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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Lebanon's inevitable war?

The Nabatieh Massacre in south Lebanon threatens to bring Lebanon into a war with Israel.

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The city of Nabatieh, Lebanon is pictured in 2006.

As jets burst across the sky, a residential building in Nabatieh, Lebanon was crushed, destroying the life of a family inside — history repeats itself. On Feb. 14, Israel carried out a drone strike operation in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh, a densely populated area with a population of 120,000. The strike was successful in targeting three Hezbollah members including a commander, Ali al-Debs. Among those killed were at least seven members of a Lebanese family, leaving their three-year-old child, who was rescued from the rubble, as the sole survivor. With continual rocket exchanges across the border, this massacre of a Lebanese family stands out as the deadliest incident since Oct. 8 in Lebanon. In launching this strike, Israel has broken a considerable rule of the game. Will this push Israel and Lebanon into total war? To understand this incident, the “rules of the game” must be established, and the Nabatieh massacre must be evaluated within this context.

The “rules of the game” is a term used to describe the guidelines for conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli military. When Hezbollah began its resistance operations in the early 1980s, the rules differed dramatically. Hezbollah aimed its militant operations at Israeli targets within the occupation area of southern Lebanon, which extended from the northern border of Israel to the Litani River in Lebanon. Israel has long held ambitions to expand its territory to the Litani River, a sentiment expressed since 1956 that continues to strike fear among people from southern Lebanon. This ever-present threat of occupation is Hezbollah’s raison d’être and has justified Hezbollah’s operations to its supporters even after Israel’s withdrawal in 2000. After the withdrawal, Hezbollah still continued operations against Israel, which included actions leading across the border into Israel proper. Yet, Hezbollah has not crossed into Israel since an action in northern Israel in 2006 led to the Lebanon War of that year; thus, each party involved is now limited to rocket attacks at military positions across the border.

Recently, in the wake of the siege on Gaza, both Hezbollah and Israel have been pushing the “rules of the game.” Israel, in particular, breached guidelines by attacking beyond the Litani River. Airstrikes presumed to be Israeli have struck Beirut, Jadra, which is a town in the Chouf region, and now several southern targets, including Nabatieh. While the strike on Nabatieh follows an attack on a military base in Safed, Hezbollah is yet to claim this attack as their own — a move uncharacteristic of the organization. These strikes alone breach the “rules of the game,” as Israel expands their targeting as far north as Beirut. However, the civilians killed by Israel's attacks symbolize a significant escalation regarding the Nabatieh Massacre, especially because the event decimated an entire family.

Whether Israel’s killing of civilians was careless or intentional is unclear, but the impact remains the same. Nabatieh is a significant Hezbollah stronghold; their military is there, their supporters are there, and if Hezbollah does not respond proportionally, their support in the region will weaken. If there is one thing Hezbollah cannot be considered, it is meek; without mounting their military operations, they will lose their raison d’être and legitimacy. Thus, this attack on Lebanese civilians could lead to Israeli civilians being targeted as a result, or it could lead to attacks on military bases deeper within Israeli territory. Either way, Hezbollah will likely respond by pushing the “rules of the game” — closing the gap to war.

What is clear is that the government of Lebanon, along with the majority of Lebanese people, are unwilling to go to war. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged all parties to de-escalate the violence and end the bloodshed while strongly condemning the “Israeli enemy.” It seems, however, that the ball is now in Hezbollah’s court on whether they decide to push the rules further and escalate the conflict or threaten their legitimacy among their supporter base. In my opinion, Hezbollah would never do the latter; thus, we move closer and closer to war.