“And no one can deal with Hezbollah, including the Lebanese army, because of its strength,” he said.
While Iran stands to benefit from the emerging chaos in Lebanon, at this point, the events there and Tuesday’s resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri are unlikely to have an immediate impact on Israel, according to a leading Israeli expert on Lebanon.
Itzhak Levanon, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and head of the North Africa and Lebanese desk at the Foreign Ministry, who was born and educated in Lebanon, said that at this point, the only impact of the Hariri resignation will be a change of personnel in Beirut.
Levanon said there is always the danger that Lebanon – as it has done in the past – will quickly descend into chaos. But what has changed from the time of the civil war lasting from 1975 to 1990 that resulted in an estimated 120,000 fatalities is that then every faction – Shi’ite, Sunni, Druze and Christians – had heavy arms while now only Hezbollah is heavily armed.
“And no one can deal with Hezbollah, including the Lebanese Army, because of its strength,” he said.
The specter of chaos is always present, Levanon said, but if that happens, Hezbollah is likely to step in under the pretense of “saving Lebanon from bloodshed and a civil war.”
But, he added, “we are not there yet.”
Regarding whether Hezbollah may try to divert attention from the unrest in the country by striking out at Israel, Levanon said he would not “rule this out,” but added that the organization “knows very well that if it does something, Israel’s reaction will not necessarily be proportional.”
Nevertheless, he said, Iran stands to gain by the “mess” in Lebanon, as it does whenever there is instability anywhere else in the region, from Iraq to Yemen.
Levanon said that Iran will likely use the opportunity to increase its presence in the country not only through Hezbollah, but also by strengthening Shi’ite communities, and through support for hospitals and other humanitarian projects.
“Where there is a mess, Iran enters,” he asserted.
The former ambassador said that one way for Lebanon to ease its economic crisis would be to negotiate its maritime border with Israel, which would then enable it to extract natural gas worth billions of dollars from its territorial waters.
US efforts to get negotiations started this summer failed when Hezbollah and its parliamentary allies placed conditions on the talks. When the current crisis passes, Levanon said, the US should consider renewing its efforts as there may be more of a willingness to renew the talks – and less opposition from Hezbollah and Amal’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri – as a result of the economic crisis in the country that has brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets.