by Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen
Hezbollah and the Lebanese army have a strategic relationship and it is impossible to rule out the possibility that, in the next war between the IDF and Hezbollah, Lebanon's military will side with the terrorist group.
The Lebanese government's responsibility for Hezbollah's offensive activities on its soil against Israel is a central and unavoidable issue, which was at the heart of a dispute between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Seeing Beirut as responsible for Hezbollah's offensive actions from Lebanese territory, Halutz demanded that the IDF be allowed to target strategic assets in Lebanon, but Olmert prevented him from doing so, in part, over pressure exerted on Israel by the European Union.
The war ended with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which expressed an expectation that the Lebanese government would regain sovereignty over its side of the border with Israel. To facilitate that, the resolution imposed restrictions on Hezbollah activity in southern Lebanon, and the Lebanese army was to redeploy in the region.
But this was only partially realized. Since 2016, not only has Hezbollah's gain political power in Lebanon, the Lebanese army has largely become part of the Shiite terrorist group's efforts to bolster its presence on the ground, including near the border with Israel.
Hezbollah, it seems, used the very restrictions imposed on it in Resolution 1701 to develop more sophisticated collaboration mechanisms with the Lebanese army.
The legitimacy of working with the Lebanese Armed Forces affords Hezbollah advantages that allow for its interests to be represented in the international arena, as is the case in the monthly meetings between Lebanese, Israeli and UNIFIL officials.
This means a new reality has developed in the sphere between the Lebanese state and Hezbollah, where the two's useful symbiosis and strategic division of labor manifests, as illustrated in the fact that Lebanese forces fought shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah operatives against Islamic State terrorists on the Lebanon-Syria border.
Under these circumstances, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that, in the next war between the IDF and Hezbollah, the Lebanese army may actively assist the Shiite terrorist group. This is doubly concerning given that in recent years, the Lebanese army has received American support, including training and weapons.
Lebanon, as a hybrid state, has maximized the inherent advantages of being able to conduct itself between two opposing poles: It maintains close ties with the West, mainly with France and the United States, with respect to military and economic cooperation in the search for political stability, while also maintaining close ties with Iran and Syria – through Hezbollah – despite their nefarious attempts to destabilize the region.
To a great extent, this is where the secret to Lebanon's success in preserving its existence as an island of stability in the turbulent Middle East lies. This pattern of behavior has also allowed Lebanon to avoid being identified as a willing accomplice to Hezbollah, something that would result in its international isolation.
Given Hezbollah's growing strength and its aggressive deployment against Israel in Lebanon, Jerusalem must devise a new approach to Beirut.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to declare that Lebanon shoulders responsibility for Hezbollah's attempts to breach Israeli sovereignty, but it is not enough. The Israeli government must embark on a diplomatic effort to clarify what is at stake for Lebanon if it sides with Hezbollah in its next war with Israel.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
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