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How high is the risk of war in Lebanon?


Observers fear that there will be an escalation in Lebanon. International actors are trying to mediate. Foreign Minister Baerbock is expected in Beirut today after her visit to Israel.

Anna Osius

Party in the Lebanese capital Beirut: A group of young women dance exuberantly in a nightclub, some men toast each other at the bar.

A war mood? Not here. “I am 40 years old and all my life we ​​have talked about war here every year,” Elie told the AFP news agency. “But we still celebrate normally, we want to live. Last week there was a concert here with 25,000 spectators. That is Lebanon – and that will not change.”

Even on the Corniche, Beirut's waterfront promenade, the impending war seems far away for the sun-tanned joggers and ice cream eaters. “It's in the hands of the Israelis,” says the young Lebanese Karim. “Here in Beirut we don't feel any great tension. Yes, the situation is bad in the south, but here in Beirut it's calm – and we're not afraid of the Israelis. If it happens, it happens.”

Tensions intensify

Somehow, people in Lebanon seem to have gotten used to a kind of “war limbo”. For months, there have been fierce battles in the south between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah. In solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, the Shiite militia from Lebanon has been shelling northern Israel since October.

Tensions have intensified since a high-ranking Hezbollah commander was recently killed by Israel. In response, Hezbollah not only fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, but also released drone images of Haifa – threatening to destroy all of Israel.

“If war is imposed on Lebanon, the resistance fighters will fight without restraint, without rules and without borders,” said Hezbollah leader Nasrallah.

Expert: Ground offensive in Lebanon would be the beginning of war

Big words, but Hezbollah actually doesn't seem to want a major war with Israel. And according to observers, Hezbollah's closest ally, Iran, has also shown little interest in a major escalation in the Middle East. Has that changed now?

“Hezbollah is waiting to see whether Israel begins a ground offensive in Lebanon,” said Lebanese military observer Elias Farahat on the Arabic channel Al Jazeera. “That would be considered the beginning of a war. Or whether Israeli aircraft attack targets throughout Lebanon. Then Hezbollah will fully enter this war.”

Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned Lebanon of a “total war”, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a troop transfer from Gaza towards the northern border. Tens of thousands of families on both sides of the border have had to leave their homes due to the fighting.

Israel wants Hezbollah to withdraw behind the Litani River – 30 km from the border – as required by a UN resolution.

Worldwide concern about expansion

The increasing tensions are viewed with concern around the world. The USA and France have already tried to mediate. Now German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is in the region and is paying a flying visit to Lebanon. A further escalation would be a catastrophe for the people, she said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also issued a strong warning: “The risk of this conflict in the Middle East escalating is real and must be avoided. Any rapid move, any miscalculation can trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond borders and beyond imagination.”

If there is an escalation, Beirut airport could be one of Israel's targets – as in previous wars. The airport in the south of the capital is reportedly under Hezbollah control.

Airport as a weapons depot?

There is only one main topic in Lebanon's media: According to a report in the British newspaper Telegraph, Hezbollah is using the airport as a weapons depot. The Lebanese government strongly disagrees – and has invited all journalists to an inspection in an attempt to prove this: there are no weapons here.

“The airport has been subjected to repeated attacks for decades,” said Transport Minister Ali Hamieh. “It is about damaging Lebanon's reputation. I want to make it clear that no weapons enter or leave the country through Beirut airport.”

Statements that indicate nervousness: Something may be brewing over Lebanon. The threat of war is slowly becoming a reality in Beirut too.

The party goes on anyway – at least for now.

Anna Osius, ARD Cairo, tagesschau, 24.06.2024 22:56

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