Eyes on the South: Low intensity conflict & escalation-risk in Lebanon

January 19, 2024

Source: Al Mayadeen English

Hezbollah fighter, on border guard duty, sitting astride a motorbike blocking the pathway of an Israeli Merkava tank that had broken through the electric fence into Lebanese territories, the photo was taken by Al-Manar correspondent  Ali Sheaib, Jalet al-Mahafer, 2022 (Al Mayadeen English- Designed by Mahdi Rtail)

By Sammy Ismail

To analyze and contextualize the burgeoning war in south Lebanon, this paper borrows the theoretical concepts of Galtung’s conflict theory and reviews Amal Saad’s recent article on The Guardian.

More than 100 days have passed since Al-Aqsa Flood came crashing down on the colonial outpost of US imperialism in West Asia; the tide has been only gaining momentum since. The war quickly spilled over beyond the territories of Occupied Palestine to include south Lebanon most notably.

Revisiting Johan Galtung’s Conflict Theory, this paper will borrow theoretical concepts introduced by Galtung to analyze and structure Al-Aqsa Flood. Galtung introduces a set of simplistic classifications and twin criteria that bring burgeoning conflicts into perspective and allow for a formal analysis.

The two classifications that I chose to expound on are Scale and IntensityScale will be useful to lay out the overarching context to then zero in on Lebanon which is the primary subject of study for this paper. Intensity serves to demonstrate conflict as being dynamic fluctuating along lines of escalation and de-escalation.

An interesting nuance that Galtung formalizes is that between Latent Conflict and Manifest Conflict. The former describes the underlying tensions, between two parties, that are not yet explicitly acted upon (typically, this state of affairs is understood to be “Negative Peace” where Direct Violence is absent). The latter describes the state of affairs where strife is actively occurring (Direct Violence breaks out).

Development from Latent Conflict into Manifest Conflict can also be understood using the heuristic of Galtung’s ABC Triangle of Violence. In the Triangle, Galtung pinpoints three focal points in conflict: AttitudeBehavior, and Contradiction. In the case of liberation struggles, as is the struggle against Zionist colonialism and US imperialism, the Contradiction is the nexus, the primary focal point from which violence spirals out of: the spiral of violence originates from Contradiction and develops into Attitudes and Behaviors. In Behavior, it develops as manifest conflict. In Attitude, it develops as latent conflict. 

Galtung’s ABC Triangle of Violence: Contradiction Spiral (Illustrated by Arwa Makki)

Conflict Scale: Beligrents and Fronts

Gaza became ground zero for the war on October 7th, but Al-Aqsa Flood has resonated all throughout the region since. 

Beligrents in support of the Palestinian Resistance in Gaza have included the Palestinian resistance factions in the West Bank, the Lebanese Resistance, the Islamic Resistance factions in Iraq, the Yemeni Armed Forces, the resistance, and the Islamic Revolution’s Guard in Iran. Beligrents on the side of the Israelis have included the US-led occupation coalition in Syria, the US-led occupation coalition in Iraq, the US-led aggression coalition in the Red Sea, and the Takfiri terrorist network in the region (Daesh, Jaish ul-Adl, etc.). 

Fronts from which operations are being launched directly against the Israeli occupation, in addition to Gaza, include most notably South Lebanon (which serves as the second battlefront of this war), the West Bank (where lone-wolf stabbing/shooting/ramming operations and counter-raid concerted action by underground resistance cells have increased in frequency), in addition to Syria Iraq and Yemen (from where drones and missiles have been launched against the occupied territories most notably Al-Jalil “Galilee Heights”, Um Al-Rashrash “Eilat”, and even recently Haifa).

Complimentary fronts, from where operations don’t directly target “Israel” but rather aim to build up pressure on “Israel” and its imperialist proppers to consolidate a ceasefire in Gaza. These complimentary fronts include the Red and Arabian Seas (where the Yemeni Armed Forces and Resistance have enforced a naval blockade against Israeli and “Israel”-bound ships), northeast Syria (where US and coalition occupation bases are being shelled by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq), and Iraq (where, similarly, US and coalition occupation are being shelled by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq).

