For much of the last several decades, Lebanon has been wracked by instability and tangled up in the affairs of larger or more powerful neighbours. Its confessional political system, based on power sharing among its eighteen officially recognised ethno-religious groups, is arguably both the cause and the effect of recurrent strife, notably the 1975-1990 civil war. Today the elites who run the system are also implicated in ever-deepening state dysfunction and economic recession. Meanwhile, Lebanon is at risk of spillover from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian war and regional turmoil, due partly to the rise of Hizbollah, the Shiite Islamist movement opposed to Israel and allied with Iran and the Syrian regime, as a political force. The country hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees as well as nearly 1.5 million Syrians. Pending changes that would allow resolution of the outside conflicts, Crisis Group works to keep Lebanon insulated from their flare-ups, to seek durable solutions for refugees and to encourage structural reform that might alleviate the country's internal problems.
Thus far, Hizbollah and Israel have avoided a disastrous escalation on the Israeli-Lebanese border as the Gaza war rages. But trouble lies ahead. Western-led mediation remains the best way to restore security to the frontier.
Cross-border hostilities between Hizbollah and Israel continued at high intensity as Israel stepped up pressure to secure Hizbollah’s withdrawal, highlighting risk of expanded regional conflict.
Amid deadly clashes, Israel warned of war. Lebanon continued to face spectre of all-out war as Israel’s campaign in Gaza continued (see Israel-Palestine). In notable escalation, Israeli strike 2 Jan killed senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri and six companions in Hizbollah-controlled area of southern Beirut; in retaliation, Hizbollah 6 Jan attacked Israel’s Meron air control base some 5km from border. Israel 8 Jan killed Hizbollah commander Wissam al-Tawil 10km from border, marking most senior party figure to be killed since 7 Oct; Hizbollah next day claimed to strike Israel’s northern command HQ in Safed city. Anti-tank missile from Lebanon 14 Jan killed two Israel civilians who refused to evacuate border community of Yuval. Hizbollah 23 Jan again struck Mount Meron base. Israeli strikes brought number of displaced residents to at least 82,000, many of whom crowded into nearby urban centres such as Tyre. Meanwhile, Israeli govt continued to face pressure to confront Hizbollah’s presence south of Lebanon’s Litani River, which violates UN Security Council Resolution 1701. As Israel continued to threaten war on northern front, U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein 11 Jan met Lebanese leaders in Beirut to discuss diplomatic options for calming border tensions that could both allay Israel’s security concerns and prove acceptable to Hizbollah. Without immediate diplomatic off-ramp, however, risk of all-out conflict between pair remains pertinent as Israel has signalled willingness to escalate militarily against Hizbollah unless diplomacy succeeds soon. Adding to pressure, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant 29 Jan warned Israeli forces will “very soon go into action” on northern front. Presidential vacuum persisted. Country’s presidential vacuum entered its fourteenth consecutive month in Jan with little prospect of breakthrough. Parliament 26 Jan approved budget within constitutional deadline for first time in twenty years but faced widespread criticism over its content. Unidentified hackers 7 Jan launched cyberattack at Beirut airport; Public Works Minister 12 Jan bemoaned 2024 budget’s paltry allocation to airport’s cybersecurity.
Israel and Hezbollah have pursued a new dynamic of tit-for-tat retaliation – launching strikes against each other below the threshold of triggering an all-out war.
This year's [UNIFIL] mandate renewal discussion comes at an especially tense moment for the peacekeeping force [in Lebanon].
Nothing happens in southern Lebanon without Hezbollah’s knowledge.
Israel and one of its neighbors [Lebanon] - a neighbor that doesn't officially recognize Israel - have come to a constructive solution for a conflict. And that's histor...
Thus far, October’s exchanges of fire between Hizbollah and Israel have stayed within the sides’ red lines. Still, with an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza looming, risks are tremendous. A Gaza ceasefire, while improbable, is the only way to rule out a broader war.
In this video, David Wood discusses the presidential vacuum in Lebanon and how it's affecting the country's ability to deal with its other compounding crises.
With tensions rising along the Israeli-Lebanese border, the UN peacekeeping force stationed in the area has arguably never been more important. With the mandate up for renewal, the UN Security Council and troop-contributing countries should reassert their backing for the mission in the strongest terms.
In this video, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Lebanon, David Wood, warns that tensions between Hizbollah and Israel risk ending the relative calm of the past seventeen years.
The CrisisWatch Digest Lebanon offers a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments.
The erosion of Lebanese political institutions, which has already disabled the presidency and the cabinet, now threatens hundreds of municipalities. Amid its crippling economic crisis, Lebanon can ill afford to lose one of the last vestiges of state functionality.
Barring an eleventh-hour compromise, Lebanon will soon be without a president. An extended vacancy could stall action needed to ease the country’s economic crisis, risking unrest. With outside help, politicians should strive to avert this outcome – and to find ameliorative measures for the interim.
Domestic politics in Israel and Lebanon could scuttle talks about their claims in the Mediterranean – and to the gas riches underneath. With the U.S. mediator’s help, the two countries should refocus on achieving an accord that serves their mutual interest and spares them a confrontation.
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