After years of turmoil, the tension between Israel and Lebanon has once again heightened with the announcement by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that his government will support Hezbollah – a Lebanese political organization which both Israel and the United States consider a terrorist group – should violence transpire.
This declaration came days before the fifth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – the father of the current prime minister – who was killed in a bombing while protesting the Syrian government’s role in Lebanon. Although Prime Minister Saad Hariri blames Syria for the bombing that claimed his father’s life, along with the lives of 21 other people, he still seeks to carry on good relations with his eastern neighbor.
While Hariri’s message was meant as a warning to Israel, Avigdor Lieberman – Israel’s foreign minister – sees it instead as something Hariri was compelled to articulate. However, even with this stance, Israel issued warnings to its citizens discouraging them from traveling to Islamic countries.
Hariri’s coalition has a narrow majority in Parliament over Hezbollah’s political alliance, although Hezbollah still has veto power in Hariri’s Cabinet. Israel equates Hariri’s situation in government to that of a captive that may never be free of Hezbollah. In fact, in 2008 when the Lebanese government attempted to limit Hezbollah’s influence, Lebanon experienced a wave of sectarian violence throughout Sunni neighborhoods.
Israel and Lebanon, or rather Israel and Hezbollah, are no strangers to conflict. In 2006, Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers, which instigated a 34-day long war resulting in the death of over 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians. Nevertheless, Hezbollah declared the exchange a victory since it not only survived, but also hurt Israel.
Still, Hezbollah professed it would not have acted in such a way had they been able to foresee the desolation that ensued. This, at least for the time being, reassured Lebanon that Hezbollah would not try to provoke another Israeli attack.
Israel, however, is not quite as assuming. According to Mona DeBaz, a political science professor at John Carroll, “Israel feels threatened by Hezbollah,” especially now that it is part of the Lebanese government.
“Israel would feel no regrets at all for attacking Lebanon if it were provoked by Hezbollah,” said DeBaz.
Hezbollah has its strongest foundation in the southern region of Lebanon. What began as a guerilla force progressed into an institutional organization that has an active voice in the Lebanese government. With Iranian support, Hezbollah has established schools, clinics, farms and various other services to provide for many underprivileged Shiites in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s link to Iran is largely ideological, as both are members of the Shiite sect of Islam; however, the relationship is also deliberate and designed to spread Iran’s influence throughout the region.