Concentric Fronts Surrounding “Israel” (Illustrated by Mahdi Rtail)

Mired “Israel” thrashes at the entire region

Throughout modern history, all parties involved in materially supporting the Palestinian resistance have been punished by being subjected to imperialist and zionist terrorism. Prior to the war, it had manifested primarily as economic sanctions (with the exception of Gaza, the West Bank, and Syria which had frequently fallen subject to Israeli military aggression in addition to economic sanctions).

After the war, especially after being frustrated by the little-yielding ground invasion of Gaza, this terrorism had manifested in brazenly more savage means. Over the span of the war, the Israeli occupation bombed Palestine Lebanon & Syria and US occupation forces bombed both Iraq and Yemen.

Jointly, the US imperialist forces and the Israeli Occupation Forces assassinated prominent resistance commanders: including IRGC commander Razi Mousavi (by “Israel”), Hamas politburo official Saleh al-Arouri(by “Israel”), Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah commander Moshtaq al-Saidi (by the US), and most recently Hezbollah high-ranking commander Wissam Tawil (by “Israel”)

In addition to a US-UK large-scale aerial aggression against Yemen last week, and the Daesh twin-terrorist bombings that targeted hundreds of Iranian civilians earlier this month. 

Read more: Sayyed Nasrallah: ‘Israel’ mired in failure; US intimidation futile

Digressing briefly, Iran has long been sanctioned for materially and consistently supporting the Palestinian resistance: Economic embargos, political subversion, covert sabotage operations, assassinations, terrorist attacks, etc. The Islamic Republic of Iran even before getting involved in any proactive military action, before becoming neither a front nor a belligerent, has been subjected to imperialist warmongering and the terrorism of imperialism’s takfiri footsoldiers: affirming the persistent neocon tradition of hawkishness in the White House but discreetly through proxies.

Conflict Intensity: escalation or de-escalation

Carrying on with Galtung’s theory, violence as he defines is tripartite Direct Violence (commonly militaristic), Structural Violence (commonly in law or regime), and Cultural Violence (commonly in beliefs and consequent attitudes). The latter two are latent forms of violence: characteristic of Latent Conflict. The former is the manifest form of violence: characteristic of Manifest Conflict.

Manifest Conflict follows from an escalation in Latent Conflict. Similarly, escalation beyond a certain threshold would lead a Manifest Conflict to become an Escalated Conflict. Furthermore, Galtung details that a Conflict if escalated develops into Crisis or War (throughout the paper I will not be committing to the gradation-escalation levels of conflict, crisis, and war; I will be using war and conflict interchangeably). 

Violence Intensity (Illustrated by Arwa Makki)

Conflict is not a sudden state of affairs that flutters in and out of existence at the whims of the conflict parties but rather is a long-lasting state of affairs that fluctuates along a scale of intensity, escalating and de-escalating: becoming dormant at times and resurfacing at others based on the development of events, and ceasing to exist only when the contradiction of interests is resolved (i.e. Positive Peace or Sustainable Peace is achieved). 

This prospect of escalation is best understood as formulated by the Fourth Law of Dialectics: Quantity into Quality. A state of affairs intensifies accumulatively till it reaches a threshold whereby quantitative increase is not possible anymore and the state of affairs changes qualitatively into a different state of affairs (Politzer, 1946).

Gaza and South Lebanon: the build-up to the war 

Despite the macroscopic scale of Al-Aqsa Flood, Gaza and south Lebanon remain thus far the only active battlefronts against the Israeli occupation.

Throughout recent history both Lebanon (primarily the South) and Palestine (primarily Gaza) have suffered severely under the plight of US-sponsored Israeli aggression: massacres, forced displacement, and occupation.

In this struggle, the two nations grew more radicalized against their enemy (bearing arms and organizing their people into resistance movements) and steadily consolidated their binational solidarity (institutionalizing their alliance and proliferating it as the Axis of Resistance).

