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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Understanding the geopolitics of the 2023 Levant

Continued Israeli bombardment of Gaza will reshape the geopolitical interplay of the Levant, particularly Lebanon’s relationship with Israel and Iran’s proxies.

Israel-lebanon-border.jpeg

The border between Israel and Lebanon is pictured.

The events that began on Oct. 7 will reverberate through Middle Eastern history. For most of us, the Middle East has already looked like hellfire for the past decades. But the most despicable thing one could do is let this moment become lost in a larger history of brutality that ties together every tragedy of the Middle East into one nebulous, and seemingly unsolvable, geopolitical disaster. What this world cannot afford, at this moment, is to underestimate the gravity of Oct. 7. To understand the full extent of this conflict, it’s important to parse out critical elements of the 2023 Levant.

Hamas

Hamas is not a legitimate state actor. When Hamas members crossed the Gaza-Israel border on Oct. 7, they were not acting with the same resources as Israel or other legitimate state actors, who are held to the same standards as the other players of the geopolitical chessboard. This is key: To position Hamas or similar groups as representatives of state sovereignty is to falsely assume that Hamas and Israel are on an equal footing.

Hamas came to power democratically in 2006 — the last time there was a democratically-held legislative election in Gaza. Today, Hamas bears only the silhouette of its once hodge-podge, decentralized structure. It has since coalesced to some capacity as a de facto ruling power in Gaza. Israel has been operating as a unified actor for decades, with standard operating procedures and bureaucracy that is less prone to making strategic errors because it has the rational capacity to make methodical decisions. Hamas doesn’t, nor does it have the same resources as Israel, which receives billions from major Western allies and whose actions are often afforded international legitimacy. Instead, it operates upon a bureaucracy and social welfare system with limited capacity and resources to address the immediate material insecurity of a disillusioned public.

Iran

Iran tries to play the role of puppet master in the region. Iran funds both Hamas and Hezbollah, the two state actors that sit against Israel’s southern and northern borders. On Oct 17, Iran threatened military action if Israel initiated a ground invasion against Iran’s militant proxy, known as the “axis of resistance.” Days later, Israel released footage showing troops and tanks running down the beaches of northern Gaza. U.S. President Joe Biden or U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak might prefer to sit on their hands in this potentially sticky international conflict. But the reality is that the moment an actor with enough uranium to produce nuclear weapons declares war on Israel, the West will have no other choice but to defend its Western bastion in the Middle East.

The axis of resistance is not hesitant to go to war. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah broke his silence by nearly declaring that a regional war was a realistic possibility.

Lebanon

The Oct. 7 insurgency seems to have sparked something in Lebanon. To say that the triangular conflict between Palestinians, Israelis and Hezbollah has left an indelible mark on the Lebanese psyche would be an understatement. To sum up a nebulous history, the Lebanese civil war, beginning in 1975, left behind a trail of destruction both at the hands of Palestinian Liberation fighters and Israeli soldiers. It also galvanizes a divide in the country between Lebanese Christians and Muslims. The Christians, who fought alongside Israel against Palestinian refugees, might at least denounce Hamas’ violence, while Lebanese Muslims — particularly Shiites — stand strongly with Palestine. But the wake-up call to Palestinian genocide has shrunk the divide in the country. Now, according to recent polling, the vast majority of Lebanese stand robustly with Palestinians.

Additionally, much of this change in sentiment will likely change how the Lebanese government will begin to look at Hezbollah. Since skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah began a day after the attack, Hezbollah has been doing the Lebanese government’s dirty work. While Hezbollah fighters continue to target key Israeli electrical and surveillance infrastructure, they are also preventing Lebanon from Israeli destruction.

The Lebanese are mortally scared of Israeli bombing. Following the events of 1975 and Israeli attacks in Lebanon in 2006, the country is petrified of having to pick up the pieces of their broken landscape for the third time. Trauma is propelling Lebanon to do all it can to prevent Israel from attacking a people already facing immense insecurity. Hezbollah’s role has been crucial in this. The Lebanese memory will not forget past attacks, and it will likely change how the country views its militant faction in the south. Former Druze leader Walid Jounblatt has even said that he would stand with Hezbollah were a new conflict between Israel and Lebanon to begin. The implications are great: Lebanon is united now more than ever against Israel, and perhaps Hezbollah’s role will change from that of a belligerent actor to that of a national protector.