Two weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas, simultaneous cross-border clashes with Hezbollah in the disputed Shebaa Farms in the Golan Heights have sparked fears of an emerging second front on the southern border of Lebanon. With rising tensions between the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group and the state of Israel, what are the prospects that Hezbollah will formally enter the war? To discuss this question and more, the Middle East Institute will host a distinguished panel of experts, who will delve into the complex dynamics of the rules of engagement that have defined the Hezbollah-Israel relationship since 2006 along with the factors shaping a potentially expanded regional conflict. Additionally, the discussion will address the various dimensions of the Hezbollah-Israel dynamic, including the influence of red lines, energy resources, and the presence of Palestinian armed groups within Iran’s sphere of influence, as well as the broader geopolitical consequences of a potential conflict.
Mohanad Hage Ali
Deputy Director For Research, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center
Friedmann Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Senior Fellow; Director of Strategic Outreach, Middle East Institute
Non-Resident Scholar, Middle East Institute
Fadi Nicholas Nassar, moderator
U.S.-Lebanon Fellow, Middle East Institute
- Hezbollah's evolving strategy and alliances: Hezbollah is actively working on strengthening its alliances with Palestinian factions like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It seeks to develop its military capabilities to operate from Lebanon and closely coordinates resources and strategies with its allies, indicating an evolving regional role, according to MEI scholar Firas Maksad.
- Current conflict dynamics and deterrence: Since the October 7 attack and the ensuing violence in Gaza, Hezbollah has launched attacks on Israeli positions in the north. This aligns well with Hezbollah's strategy — since 2006 — of responding to Israeli actions by building layers of deterrence. Hezbollah is choosing its targets carefully and refraining from inflicting significant casualties on the Israeli side. The goal is to influence and deter Israel from more aggressive actions, like a ground invasion in Gaza, without escalating into an all-out war.
- Impact on Lebanon's energy and economy: The ongoing conflict is only worsening Lebanon’s severe economic crisis. The maritime border agreement with Israel, while significant, did not guarantee complete deterrence and Lebanon’s gas reserves are not commercially viable. Furthermore, the country is not prepared for protracted conflict with limited capacity for fuel storage and the vast majority of its citizens already relying on alternative power sources.
- U.S. policy and regional priorities: While the Biden administration’s policy toward the Middle East was one of de-engagement, they have had to shift to playing an active role in deterrence and containment. Iran, through its proxies, including Hamas, has been successful in influencing the discourse and regional dynamics. The U.S. administration is struggling to respond effectively, and the conflict has distracted it from other international issues, such as the situation in Ukraine.
- Internal dynamics and potential escalation: While there are concerns that the current conflict will be protracted, lead to significant civilian casualties and have wide-reaching economic repercussions, neither Hezbollah nor Israel appear willing to risk a full-out war, yet.
Detailed Speaker Biographies
Mohanad Hage Ali
Mohanad Hage Ali is the deputy director for research at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut where his work focuses on the shifting geopolitics and Islamist groups after the Arab Uprisings. Hage Ali teaches politics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and has lectured at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. In his work, Hage Ali focuses on Levant politics, and has published a book titled “Nationalism, Transnationalism and Political Islam: Hizbullah’s Institutional Identity” in 2017, and co-edited “A Restless Revival: Political Islam After the 2011 Uprisings”. Prior to Carnegie, Hage Ali worked as a reporter at al-Hayat newspaper in London, and as an editor in chief of NOW Arabic in Beirut, where his work focused on political Islam and Iraq.
Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Senior Fellow in The Washington Institute's Linda and Tony Rubin Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant. The longtime managing editor of Lebanon's NOW news website, Ghaddar shed light on a broad range of cutting-edge issues, from the evolution of Hezbollah inside Lebanon's fractured political system to Iran's growing influence throughout the Middle East. In addition, she has contributed to a number of U.S.-based magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times and Foreign Policy. Prior to joining NOW in 2007, Ghaddar wrote for the Lebanese newspapers As-Safir, An-Nahar, and Al-Hayat, and also worked as a researcher for the United Nations Development Program regional office. A native of Al-Ghazieh, Lebanon, Ghaddar holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and a master's degree in Middle East studies, both from the American University of Beirut.
As the Director of Outreach at the Middle East Institute (MEI), Firas collaborates with MEI's leadership to oversee strategic engagements crucial to the organization's operations. These engagements involve working with the U.S. administration, Congress, think tanks, and MEI's key partner organizations. Firas is a member of MEI's core leadership team. In addition to his role as Director of Outreach, Firas is also a Senior Fellow at MEI. He is a recognized expert on the politics of Lebanon and Syria, the geopolitics of the Arab Gulf, and the broader dynamics of the Middle East region. Firas is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University, where he teaches graduate courses on the Middle East at the Elliott School for International Affairs. His writings have appeared in top-tier publications such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy Magazine, Foreign Affairs, and the Los Angeles Times. Firas frequently offers expert commentary on U.S. politics and the Middle East for global news networks, including BBC, CNN, CNBC, Al Arabiya, and others.
Jessica Obeid is an energy policy consultant. She is Partner at New Energy Consult. She draws on 15 years of experience in engineering, thinks tanks and consulting in EMEA to contribute to the development of sustainable energy systems. Additionally, Jessica is senior global advisor for Azure Strategy consultancy boutique in London, and non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC. Previously, she was resident fellow at Chatham House’s energy, environment, and resources program in London. Prior to that, she was the chief energy engineer at the United Nations Development Programme in Beirut.
Fadi Nicholas Nassar
Fadi Nicholas Nassar is U.S.-Lebanon Fellow at the Middle East Institute and Director of the Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution and Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the Lebanese American University (LAU). He is also a Research Fellow at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, the oldest Lebanese-based think-tank, and a Fellow at The Sectarianism, Proxies and De-sectarianisation (SEPAD) project based at Lancaster University's Richardson Institute. His work focuses on international humanitarian and relief interventions in fragile and conflict settings, democratization, and U.S. foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics. He is the principal investigator of a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York that is focusing on resilience and inclusive governance in the post-2011 Arab landscape. He is also leading a series of projects aimed at finding sustainable pathways out of Lebanon’s compounded crises that are supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the European Union, and others. In the immediate aftermath of the Port of Beirut Blast on Aug. 4, 2020, he was part of the World Bank’s core team responsible for designing the Beirut Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA), the primary evidence-based study to assess the damages caused by the Port of Beirut explosion and the country’s recovery and reconstruction needs. He was also a Visiting Fellow at Sciences Po Paris and a Doctoral Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
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