Read more: Palestinian Resistance Fighters to Hezbollah Comrades: Victory is ours

In Gaza, in recent years, the latent structural violence of colonialism has been brazenly intensifying, especially with the extremist right-wing Cabinet headed by Netanyahu (installed in late 2022) and the increasingly frequent incidents of settler violence in the West Bank and al-Quds. October 7th 2023 was the threshold day. Violence broke out on a large scale after the Palestinian resistance had launched the long-deliberated operation that was the natural result of years of intensifying oppression. Latent Conflict developed into a Manifest Conflict and escalated at a sharp pace with the savage bombing campaigns and the ground invasion. The aggression against Gaza quickly snowballed into an all-out War (a high-intensity conflict).

Galtung’s Triangle of the Types Violence: Structural Violence Spiral (illustrated by Arwa Makki)

In Lebanon, the front erupted following Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and in solidarity with the Palestinian Resistance. (Despite the intertwined stakes of Lebanese national interest and Palestinian national interest in contradiction to Israeli security) there was no buildup of a recent Latent Conflict between Lebanon and the Israeli occupation that reached a threshold on October 8th (in contrast to Gaza). The eruption of the front in south Lebanon came to echo Operation Al-Aqsa Flood i.e. in solidarity with the people of Gaza and their valiant and honorable resistance (as the opening of the resistance’s military statements commonly read). 

Patience and far-sightedness

However other latent frustrations in Lebanon preceded the eruption of the battlefront. In addition to solidarity with Gaza and anticipating long-term advantages to Lebanese national interest, a key factor that goes unnoticed is the latent economic frustrations.

To digress again, when discussing the war build-up, a key prospect that commonly goes unnoticed is the radicalizing effect that the economic crisis has had on the Lebanese. In addition to national interest, binational solidarity, and religious fervor which are the primary drives mobilizing the Lebanese towards anti-zionist resistance, the prospect of accumulated economic frustration has radicalized a large segment of the Lebanese population against imperialism which was perceived to play a key role in enabling such a drastic crisis in Lebanon. 

For the past 5 years, the Lebanese have experienced the worst socio-economic crisis in recent history after the Ponzi scheme engineered by the US-propped central bank chief crashed. A systematically un-industrial rentier economy structured by the US and the Gulf back in the 1990s broke down: coupled with active efforts to economically pressure Lebanon to draw political concessions regarding the resistance. In addition to a sectarian consociational regime of governance that is doomed into recurrent cases of zero-sum game gridlock, making it impossible for a government to make decisions regarding the economy, public policy, or foreign relations. Recent years have exercised an extensive economic strain on the Resistance.

Lebanese stability recurrently faltered as “protracted social conflict” seemed to sharpen in light of dire economic conditions (Edward Azar, 1990): with Christian right-wing parties and liberal NGO-type groups blaming the resistance for the crisis (for refusing to make the political concessions dictated by the West and the Gulf States that would restore the old insovereign rentier economic system). 

Thus, the extensive social and economic strain on the milieu of the Resistance or the “masses of the Resistance” (as Sayyed Nasrallah commonly refers to them), radicalized them further against the US: who pulled out the centerpiece of the make-shift kaleidoscopic Lebanese economy they had engineered sending it crashing down on Hezbollah. 

This new level of anti-imperialist radicalization among a segment of the Lebanese reaffirmed the aptness of the decision to organize into anti-zionist resistance factions; for “Israel” is understood to be an advanced outpost for imperialism in the region, and the security of “Israel” is understood to be one the primary objectives of imperialism in the region (in addition to accumulating super-profits for oligarchs). 

If this frustration has been discharged satisfactorily by any means it was through anti-zionist military action. It’s poetic justice for the Lebanese to threaten Israeli security after being economically bullied for 5 years to concede to “Israel” its security by disarming the resistance.  

Low-Intensity Conflict in South Lebanon 

In Gaza, a latent conflict steadily intensified until a manifest conflict broke out: quickly escalating into a high-intensity conflict. In Lebanon, however, the conflict was the result of intensifying latent frustrations, national interest, and binational solidarity.

