Following the parliamentary election in May 2018 and after 9 months of negotiations, designated Prime Minister Saad Hariri was able to form a government in Lebanon. Although it appears to be a national unity government, bringing together almost all political factions in the country, the formation process received a lot of criticism, as it was considered a break from custom and was eventually perceived as Hezbollah's government in many Western circles.
The discovery and targeting of four Hezbollah tunnels that crossed from southern Lebanon into northern Israel by the IDF has brought back the attention to the sensitive situation in the Levantine nation. Since 2006, following the brief war between Israel and Hezbollah, the area has experienced a condition of delicate peace. While the southern portion of the country has been able to reconstruct and has lived in relative tranquility, the threat of a new war has never completely vanished.
Foreign analysts often call it "magic". The remarkable capability of the Lebanese economic system to remain afloat despite domestic instability, regional turmoil, and deep structural imbalances astonishes journalists and investors. Sometimes they "lose faith" and predict its "inevitable" collapse. So far, however, only to be proven wrong.
Not if, but when. Since the second Lebanon war in July-August 2006, a sense of inevitability seems to apply to the Israel-Hezbollah tensions, leading pundits to forecast initiation of a third confrontation. The crystallisation of the Syrian crisis, the gradual involvement of Hezbollah on Assad’s side, as well as the growing approach to the Israeli-Syrian border of militias supported by Iran, are all elements which seem to convey the possibility that the war theatre will not be limited to the Israeli-Lebanese border, but will probably extend to Syria.
The upcoming parliamentary election in Lebanon – the first since 2009 – is unlikely to unsettle Hezbollah’s grip over its traditional constituencies. Yet, the polls will be a test for the "Party of God". This is mainly because this election comes at a moment of extreme regional uncertainty, and because of an ongoing reshuffling of the domestic balance of power that is putting traditional alliances under stress.
As Lebanon seems inexorably dragged into the regional cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran – the bizarre saga of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation being the latest illustration – it is worth looking at the current state of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and questioning its ability to prevent any type of conflict escalation. Discussions on the LAF generally oppose two competing views.
The years preceding the Arab Spring were rather calm ones for the armed forces of the Arab world: two major conventional campaigns (Iraq 2003 and Lebanon 2006) barely involved the military, and terrorism was mostly under control in Algeria and Yemen. Elsewhere all was quiet on the Arab front. The Arab Spring changed this in more ways than one: to start with, it turned the militaries of Tunisia, Syria and Egypt into political actors, and split those of Yemen and Libya in two.
Sectarian tendencies and antagonisms grew into levels unknown before in the modern Middle East. They were exacerbated by conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Lebanon, and by the social and political uprisings following the “Arab spring”.