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Are Israel, Lebanon on the brink of a full-scale war?

The possibility of a full-scale war breaking out soon between the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Israeli Defense Forces cannot be ruled out

Are Israel, Lebanon on the brink of a full-scale war?
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

There is a crucial difference between war-making and peace-making.

For war to break out between party A and party B, it is enough if either of them wants it.

To make peace, both parties must want it at the same time, and be willing to negotiate a settlement based on give-and-take.

Every war has short-term and long-term causes. The timing of the breakout of a war depends on factors other than the causes.

In the current case, threats and counter-threats by the potential belligerents have already created a vicious cycle that might hasten the breakout.

Israel has repeatedly said that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) can smash Lebanon to smithereens. That is a credible statement.

Hezbollah has retorted that Israel would have to pay a heavy price if it starts a war. It has also listed targets in Israel and reportedly has 150,000 rockets and missiles, according to Western experts.

Hezbollah, the most heavily armed non-state actor in the world, possesses an arsenal ranging from Katyusha rockets with a 40km range and 20kg warheads to Scud missiles with a 700km range and 800kg warheads.

The Pentagon has assessed that the Iron Dome, funded and built for Israel, might not stop all the missiles and rockets from southern Lebanon, where the Hezbollah has deployed its weapons.

In short, even with the best support from the Pentagon, Israel is vulnerable and Hezbollah can inflict considerable damage.

Whether Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Yoav Gallant, have realized this is another matter.

They might believe that by striking Hezbollah periodically, without the latter retaliating in full measure due to fear of the IDF inflicting total destruction on Lebanon, which is ill-governed and has a collapsed economy, Israel can compensate for its lack of success in Gaza without paying any price.

There is another important factor in Israel’s domestic politics. Netanyahu has been losing political ground for not getting the hostages back and for failing to achieve his declared aim of ‘eliminating’ Hamas even as the war is about to complete nine months.

The IDF, in a rare case of open defiance, on 20 June said that Hamas as an ideology cannot be eliminated.

Israel can brazenly ignore the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and even the UN Security Council so long as it has US President Joe Biden’s ‘rock solid support’. Under these circumstances, prolonging and enlarging the war by taking on Hezbollah and even Iran can be to Netanyahu’s personal advantage as there cannot be an election when the war is on, and a case can be made that the government of the day waging a war deserves all support.

Here we need to look at Israel-US relations. Israel is the largest recipient of Washington’s military aid and diplomatic support. One might think that the donor might have some say in shaping the policy of the recipient. Paradoxically enough, it is Israel that practically dictates US policy in the region.

Does Biden have an option to reject dictation by Israel? Of course, yes. As pointed out in an earlier column, President Reagan in 1982 made Israel stop its bombing of Beirut with a telephonic conversation lasting hardly 10 minutes.

Let us imagine a scenario of the IDF bombing Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliates in full measure. If Iran decides to join the war, its allies-the Houthis in Yemen and the armed militias in Iraq-will start attacking Israel. The Palestinians in the West Bank rise up in revolt.

Will the IDF be able to fight on all these fronts including Gaza? No.

Israel may get enough 2,000-pound bombs from the Pentagon; it would need more boots on the ground than it has. Does Israel want to rush to an apocalypse?

Netanyahu wants to hold onto power at any cost and avoid going to jail for the corruption cases against him. In short, he is chasing the mirage of security.

As we humans in the 21st century confront perilous options, there is always something we can learn from Shakespeare. In Macbeth, right at the beginning, the witches foretell Macbeth’s forthcoming elevation by King Duncan and later his ascension to the throne. The witches add, “security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.”

Netanyahu can be stopped only by Biden. Facing calls from The New York Times and others to withdraw his candidacy following his disastrous debate performance with rival Donald Trump, will Biden rise to the occasion?

The chances are slim. When he was able to impose his will on Netanyahu, Biden failed.

In fact, he failed even to make a serious attempt.

Still, let us not stop hoping.

Even now, Biden can get out of the corner he has painted himself into and thereby put an end to the macabre dance of death.


KP Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. More

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