Lebanese government prepares itself for possible war

While threat of conflict looms, there is a general consensus that war would not be in Lebanon's best interests

Israel shells Lebanon after Hezbollah attack

Israel shells Lebanon after Hezbollah attack
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As the Shiite militia Hezbollah and its Palestinian allies trade deadly attacks with the Israeli military in the southern part of the country, the Lebanese government has been relatively silent.

Little has been heard from the government in Beirut since the exchange of fire began a day after the start of the latest Israel-Gaza war that risks dragging in Lebanon.

Only on Thursday did the cabinet meet to discuss the escalation, amid concerns that the skirmishes might lead to the war's spillover into a country already grappling with one of the worst financial collapses in modern history.

“The Council of Ministers strongly condemns the criminal acts committed by the Zionist enemy in Gaza and we affirm solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle,” caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said after the meeting.

He said that what happened on the Lebanese-Israeli border was “of deep concern” and blamed Israel's “provocations” and “violations” for the situation.

At the meeting, officials underscored that Lebanon was not in a situation to accommodate a war.

“A war would be disastrous for Lebanon. Lebanon is on a fine line where it could fall apart completely,” caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam told The National.

“We cannot afford a conflict; we are already extremely vulnerable.”

He added that he had developed several immediate steps to address potential food security issues and ordered a report to be prepared, as Lebanon lacks national grain reserves.

“We plan for the worst while hoping for the best,” he said.

Health Minister Firass Abiad said the government had raised the readiness of Lebanon's healthcare faculties in case a full-scale conflict broke out.

“Everyone wants peace,” an observer of the meeting told The National, and added that the suffering of the Palestinian people had been specifically highlighted.

International concern about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is mounting after five days of heavy Israeli bombardment in retaliation for an attack by Gaza-based Hamas militants on Saturday that killed more than 1,300 in Israel.

The cabinet meeting was also attended by the commanders of Lebanon's various security branches, including army chief Gen Joseph Aoun.

Lebanese authorities 'comatose'

Although Hezbollah is a militia as well as a political party with a presence in parliament, it operates independently of the state and is believed to be stronger than the army.

In contrast to the government, Hezbollah has published frequent press releases about its military actions and political positions. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, publicly praised the attack by Hamas.

“This triumphant operation is a decisive response to the continuing crimes of the occupation and continuous violations against sanctities, honours and dignities,” he said.

Further complicating the issue is Lebanon’s deeply fractured political scene. Although none of Hezbollah’s most strident critics sit in the cabinet, the ministers come from an array of political parties besides Hezbollah and its allies.

It is understood that, while views expressed in the cabinet meeting differed at times, the general consensus was that Lebanon was deeply sympathetic towards the plight of the Palestinian people, but a war in Lebanon was not in the country's best interests.

Karim Bitar, professor of International Relations at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, said that the Lebanese government had “zero control” over the situation – whether that be over the actions of Hezbollah or the situation in southern Lebanon.

“The Lebanese authorities seem completely absent, completely impotent. They are in a state of total paralysis. To put it shortly, they seem to be comatose,” he said.

He added that this was worsened by the fact that “the Lebanese people are polarised and at the same particularly anxious because it will be devastating for Lebanon if there is a second front opened and an all-out conflict in the region”.

Most in Lebanon are talking of the last time that Israel and Hezbollah engaged in all-out conflict: a brutal month-long war in 2006. The country remains on a knife edge amid fears something similar could happen.

But, for now, the situation along the Lebanese-Israel border is “stable but volatile”, according to Maj Gen Arnold Lazaro, commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.

The exchanges of fire had “fortunately not escalated into conflict”, he said on Thursday.

“We have increased patrols and other activities to maintain stability, co-ordinating this work with the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

Updated: October 13, 2023, 9:33 AM