This week marks the forth anniversary of the war in Lebanon – between Israel and Hezbollah. The anniversary has been accompanied by many small events that remind us of the horror. The incident involving a young man who infiltrated Beirut airport after cutting through its barbed wire fence to hide in the undercarriage of a Saudi aircraft has raised the question: How…and not why? It is unlikely that this was a terrorist incident, but the question which concerned international aviation security organisations so greatly was how an individual with steel scissors managed to enter the airport field, reach the airplane and get into its undercarriage, without being noticed by the numerous security points in the airport?
At the same time, a commotion was caused by motorbike riders leading the UN’s Security Council to withdraw after these motorbikes aggressively pursued UNIFIL troops, who were guarding the Israeli-Lebanese border. According to Israel, these Hezbollah-affiliated Bikers were trying to deter the international troops from villages, which Hezbollah has transformed into places for military armament.
Here a reduction in the activities of the international troops is not possible, and can only happen in one case; that is the preparation for a new war. At the same time, Israel took advantage of the UNIFIL crisis, disclosing some of its information and maps and accusing Hezbollah of transforming 160 villages in Southern Lebanon into weapon warehouses and centres for military leadership. As a matter of warning or intimidation, the Israelis said they intend to destroy these villages if there is an outbreak of war. This all is happening amid rumours, circulated over the past two months, about the International Criminal Court preparing to charge Hezbollah with the assassination of Lebanese President Rafik al-Hariri, and not Syria or al-Qaeda.
Four years have elapsed since this full-scale war, and it will very likely to be followed by another one. I’m not saying this citing a piece of information, but due to the increasing armament and the rising political tension in the region. War will not be prevented this year or the year after unless a political development occurs at the negotiation table with regards to the comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace process, or if a military development emerges in a distant front, thus neutralizing the existing forces on Lebanese soil.
We all know that Hezbollah considers itself victorious in the past war, indicating that it has doubled the number of its missiles and fighters, and that today it is stronger than ever before. On the other hand, Israel says that it won the war, the evidence being that the past four years have been the calmest in the history of its clashes with Lebanon.
However, although the two sides differ in their evaluation of the previous battle, they agree that the upcoming war, if it erupted, would be greater. Hezbollah says that it possesses improved capabilities, and it will be able to achieve a greater victory within Israel, whereas the Israelis say they prepared today for war more than ever before, and this time they intend to destroy hundreds of southern villages in a fashion similar to what they did to the southern outskirts of Beirut in the previous war.
Far from the yells of threats or boasting of war preparations, it is the Lebanese political leadership’s duty not to allow this negative development towards fighting. Practically speaking, the UNIFIL troops are in the interest of Lebanon rather than Israel. Its presence, activity and testimony protect Lebanon, because it is the only international decisive authority and barrier between war and peace. Let’s all recall that the 1967 disaster in Egypt was initiated by a reckless decision by late President Jamal Abdul-Nasser, when he requested that the UN withdraw the Yugoslavian forces and the rest of its international troops from its border with Gaza and Sharm el-Sheikh, thus paving the way for Israel’s crushing aggression less than three weeks later.
On the ground, the causes for fighting are numerous; the first one is the rising regional tension. The second is the increasing armament and Israel explicitly says that it will start the war to prevent Hezbollah from its increasing offensive potentials. Here lies the role of the Lebanese political leadership, which acted well when increasing the numbers of its troops at the border, and hastened to reassure UNIFIL.