The ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon is inextricably linked to the broader Israel-Palestine conflict. On Sunday, Israel declared its northern border with Lebanon a closed military zone and warned civilians not to come within four kilometres of it, lest they be fired upon. This measure was taken after deadly clashes with Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, leading to fears of another front opening up in the ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The military group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which they say came in response to Israel’s strikes into Lebanon that claimed the lives of two civilians and a Reuters cameraman who was filming near the border.
With one Israeli civilian injured and three killed in Hezbollah’s tit-for-tat retaliation, the IDF responded with artillery fire. If the Lebanese party opens up another front, not only could it result in a semi-regional war, but Israel will find itself in muddy waters. The quality of weapons possessed by the Hezbollah is far superior to that of the Hamas, with the former stockpiling tens of thousands of rockets.
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Lebanon’s Role in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Lebanon plays a unique role in the Israel-Palestine conflict due to its shared borders with Israel and its relationship with Palestinian refugee populations. Over the years, Lebanon has hosted a significant number of Palestinian refugees, adding a layer of complexity to the regional dynamics. Although the conflict is also rooted in historical disputes over territory, notably the Shebaa Farms and border demarcation issues, it cannot be isolated from the broader regional context, including the Israel-Palestine conflict and the influence of external actors.
The Shebaa Farms, a small territory on the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, has been a recurring flashpoint in the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Israel claims it as part of the Golan Heights, while Lebanon insists it belongs to them. This territorial dispute continues to fuel tensions.
Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group based in Lebanon, is a significant player in both conflicts. While primarily focused on its struggle with Israel, Hezbollah’s actions and rhetoric are closely linked to the plight of Palestinians. Israel has actively struck the airports in Aleppo and Damascus in Syria to prevent Iran from entering the conflict; although Tehran has not explicitly threatened to join the war, it has claimed that there might be serious consequences if Israel does not stop its attacks on Gaza. Hence, Hezbollah’s backing by Iran further deepens the interconnectedness of the two conflicts.
Escalations in 2021
The year 2021 witnessed a significant escalation in hostilities between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. This escalation had a spillover effect into Lebanon, where tensions flared along the Israel-Lebanon border. Hezbollah, in solidarity with Palestinians, launched rocket attacks on Israeli territory.
Israel’s security concerns are closely tied to Hezbollah’s presence in southern Lebanon and its arsenal of rockets. Frequent cross-border incidents have the potential to escalate into full-blown conflicts, threatening the stability of the entire region. Earlier this week, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iranian Foreign Minister warned that Hezbollah has scenarios in place if Israel continues to advance with its strikes on Gaza.
To further the matter, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) procured verified footage that indicated multiple uses of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two locations along the Israel-Lebanon border. A chemical capable of burning deep tissue and human skin, white phosphorus’ use has been banned in civilian populations by Protocol III of the Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Certain Conventional Weapons in the United Nations. Since Israel did not sign the convention and is not bound by it, it continues to use this incendiary weapon in its efforts to stunt the other side.
International Mediation Efforts
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has maintained a presence in southern Lebanon for years to prevent escalations and mediate between Israel and Lebanon. However, a comprehensive resolution remains elusive, and UNIFIL’s effectiveness is debated. Indian security personnel in the UN Peacekeeping Force have also been deployed at the border as tensions escalate.
The Israel-Lebanon conflict is deeply intertwined with the broader Israel-Palestine conflict, creating a complex web of regional challenges. Achieving peace in one arena would have significant implications for the other, making a comprehensive solution all the more critical. The path to resolution requires careful consideration of historical grievances, territorial disputes, and the influence of non-state actors in both conflicts. The international community must redouble its efforts to foster dialogue and lasting peace, with the well-being and aspirations of all parties in mind. Ultimately, peace in these regions would not only benefit the directly involved parties but also contribute to stability in the wider Middle East.