Lebanon: Trapped in a tunnel

Nadim Koteich

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The last thing Lebanon needed after the “tunnels” of political crisis, failure to form a government and increasing indicators of economic and financial collapse was the tunnels of Hezbollah. When discussing politics in Lebanon and whenever there is a crisis, we often use the word “tunnels” and say “Lebanon has entered a tunnel.” When there are solutions to a problem, we would also say: “Lebanon has begun to exit the tunnel.”

Here is our little country, entering so many tunnels at the same time! The most recent development is that of Hezbollah’s tunnels which Israel knew earlier about but it has chosen to announce their existence now, thus turning the issue into a political public relations campaign that has no boundaries.

The year 2018 looks like 1981 on various levels. The 1981 Israeli invasion of Lebanon failed to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization. A small war broke out in 1981, ending with a cease-fire agreement in July of the same year

Nadim Koteich

The mousetrap

In an interview with the Israeli military radio, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that the Israeli government had lied to the public about the tunnels and it had always denied the concerns of the settlements’ residents on the Lebanese borders about drilling noises being heard all the time.

According to Ya’alon, they lied to the public because Israel wanted to mislead its enemy (Hezbollah) and allow it to continue making the tunnels, so they could monitor it and prevent it from changing its plans and developing any other strategies.

Israeli propaganda and the drama on television, which accompanied the news of the discovery of two tunnels and the continued hunt for other tunnels, was met by Hezbollah’s complete silence.

Across the border, Hezbollah watched silently the destruction of its military assets, which it would have depended on in any upcoming war.

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For its part, the Lebanese state was also confused, especially after UNIFIL, which implements UN Resolution 1701, acknowledged the existence of the tunnels and their expansion from the Lebanese territory towards Israel, which is deemed a hostile action that places Lebanon in a very weak and fragile position.

Israeli targets

Israel wants to achieve several goals out of its campaign. They can be summarized in five points:
1. Undoubtedly it seeks to use the issue of tunnels as an excuse to continue building the barrier wall on the borders with Lebanon, especially in the disputed areas that could leave access for Hezbollah, above or under the ground.

2. Show the collapse of Resolution 1701 and its failure to manage the conflict with Hezbollah and Iran. Israel wants to implicitly blame the UN resolution for becoming a cover for Hezbollah to upgrade its military structure for any upcoming war.

3. Rearranging Israeli security and military priorities in a way that places Iran, Hezbollah and the northern front issues on top, as opposed to other issues such as the southern front, i.e. Gaza. At this point, the departure of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has proven beneficial for this change, especially as Netanyahu was determined to put an end to the latest Gaza clashes, even at a huge political cost.

4. A pretext for raising an Israeli and international public opinion over Iran’s supposed plan to move its war with Israel from Syria to Lebanon because of Russian pressure on it in Syria. According to Russia’s needs, stability in Syria – after freezing domestic fighting – relies on the condition of freezing direct and indirect Israeli-Iranian confrontation in Syria. Thus, for Iran, the priority would be energizing the readiness of the South Lebanon front.

5. The Israeli maneuver is also part of its discussions with Russia over the freedom of Israeli movement in Syria, which has been suspended since September after the crash of a Russian aircraft over Syria and that only resumed 10 days ago. Thus, if Moscow is concerned about stability in Lebanon, as it has stated explicitly, being one of the major investors in the future of the Lebanese energy market, it should back down on its restrictions on Israeli movement in Syria. Lebanon’s calmness in exchange of freedom of movement in Syria or vice versa.

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With these five possible aims, the Israeli activity on the borders seems to be the beginning of something and not the end of something. It all falls within a wider context that is related to the wider confrontation with Iran, led by the US administration of President Donald Trump and followed with great enthusiasm by Netanyahu’s government and Arab governments. It is not unlikely that Iran, which is besieged by tough sanctions, will use its influential tools, Hezbollah being its top card, in order to harm others in response. Not to mention that creating enough unrest in the region far from its borders is enough to raise oil prices. Hence Iran would undermine the sanctions strategy that is based on the fragile balance of stopping Iranian oil exports while maintaining a low oil price.

The year 2018 looks like 1981 on various levels. The 1981 Israeli invasion of Lebanon failed to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization. A small war broke out in 1981, ending with a cease-fire agreement in July of the same year. Prime Minister Menachem Begin was subjected to a political campaign because this agreement was tantamount to the first recognition of the PLO. Then came the 1982 invasion which ended the era of the PLO in Lebanon but introduced a new character on the arena, i.e. Hezbollah as we know it today.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Nadim Koteich is a leading Arab satirist. His show DNA airs Monday to Friday on Future and Al Hadath channels. He is a columnist with Asharq Alawsat. He tweets @NadimKoteich.

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