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The Growing Fear of a Civil War Occurring within Lebanon

By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies

A few months ago, I wrote an article on the dire economic situation in Lebanon and the political standstill within this country. Things have not improved in Lebanon, a country that was once called the Switzerland of the Middle East.

In fact, Lebanon continues to experience internal turmoil. The thought on everybody’s mind is: are we on the verge of the third Lebanese civil war?

The Current Situation within Lebanon

Since 2019, there have been mass demonstrations all over Lebanon; young protestors from all religious communities are attacking the systemic failures of the Lebanese political system. These demonstrations, organized via social media and documented on YouTube, show on a weekly basis that the young generation of Lebanon wants to save the country from its failing tribal models.

The economic crisis runs so deep that it has brought the country to a state of bankruptcy. Unemployment throughout Lebanon is at an all-time high, and the local currency is worthless.

For residents, Lebanese stores are empty, gasoline is in short supply and drivers wait hours to get gasoline. There are videos circulating on YouTube that show fights between customers who want to get gasoline or buy basic food.

The long lines depicted in these videos reveal a growing desperation among Lebanon’s population and an increased realization that the government is failing. In such a dire political reality, the chances for an internal power collapse and a third civil war are real.

Hezbollah and a Possible Civil War

Earlier this month, Shiite terrorist organization and political party Hezbollah fired rockets on open fields in Israel. For the first time in years, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, acknowledged his organization was responsible for the attack.

By firing rockets toward Israel, Nasrallah sought to send a message and test the new Israeli government. At the same time, Nasrallah saw the attack as an opportunity to demonstrate that he was the only action-driven political leader in Lebanon.

However, his plan did not work well. Some videos surfaced that showed missile-laden trucks going through a Druze village in southern Lebanon. Local inhabitants attacked the trucks, fearing that the rockets would be fired from within the village boundaries, making the village a target for a counterstrike.

These videos were a source of major embarrassment for Hezbollah. They forced Nasrallah to make a long public speech explaining why this incident was a misunderstanding and that there was no intention to fire rockets from within the village. He noted that Hezbollah wanted to fire on open fields in Israel to limit the escalation of Israeli violence and the trucks had to pass through the village out of necessity.

Druze leadership then organized a video in which it stated its commitment to Hezbollah. However, the pictures and the unparalleled speech by Nasrallah make it clear to everyone that this incident was a serious crack in the ethos of Hezbollah.

The bottom line is that if the situation within Lebanon gets out of hand, Hezbollah will face major opposition from other denominations. Hezbollah might be close to destroying the political cachet that it has amassed through the years in the Arab world in general and in Lebanon specifically.

The Threat of Civil War within Lebanon

In such a dire situation, a civil war within Lebanon is a real threat. Does anyone in Lebanon want it? No. Even the young generation born after the end of Lebanon’s second civil war knows how costly that war was.

That civil war lasted for 14 years, turning cities into battlegrounds and the economy into rubble. But civil wars rarely start with a rational act; they usually explode from an unintentional act like a fight between two men from different religious groups that later erupts to citywide clashes between clans and tribes. The longer the economic crisis continues, the higher the chances that such a provocation will happen.

Is There a Political Will to Improve the Internal Situation in Lebanon?

Many pundits think that there is no political will to improve Lebanon. The political demarcation lines in Lebanon are sectarian and the allegiance to clans and tribes dominates people’s decisions. There does not seem to be anyone willing to look beyond those lines for the greater good of civil society.

Can the international community do something? The track record is not impressive.

Just this month, we saw the closing of the international Special Tribunal for Lebanon that was tasked with trying the people involved in the assassination of Rafic al-Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon. The tribunal spent dozens of millions of dollars over the years but only focused on the actual perpetrators without investigating who gave the order for al-Hariri’s assassination.

The accused, all Hezbollah operatives, were tried in absentia. This month, it was made clear that the states that financed the tribunal decided nothing is coming out of the trial. This tribunal is really a classic example of the failed attempts to change Lebanon’s reality by Western countries.

So What Is Next for Lebanon?

The one thing that can stop Lebanon’s situation from escalating is the fact no one really wants a civil war – not the forces within Lebanon that can lose everything or the regional powers like Israel, Iran, or Turkey.

The key, however, might be Russia. Putin has the ability to exert pressure on Lebanese parties, mainly Hezbollah. With his military presence in Syria, Putin can force Hezbollah to abide by international demands to abstain from taking part in the next Lebanese government, so that international aid money can be sent to help Lebanon.

Will Hezbollah refrain from exerting its will on Lebanese politics? That’s hard to say. But when it comes to the Middle East, nothing is out of the question, no matter how strange it sounds.

Dr. llan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B., an LL.M. and a Ph.D. in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of “Jewish Women’s Torah Study: Orthodox Education and Modernity,” and 18 articles in leading scholarly journals. At the university, he teaches courses on international law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions.

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