapon arsenal, and revenue streams.

It has long portrayed itself as the symbol of the “axis of resistance,” which includes Iran-backed militias in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, as well as Hamas.

According to Amal Saad, a political analyst and author of Hezbollah: Politics and Religion, Christian factions are currently Hezbollah’s biggest opponents.

The de-sectarianized region, with no more Sunni-Shia tensions like during the Syrian war, will make the situation more favourable for Hezbollah, she said.

In general, Christians are currently outnumbering Shia.

Saad noted that opposing forces have always attempted to deprive Hezbollah of its weaponry and capabilities, which the group zealously maintains as a measure of defence against Israel.

She cited the May 2008 decision by the Lebanese parliament to remove Hezbollah’s encrypted telephone network as an example.

Hezbollah responded by laying siege to West Beirut until the order was rescinded.

The brief standoff pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

Is that enough?

The daily slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza has prompted some pro-Hezbollah followers to advocate for further action against Israel.

“I don’t think Hezbollah is doing enough,” said a member of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party known as Gamal Hassaniya.

He suggested that they invade Israel, and whatever occurs would happen.

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Hassaniya recognized, however, that Israel would respond violently, likely resulting in mass displacement.

Lebanese Shia would have to relocate to Sunni – and possibly Christian – heartlands across the country.

A surge of displacement to Christian towns and communities “might” spark social unrest, according to Kataeb Party spokesperson Patrick Richa.

We will have to divide citizens and military personnel.

“We will not accept – in our region where we [Christians] exist – any military platforms that might lead to military repercussions.”

However, Young believes that if a conflict with Israel breaks out, Hezbollah will not set up military operations in any Christian neighbourhoods because it does not want to incite sectarian tensions, which would benefit Israel.

He stated that Israel will use whatever weapons it has available to combat Hezbollah.

However, the Lebanese political class is not interested in playing along with an Israeli game that would exacerbate sectarian tensions.

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