On October 8th, the front erupted in Lebanon and it has steadily escalated since, however, it has thus far remained, arguably, a low-intensity conflict.

Since the commencement of the first operation, the Lebanese resistance has deliberated not to give in to the appeal of adventurism (going all in for all-out war): for a set of reasons elucidated in the speeches of the Secretary-General of Hezbollah (which include losing the advantage of a surprise attack, the weakened Lebanese economy, as well as the comparative advantage of low-intensity conflict etc).

This strategy of decisively targeting Israeli military sites within the framework of a low-intensity conflict has proved effective in accumulatively inflicting small losses on the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces), and building up pressure on “Israel”. The immediate and announced objective of the operations from Lebanon has been clear: building up pressure on “Israel” to concede to a ceasefire in Gaza.  

In the long term, the persistence of the status quo of low-intensity warfare within the frame of the laws of engagement of deterrence between the Lebanese resistance and the Israeli Occupation Forces is a lot more harmful to “Israel” than it is to Lebanon given the nature of the conflict (profit-driven colonizers vs a popular indigenous liberation movement). 

“You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.”

-Vietnamese Communist Revolutionary Ho Chi Minh to French Colonizers on the eve of the liberation war (1946)

Read more: Liberation, aggression, and the Israeli Contradiction 

Low-intensity conflict: accumulative small gains, minimized losses

On the Lebanese battlefront, as aforementioned, the war burgeons within the framework of a low-intensity conflict which allows for decisive contained hits: accumulating in advantage.

In 100 days, the Lebanese resistance has executed more than 700 operations against the occupation. The resistance targetted all front-line military sites along the borders and even managed to target 17 settlements, according to figures cited by the Secretary General of Hezbollah in a speech earlier this month.

While the IOF continues to underreport losses fearing demoralization in the settler society, Israeli media outlets report that hospitals have been abounding with injured soldiers and cemeteries with killed soldiers. Israeli media also report that thousands of Israeli soldiers have been incapacitated; estimates range from 4,000 (confirmed) up to 30,000 (projected). 

The primary objective of the Lebanese battlefront, as is the case with other complimentary fronts, has been to build up pressure against the Israeli-War Cabinet to agree to a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange deal on the terms of the Palestinian resistance, and dissolving the blockade against Gaza. The secondary objective of the Lebanese resistance, as is the case with other complimentary fronts, is the respective national interest (in Lebanon it manifests as consolidating the equation of deterrence and tipping its balance against “Israel” so that it concedes occupied Lebanese territories, namely Shebaa farms). 

Both of these objectives are being steadily worked for in Lebanon. IOF losses in the north have been steadily accumulating:

  • Sabotaged Israeli surveillance and reconnaissance tech devices installed on the border (effectively blinding the IOF on the south-Lebanese border to a large extent). 
  • Surmounting human casualties in the IOF which include injured, incapacitated, and killed.
  • Massive involuntary and voluntary relocation of Israeli settlers from the north to the center which the Resistance’s operations have resulted in. 
  • Enforcing a de facto security belt inside “Israel” which is unprecedented in the history of the Lebanese-Israeli wars and the Arab-Israeli wars (as explained in the most recent speech of the Secretary-General of the resistance). 
  • Spreading the Israeli army too thin.

The IOF spokesperson cited intense exhaustion as being a key factor behind the blunders of the IOF in Gaza and the underwhelming efficiency of the ground operation: Explaining that most soldiers have been on duty continuously without substitution because their compatriots are mobilized in the north. 

Phase 3 in Gaza: de-escalation or redirecting escalation?

Due to the ongoing pressure against “Israel”, whether through the admirable steadfastness of the Palestinian resistance, the intensifying decisive operations by the Lebanese resistance, the blockade against Israeli navigation in the Arabian and Red Seas by the Yemeni Armed Forces and the Yemeni resistance, the increasingly frequent strikes against US occupation bases in Syria and Iraq by the Iraqi Resistance, and the international efforts to condemn “Israel” spearheaded by South Africa in the ICJ, the vehemence of the US-sponsored death machine in Gaza seems to be getting slowly quelled. 

