July 01, 2024

Securing Lebanon to Prevent a Larger Hezbollah-Israel War and Wider Escalation

Published jointly by the American Task Force on Lebanon and the Middle East Institute

Published jointly by the American Task Force on Lebanon and the Middle East Institute

As tensions between Israel and Hezbollah escalate, the specter of a full-scale war, with the potential to draw in the United States and Iran, demands the US’ immediate attention. The Biden-Harris Administration has tasked, in response, White House Senior Advisor Amos Hochstein with the responsibility of mediating efforts to de-escalate the conflict and bring stability to the Lebanon-Israel border.

As the US tries to avoid Lebanon becoming a theater of regional war, it is difficult to envisage a durable solution to the crisis without tackling both Lebanon’s governance vacuum and Iran’s entrenched influence. On the one hand, the evolution of Iran-backed Hezbollah into the country’s main powerbroker means that the decision to go to war does not rest with the government and calls for addressing more effectively Iran’s destabilizing role within Lebanon and in the region. On the other hand, Lebanon’s descent into a quasi-failed state following a financial collapse engineered by its governing elites who chronically mismanaged the country’s public finances reinforces the need to prioritize improved governance and accountability. The prospect of a major military operation in Lebanon has become even more real with Israel’s determination to drive Hezbollah away from the border, in response to Hezbollah’s unfettered military activities in the border demarcation zone.1 Accordingly, a determined approach to dissuading parties from provocation together with a more comprehensive roadmap for lasting stability is essential to warding off a potentially catastrophic Hezbollah-Israel war and ensuring the survivability and recovery of the Lebanese state.

Prioritizing diplomacy to avert a full-scale war therefore offers an opportunity for the US and friends of Lebanon to confront these pressing issues, including the country’s erosion of sovereignty, its corrupt system of governance, and the collapse of its formal economy. This policy brief proposes a framework for robust diplomacy that would steer Lebanon away from the precipice of war and help establish a direct and sustainable path to stability and revival. This framework revolves around key elements, including stabilizing the Lebanon-Israel land border, addressing Lebanon’s leadership vacuum, revitalizing its economy, and enhancing its sovereignty.

Key Policy Recommendations:

  • Improve US coordination with France and other regional partners in diplomatic efforts to prevent a full-scale Hezbollah-Israel war through the application of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (UNSCR 1701) and the demarcation of the land border between Lebanon and Israel.
  • Prioritize engaging the Quintet — of which the United States is a member, along with Egypt, France, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia — in facilitating the election of a competent, reform-oriented president and the formation of a capable and technocratic government in Lebanon committed to UNSCR 1701.
  • Increase support and training to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to ensure the successful deployment of up to 15,000 troops south of the Litani River, and commit to adequately resourcing the LAF in the south, post-conflict.
  • Combine any diplomatic efforts to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions with efforts to curb the influence of proxies, with a special focus on Hezbollah given its central role within the “Axis of Resistance.”
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