BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- The question that was being asked around Beirut this past week was if the bombing of Gaza by Israel -- now in its third week -- would come to a halt before Lebanon got dragged into the Middle East's latest conflict.
That question was on the minds of those attending a chic dinner party held in one of Beirut's more affluent suburbs, which included a government minister, local reporters and a visiting journalist; that same question was also on the minds of the working-class Shiites living in a neighborhood south of Beirut known simply as "the suburbs," or in Arabic, "Dahiyeh."
At the weekend Israel announced a unilateral cease-fire, and hours later so did Hamas, which in essence solves nothing in the long term, leaving the region in an uncertain limbo. But in the interim the great fear in Lebanon is that the country may get pulled into the Palestinian fight, as it has on multiple occasions in the past. What is encouraging this time is that it appears, at least for the moment, that neither Lebanon nor Israel is anxious for a fight.
Two prominent members of the pro-independent March 14 Alliance, often referred to as the anti-Syrian coalition, told this correspondent that Hezbollah seemed aware of the potential consequences and would stay out of the fight.
Samir Geagea, the leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces, as well as Samir Franjieh (who stands politically apart from the rest of the pro-Syrian Franjieh clan), told this correspondent in separate meetings in Beirut last week that the next week -- the one before Obama's inauguration -- would be crucial. At the same time both leaders told this correspondent they believed the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah would stay out of the current fight.
The economic crisis affecting many of the world's economies might actually play in favor of Lebanon. With the price of a barrel of oil currently at $35, the Iranians, who had planned their 2009 budget at $90 a barrel, will face a severe economic shortfall -- this in turn translates as less hard cash for Iran to hand down to Hamas and Hezbollah. One immediate outcome is that, unlike in the aftermath of the 2006 war with Israel, when Hezbollah was able to distribute piles of cash to those who lost homes in the battle, this is hardly going to be possible in Gaza, or in Beirut in case of a repeat performance.
And for once there seems to be unanimous agreement from just about every leader across the political spectrum in Lebanon -- which runs the gamut from the far left to the far right and includes pro- and anti-Syrians, Iranians, Saudis, etc. -- that it would be counterproductive for Lebanon to jump into this fight.
Since the fighting in Gaza began on Dec. 27, the Lebanese have been well aware of the consequences of getting pulled into another war. And one of the big fears here is that Iran may pressure Hezbollah to open a second front on Israel's northern border to alleviate some of the pressure on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The good news amid this dire environment is that some analysts believe Israel is not itching for a fight on its northern border, at least not now.
Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation in Washington told this correspondent that "Israel doesn't want a war with Lebanon, as it has no territorial claims towards it. It certainly doesn't want an escalation in southern Lebanon now, when the business in Gaza may not be over yet. However, if Hezbollah gets into action now, the Israeli response will be massive, overwhelming and harsh."
Last year several high-ranking Israeli army generals published an outline of their plan of retaliation against Lebanon in the event of an attempt by Hezbollah to attack Israel.
Dubbed the "Dahiyeh Doctrine," after the Arabic world for suburb, in reference to Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs, often simply called "Dahiyeh," the Israeli generals said in the next war with the Lebanese Shiite organization they would "unleash unprecedented destructive power against the terrorists' host nation of Lebanon."
Speaking to the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Ahronoth, the head of Israel's Northern Command, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, announced that his Dahiyeh Doctrine for fighting Hezbollah had gained official approval. "This is not a threat," he was quoted as saying, "This is policy."
Under Eisenkot's plan, in the event of war the civilian centers from which Hezbollah operates will be viewed exclusively as military installations. If and when the next conflict breaks out, Israel, said a group of senior army generals, would refrain from chasing mobile Hezbollah missile teams around southern Lebanon. Instead, they would "create deterrence" by punishing Lebanon and the individual towns and villages that provide the terror group with its fighting force and cover.
"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction," said Eisenkot.
In so doing, implementation of the Dahiyeh Doctrine would cause massive casualties among the Lebanese civilian population.
And indeed, the Lebanese were given a pretty accurate sneak preview of what Israel's Dahiyeh Doctrine, if implemented, would look like. It was hard for anyone here to escape the non-stop coverage from Gaza being transmitted over the multitude of Arabic-language television satellite news networks broadcasting 24 hours a day.
Watching those television images beamed from the war zone into hotel lobbies, bars, popular hookah bars and individual homes across the country, many Lebanese remain cognizant that all Israel's war planners need to do to implement their deadly doctrine is change the word "Gaza" to "Dahiyeh." The result would be catastrophic for Lebanon.
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)