Media in the US and Israel is awash with stories about a possible war with Hezbollah. Yet talk of war is more about an American dream in the newsroom, rather than a precursor to an actual war.
Do you ever wonder whether western media might have an unhealthy vested interest in war, in the same way that many believe the arms industry does? It’s often occurred to me in Beirut where I read almost on a daily basis from experts around the world – many who have never even visited the region, even on holiday – that Israel is about to start a war with Lebanon.
Where does this uncorroborated narrative come from? Who is driving it?
This assertion, arguably, comes from an echo chamber which I would say is led by the New York Times which can’t refrain from using the word ‘war’ in any headline it writes about Lebanon, including even Prime Minister Hariri’s house arrest in Saud Arabia in December of last year. Or when 50 Palestinian demonstrators faced tear gas in front of the US embassy in Lebanon.
But the same echo chamber continues to generate the same storyline from scholars and armchair experts all around the world, especially in the US, where there is a strong contingent of academics and journalists who follow the Israeli storyline, without bothering to check any of the facts.
In recent months, the Israeli press has been constantly pushing a line that a war with Lebanon is inevitable. Invariably the sources are the defense minister or senior IDF figures who, constantly talk of the impending war – how it will be for Beirut residents, who, last time round in 2006 went to the beach, as just one example.
Yet the list of points which are employed to back up this ‘inevitable’ war are erroneous at best and disingenuous at worst. Yet it’s this disinformation which features in western news pieces from correspondents here – who are reporting on the reported – and then which makes it into the desk of lazy, Israeli apologists who are only too eager to write their analysis pieces in the US.
Do western media outlets actually benefit from wars – especially ones they have been ‘predicting’ for months? You betcha.
Does Israel use the phalanx of its American academics to push the agenda and deliver relevant messages to both Lebanon, Hezbollah and the US? Yep.
Is it possible that the entire storyline is entirely false but the echo chamber has now got out of control and now the media is reporting on its own hyped stories from before? Almost certainly.
Here are a few of the main reasons war between Israel and Hezbollah is by no means “inevitable” at the moment.
Russia. Probably top of the long list of reasons is that Russia wouldn’t allow Israel to go to war with Hezbollah and Lebanon, because it would put Putin in a difficult spot in the region and disrupt energy deals already signed there.
You don’t invest in oil and gas for decades to allow Israel to blow all that up in an afternoon. Putin calling Netanyahu recently over the Israeli jet being shot down – and subsequently putting a halt to a new ‘war’ with Syria – showed a lot. If Putin could put a halt on Israel hitting Syria because of the implications for the region, then most certainly he will not allow it to attack Lebanon.
The Saudis. And it’s not only Putin. The international community would likely block it, following Hariri’s extraordinary stand against an economic embargo threat, which failed from Saudi Arabia in December that showed that the EU and France at least didn’t want a war in Lebanon due to the likely flow of refugees that would hit Europe.
Saudi Arabia is taking a new tact with Lebanon and Hariri and even Riyadh’s new mantra with Russia and China – as it modernises its own economy – would be at odds with letting Israel destroy Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s power. This is a subject often quoted in the ‘inevitable war’ argument from armchair experts as it resonates with many IDF woes. But the argument – that Hezbollah is just too strong and gained invaluable battle experience from Syria – is the same one which ensures that Israel won’t send its troops to Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s money. Repeatedly, there is a completely unsupported assertion from those same journalists and writers that Hezbollah is broke and that Iran is no longer sending it money. But where’s the proof?
Since the start of the 2011 war in Syria, Iran scaled back what it sent, certainly, but Hezbollah is far from broke and few western analysts like to admit that there are recent reports that Iran is going to give more than the regular 800 million per year it currently gives.
The US recently tightened its banking laws in a bid to flush out Hezbollah cash in Lebanon, which failed – and only improved Lebanon’s banking procedures in turn ensuring that it now meets international standards better than before.
Hezbollah lost political support. Not even remotely true. This assertion fits nicely into Israel’s mindset but it’s nothing more than fantasy. It gives a glimpse of how Israel sees itself one day invading Lebanon: when Hezbollah no longer has the support, even from other groups in Lebanon, and there is chaos in the country. But the Hariri fiasco in December, which drew all of Lebanon’s leaders together proved that the Lebanese know that if they are not united on keeping a functioning state and Hezbollah as its unofficial proxy army, then Israel would see it as an opportunity to invade.
In fact, Hezbollah has gained political support both in Lebanon and also internationally in recent months. Rex Tillerson’s recent comment about it being part of the political process hinted that Hezbollah today is not the same party or movement of 2006 and it has to be acknowledged.
Militarily it’s simply not viable. Israel would have to take control of the whole country if it were to hit Hezbollah and the kind of sophisticated armory that the Lebanese group has now – Iranian Fajr III rockets which are very precise and pointed at Tel Aviv – makes this something that Israel cannot risk.
Militarily again, Hezbollah has something that is unbeatable and which Israel can only dream of on the battlefield. Probably up to 20,000 soldiers (including reservists) whose dream it is to die fighting. This ideological edge makes a huge difference which gives IDF commanders sleepless nights.
Lebanon’s army. Hardly the same caliber as that of Hezbollah’s, but unlike in 2006, the regular army would be used in full battle to fight Israel, supporting Hezbollah with its tank divisions, as President Michel Aoun has affirmed. The same Lebanese army which is supplied with the latest kit by the Americans, which would be a tad embarrassing for Trump if it came to it.
Trumpty Dumpty. Which brings us nicely to the gorilla in the room. When it comes to the final call, Trump would probably block it as he has proven to be very weak in the region when it comes to being part of new regional conflicts in any shape or form. He was very reluctant to even fire off the salvo of tomahawks at the Syrian air force base.
Trump’s advisers will tell him that Israel will start a world war in the region and there is no way the US/Israel can win it. He won’t want that to be part of his legacy. It’s one of the reasons why the US gives so much to the Lebanese army in my opinion, so it can find the perfect excuse when the day comes to say “well, we can’t support a war between Israel and Lebanon as we give the Lebanese army so much military aid…this would be crazy”.
It’s also at odds with Trump’s Iran strategy which is all about bite-size destabilization and not excessive force. It’s ‘slap-n-scarper’ rather than ‘hit and stick around to get hit back’ policy.
Post-fact Israel. If the Israeli elite were honest with itself, it would admit that there is no immediate threat from Hezbollah, as the latter is sitting so confidently in the region now.
Hezbollah is not interested in firing rockets into Israel nor capturing any ground. Yes, it might be building new generations of rockets in Lebanon, but only because Israel keeps destroying the original factories in Syria.
Israel’s policy is deceitful as the constant war-mongering leaves out a lot of relevant detail. Reports in the US press fool the Israeli public into believing that what they’re reading is the truth. If international media report on the ‘inevitable’ war, then Israel’s government has the green light to go ahead with military activities which distract the public further from, say, corruption charges against the Prime Minster. Of course, this is a dangerous policy in itself as it can spurn the leadership to go ahead with an attack, through fear of looking weak from a crisis which it has entirely manufactured itself.
Israel has considerable influence in Western media and the Foreign Affairs article, which bases its claims – point by point – on false assertions crafted by the Israeli press, is part of that influence.
Its policy is to convince the American public that Washington needs to put its entire military capability behind an attack on Hezbollah and create a certain fear within Lebanon and use that as to its own means, but that’s not even slightly working. On either count. The only ‘inevitable’ thing in the whole fable is that Israel will not attack Hezbollah in Lebanon. I’d put money on it. Martin Jay for TRT World Opinion