Outside of Israel itself, perhaps no other country has more closely watched the war in Gaza than Lebanon. As Israel’s northern neighbor and home to an Islamist militant group aligned with Hamas, the country fears it might become a second, full-scale front. Yet as the fighting in Gaza enters its fifth week, that has not happened. One reason may be Lebanese youth.
Since mass protests in 2019 that demanded transparent, secular rule, and then happened again in elections last year, young Lebanese have challenged the political legitimacy and dominance of Hezbollah. That pro-Iran militant group rules the mainly Shiite south and has 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel. In the 2022 elections, Hezbollah and its political allies lost their majority in Parliament.
“There is pressure from Hezbollah’s Lebanese allies, friends and constituents, to step aside and spare Lebanon destruction that would have a long-term impact on the population,” Mohanad Hage Ali, a senior fellow at Carnegie Middle East Center, told Arab News.
Only half of Lebanon’s Shiites are in favor of Hezbollah opening a second front with Israel, according to an Oct. 17 poll done for the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar. Among other major religious groups (Sunni, Christian, and Druze), support is much less.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah may have gotten the message. In his first speech since the attack on Israel by Hamas, he indicated Friday that there will be no major attack on Israel other than recent strikes against Israeli military positions close to the border.
“The last thing [the Lebanese] need is to be dragged into a war on top of their other woes,” wrote Neville Teller, Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review, in The Jerusalem Post. “If Nasrallah tried to involve them, he might find himself facing a popular revolt.” Lebanon has an impoverished economy and a government that has been in a political stalemate for more than a year.
In addition to domestic pressure, Hezbollah may have also calculated that Israel and the United States stand ready to hit the group hard if it launches missiles at Israeli civilians. Iran also may be willing to retain Hezbollah as a proxy weapon against Israel to safeguard its nuclear weapons program.
On Oct. 10, President Joe Biden warned outside actors – meaning Iran and Hezbollah – against taking advantage of the Gaza crisis: “I have one word: Don’t.”
“That was music to my ears,” one Lebanese in Beirut, Ruth Boulos, told Politico. “Let’s hope Hezbollah listens,” she added.