The US has announced that it will be pressuring the Israeli government to mitigate its genocidal war which has been detrimental to both parties’ international PR. The IOF has announced that it has started shifting to a lower-intensity Phase 3 (decreasing the bulk of troop presence in Gaza, relying more on airstrikes, and employing targeted raids). 

Read more: Widening gap between ‘Israel’, US over third stage of Gaza war

Ever since the preliminary steps of Phase 3 started coming into effect under the plight of US pressure against the fascist Israeli War Cabinet, Netanyahu, along with his genocide boyband, seems to have started looking for different avenues to continue the war to perpetuate his ill-fated political career against a seemingly imminent soft-coup by the Biden administration

“Israel” is pushing Hezbollah to its limits: Amal Saad

“Just as Israel revealed its plan to withdraw thousands of troops from northern Gaza for the next phase of its ongoing war, the senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri was killed in a targeted assassination in Beirut,” Amal Saad writes in a recent piece for The Guardian published on January 5th shortly after the assassination of Sheikh Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut. 

Amal Saad elucidates the significance and possible implications of this grave attack against Lebanon which seemed to try to nullify the deterrence enforced by the Lebanese resistance against the IOF since 2006. 

“Hezbollah is in all likelihood concerned that a failure to respond decisively will invite Israel to go on an extrajudicial killing spree in Beirut – not just against Hamas but also eventually against its [Hezbollah] own officials,” she explains. “This would require a carefully measured retaliation that simultaneously signifies an escalation in terms of scope and intensity, but falls short of all-out war.”

The Lebanese resistance’s retaliation followed one day later. A combined Kornet-Grad artillery attack by the Resistance pummelled the Meron airforce base which served as an intelligence military command hub for the occupation. The operation, as Amal Saad had reasoned was a high-intensity retaliation falling short of an all-out war.

Furthermore, she explains that the objective of the Israeli attempt at undermining the deterrence equation seemingly serves as an attempt at provoking Hezbollah into an all-out war. 

“An even greater concern is that Israel is seeking to provoke Hezbollah into a full-scale war that would involve the US as a co-belligerent.”

“…whether or not Israel, which is incapable of confronting Hezbollah on its own, is seeking to drag the US into a full-blown regional war.”

Commenting on this, Amal Saad later emphasized that “Hezbollah is keen to avoid an all-out war – but it is ready for one.”

This was later emphasized in the latest speech by the Secretary General of Hezbollah on January 14th.  

“We have gone to war within the framework of this low-intensity warfare,” he said

“[However] since 99 days we have been ready for war, we do not fear it. We will not hesitate. we will venture on this war [if it’s forced upon us]. We will fight with no boundaries any limits or any restrictions,” Sayyed Nasrallah warned. 


Netanyahu seems to have foresaw the imminent dead end in Gaza. Complete withdrawal will turn Gaza into “Israel’s” Cuba: stuck in a perpetual Missile Crisis. Persisting with the ground operation will turn it into “Israel’s” Vietnam: a swamp of attrition warfare that would surely end his career and possibly end his state: steadily inching away at it.

The only way “Israel” could achieve the objectives of its ground operation (i.e. uprooting the resistance) is if every last Palestinian in Gaza was killed or expelled from the strip.

Killing 2 million people in the 21st century is not beyond “Israel” but it would end the US’ morally credible soft power. It would strip the latter’s imperialist foreign policy of its leading pretext.
Netanyahu’s plan seems to be spreading out the conflict: so that they can advertise the war as asymmetrical against “Israel” to legitimize direct US intervention.

Netanyahu is desperately flailing to provoke large-scale retaliation from the Axis of Resistance to justify a US invasion of the region to rebalance power relations in favor of “Israel” and perpetuate Israeli security for a couple more decades.

Netanyahu acts in line with the outdated teachings of his neocon mentors of the early 2000s, but the pragmatics of the US oligarchy have since recognized the futility of savage militarism in West Asia and have since switched course for proxy warfare and color revolutions for being more efficient.

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