Lebanon: When everything went South

Aïda Abou Charaf
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Smoke along the hills in southern Lebanon following Israeli bombardment on December 14, 2023.
Credit: Jalaa Marey/AFP

More than 90,000 people had to run away from the daily Israeli shooting and bombing in the South of the country according to new figures that the International Organization for Migration published in a report on May 2nd.

According to some diplomatic sources, tensions along the Lebanese-Israeli border have increased significantly, and the expansion of the war now appears inevitable, particularly following the recent Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, which resulted in the loss of seven officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The Lebanese territory is gradually transforming into a war zone. South Lebanon is the most affected on a daily basis, but Israel also strikes other regions of the country.

Map showing Israeli strikes on Lebanon, March 2024.
Source: @lorienttoday

The economic impact  

The agricultural sector in South Lebanon, which represents 80% of the national GDP generated in this region, suffered significant losses. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) highlights that the fighting started during a key harvest season. The numerous exchanges of fire in South Lebanon also contributed to the increase of air pollution and to the deterioration of water and soil quality, which could cause long-term environmental repercussions. White phosphorus munitions, which international humanitarian law restricts, exacerbate these ecological concerns. Additionally, nearly 50,000 olive trees were reportedly burned by Israeli phosphorus bombs. Was there any follow-up or sanction? No. Will there be any? Doubtful.

Over the past six months, several international laws and humanitarian rules have been broken, and it is difficult to predict when or if justice will be served. South Africa accuses Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, and on March 28 the International Court of Justice issued a new ruling regarding the possibility that “famine will set in” in Gaza. In addition, Israel disregarded a resolution passed by the UN Security Council on March 25 demanding an immediate ceasefire for Ramadan, on which the US abstained. Even former President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president in November, reaffirmed the need for an early conclusion to the conflict, saying that Israel is “totally losing the communications.”

Why is Israel determined to destroy South Lebanon?

There are three main reasons why Israel seeks destruction of the region. Firstly, to secure its northern border by keeping Hezbollah away and thus, making the area uninhabitable. Second, Israel has been occupying the rich territory of Shebaa Farms in the south since 2000. They have been holding on to this piece of land since then, taking advantage of the Lebanese resources to this day. Lastly, the Israeli strikes could also herald a potential ground invasion soon. It is important to remember that the 2006 war also began with the invasion of the South.

An ambulance destroyed in a deadly Israeli strike in Hebbariyé, southern Lebanon, March 27, 2024.
Credit: AP video shot by Mohamad Zanaty

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant already set the tone. “We will intensify operations and expand the battlefield,” he threatened. “This is what I told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Special Envoy Amos Hochstein in Washington. And that’s what the Army has been tasked to do at Northern Command.” On the 5th of April, Hassan Nasrallah responded to Netanyahu by calling him a madman and questioning, “You can’t handle Gaza, yet you want to start a war with Lebanon?”

Reports indicate that the United States is dealing with Hezbollah realistically while putting pressure on the Israelis to prevent the conflict from escalating. For the Joe Biden administration, the solution in Lebanon lies in the gradual reintegration of Hezbollah into the Lebanese state, a process which, however, promises to be long. On the other hand, Israel expresses its dissatisfaction with the channels opened between Washington and Tehran, rejecting the “long-term” approach. This is why the Israelis are intensifying their action against Hezbollah in an attempt to push their agenda in the region and impose their terms. 

The huge amount of corruption in Lebanon led to its collapse. Israel should withdraw from all Lebanese territories and implement international agreements. Syrians and Palestinians should be allowed to return to their countries. Lebanese-displaced southerners should be able to return to their regions to finally rebuild Lebanon based on the unity of national institutions and transparency.

What Christians and Muslims in South Lebanon think

How can we avoid an expansion of the conflict when there is a deep disagreement within the Lebanese population itself? In 2006, Hezbollah and southern Christians agreed not to fire from the latter’s territories. At the time, the agreement worked well and Christian villages were shelters for Shiites. Today, and since the start of the war in Gaza, the deal has been broken numerous times, creating tensions between Hezbollah/the Shiite community and the Christian community. Nonetheless, Hezbollah claims to invest in the development and reconstruction of South Lebanon as soon as calm returns, with a large sum coming from Iran. Will this be enough to give people relief? To close their wounds? And what about the sovereignty of the country?

The rubble of a medical center in Hebbariyé targeted by a deadly Israeli strike, in southern Lebanon, March 27, 2024.
Credit: L’Orient Today

As one looks around the city, thoughts rise amidst the passing clouds. From the country to the sea and the bustling crowd, there’s a sense of pondering life’s dualities. Taking in the sights and sounds of Beirut’s coastline, there’s a brief escape, only to be jolted back to the harsh realities: more kids begging, banks closing, and ongoing strikes in universities. These issues aren’t new; they’ve been brewing since before the October 7 War, highlighting Lebanon’s troubled past. It’s hard not to wonder how much longer the Lebanese people can keep going in the face of these challenges. The ongoing economic, political, and social crises are taking a toll, and Lebanon is hurting. The South is bleeding.

  • How can efforts to rebuild and reconstruct South Lebanon be balanced with the need to address underlying socio-political grievances and ensure the sovereignty and unity of the country?
  • How might the escalating violence in South Lebanon impact the stability and security of the broader Middle East region?
  • What role do international actors, such as the United States and Iran, play in either exacerbating or mitigating the conflict, and what are their respective interests in the region?

Suggested Readings

Haddad, Jamie Lee. “Back in Time: A look at Israel’s past incursions across the border and into Lebanon”. L’Orient Today. 2024

“Lebanon: Flash Update #13 – Escalation of hostilities in south Lebanon”. ReliefWeb. 2024

Salhani, Julien. “What’s behind Israel’s escalation on south Lebanon?”. Al Jazeera. 2024

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Lebanon: When everything …

by Aïda Abou Charaf time to read: 4 min
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