West Bank tinderbox

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

The deteriorating situation in the West Bank is of more immediate concern than the possibility of a full-scale war between Israel and Hizbullah, writes Dina Ezzat

photo: AFP
photo: AFP



Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of the dangers of a full-scale military confrontation between Israel and Hizbullah. Such a conflict, he said, will not be restricted to southern Lebanon and northern Israel and a single miscalculation could result in a situation that will be “beyond imagination”.

A number of governments have already warned their citizens to leave Lebanon.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said this week that the increased level of fighting between Hizbullah and Israel is “more than concerning”. She was expected to arrive in Beirut within days for talks with Lebanese officials on how to avert any escalation.

According to an Arab diplomat in New York and a European diplomat in Cairo, in the absence of immediate de-escalation there are no guarantees that the situation will not spin out of control.

Many governments are acting fast and preemptively, the diplomats said, and while the chances of war erupting are increasing, it is by no means inevitable.

According to a UN source, there are no signs “as of yet” that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are ready to enter a full-scale conflict given the enormous costs it will exact on both sides.

“Nasrallah has been very cautious so far and has avoided being dragged into a comprehensive confrontation with Israel to alleviate the pressure on Hamas,” said the source.

“Now, with clear signs that Netanyahu is set to claim victory in Gaza and move from high- to low-intensity operations in the Strip, Nasrallah has no reason to push for a war with Israel.”

“There are only two scenarios in which Nasrallah would escalate to a full-scale confrontation: if Iran asks him to do so, or if Israel, either by design or mistake, hits targets in Beirut.”

The UN source also added that there are no signs that Iran is interested in its major regional ally entering into a draining confrontation with Israel.

According to Cairo-based foreign diplomats, given the damage that Hamas has sustained Iran would be loath to see Hizbullah have its capacities depleted. Instead, they agree that Tehran seems to have asked allied militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen to increase their attacks against vessels going through the Red Sea and targets in Israel in an attempt to reduce the pressure on Hizbullah to take action.

Nor, argues the UN source, are there any signs that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing demonstrations in his country to pursue a ceasefire deal with Hamas in order to release the hostages and “discontent, if not outright contempt” from some of his top army generals, is interested in a full-blown war on the Lebanese front.

“Netanyahu’s interest is to keep fighting but not to get into a full-scale war. Military confrontations will continue but will not necessarily reach full-blown confrontation,” he said.

Another Arab diplomat noted that Netanyahu is well aware that Hizbullah controls an arsenal capable of striking Tel Aviv and its surroundings and that a full-scale war with Hizbullah is “not a risk that Netanyahu would take”.

The Arab and UN diplomats say Netanyahu is most likely to pursue limited de-escalation with Hamas in Gaza. It is only a matter of time, they argue, before the Israeli prime minister tells the public that Israel’s military has succeeded in incapacitating Hamas, after which the conflict in Gaza will shift to low intensity fighting and more surgical military operations.

This week, Netanyahu was widely quoted in the Israeli press as saying he was pursuing a “partial deal” over Gaza. Hamas responded by saying Netanyahu’s comments represented yet another refusal to accept the deal proposed by US President Joe Biden three weeks ago.

Sources close to Egyptian mediators seeking a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel said this week there are no signs of a “sustainable ceasefire” on the horizon. According to one source, the written proposal the Americans sent to Hamas after Biden outlined the parameters of his deal on 31 May deviated from the promises the US president had earlier declared.

The same sources say the Biden administration has refused to amend the written proposal so it fully matches Biden’s declaration, especially when it comes to full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and guarantees that the ceasefire will continue indefinitely. They add that currently the Qataris are working, with little success so far, to find language that accommodates Hamas’ key demands while being acceptable to Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Egyptian official sources say that Cairo is hoping to see a partial de-escalation in Gaza so that the convoys of humanitarian aid held up on the Egyptian side of the border can enter the Strip and alleviate the spreading famine though realistically, they add, targeted Israeli military operations such as the one on Sunday that killed scores of Palestinians will continue.

The same officials also expressed concern over the fast-deteriorating situation in the West Bank where Israeli incursions and arrests have grown — the Israelis have detained close to 10,000 Palestinians from the West Bank — casualty figures are rising and the credibility of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is in freefall.

Israeli pressure on the PA to scale up security cooperation with Israel, against the backdrop of the Israeli war on Gaza, has compounded the scepticism with which many Palestinians in the West Bank view the PA and its leadership. While the officials do not anticipate a fully-fledged Intifada, they warn of the increased likelihood of resistance attacks in the West Bank.

In the words of one official, “if anger in the West Bank gets out of hand anything could happen — the collapse of the Palestinian Authority [PA], the elimination of some PA leaders and large-scale Israeli arrests of Palestinians leading to increased frustration across the West Bank.”


* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: