Hezbollah had declared it would avenge the death of one of its fallen fighters who was among those targeted in an Israeli air raid, meaning few were surprised when brief firefight broke out on Lebanon’s southern border between Hezbollah and Israel. With no casualties reported in the aftermath, the question begs, why would Hezbollah even declare the death of this low-level operative, therefore putting itself in the limelight seeking retribution?
Despite any potential motive, Hezbollah’s retaliation was an utter failure as the Israeli army had anticipated their response and was able to repel their initial infiltration and prevented them from inflicting any real damage to their vehicles or personnel.
Perhaps most surprising was Hezbollah’s denial their failed border incursion had taken place as the Iranian-backed militia this week said the attack was fabricated by the Israelis and their “response to the martyrdom of Ali Kamel Mohsen... will surely come.” Hezbollah did not aim to carry out this attack and the group that was ambushed by the Israeli side was merely a reconnaissance patrol scouting the area for a future attack.
Nevertheless, the showdown between Israel and Hezbollah reaffirms that the latter is unhindered by Lebanon’s terrible state of affairs nor does it feel itself responsible for the ongoing economic and political collapse.
Analysts framed this scuffle as a continuation of the ongoing regional standoff, but in reality, the recent operational debacle has nothing to do with avenging a fallen comrade or responding to the regular Israeli airstrikes against targets in Iran and Syria. In fact, Hezbollah simply sought to respond to local Lebanese detractors, primarily the Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi who vocally criticized Hezbollah for dragging Lebanon into regional conflicts and demanded that all sides adopt neutrality by refraining from “engaging in regional and international alliances, conflicts and wars.”
Despite the calm tone of al-Rahi’s initiative, Hezbollah is yet to publicly shoot it down, so instead they decided to direct their fire across the border.
While Hezbollah’s response may seem rash, in essence, it is the only way to shoot down al-Rahi’s initiative without directly confronting the patriarch, as it exposes their main Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, to further pressures.
With its response, Hezbollah reminded all parties that it does not answer to local pressures and washed its hands of restraint, something that would greatly help Lebanon in its ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, which is the only option left for the country and its decrepit economy.
Another equally important reason for Hezbollah’s military endeavor is to preemptively respond to the much-awaited verdict of the special tribunal for Lebanon into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, which is set to issue its verdict August 7. It is likely the tribunal will publicly indict senior Hezbollah intelligence operatives, and this will likely spur a political and sectarian whirlwind that might require the group to flex their muscles to contain potential repercussions and remind anyone who may dare try not to cross them.
While Hezbollah might not be worried about international justice, they do fear the sectarian aftershock, especially from the Sunni supporters of Hariri, not to mention Lebanese from across the sectarian spectrum. Incumbent Prime Minister Hassan Diab has no Sunni credentials to counterbalance the tribunal’s verdict, and thus Hezbollah did what it knows best, shoot first and ask questions later.
Hezbollah will continue to maintain an image of a spartan outfit, undeterred by local Lebanese or regional challenges. But the fact remains that Iran and its expansionist project has propelled Hezbollah to center stage, especially after the killing of Iran’s high commissioner General Qassem Soleimani, has burdened them further.
Every time Hezbollah finds itself against the ropes, it resorts to violence to regain control of the narrative. Through the spinelessness and complicity of the majority of Lebanon’s ruling elite, who have time and again failed to protect what remains of the semblance of a functioning sovereign state, Hezbollah has no issue achieving this end. Lebanon’s continued downward fall is inversely related to the ability of Lebanese to reclaim their state – something that might be difficult to do if they shy away from challenging Hezbollah and the political elite who hide behind the armed group.
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