Israel’s Diplomatic Battle with the U.S. over Lebanon

July 20 2017

When the Syrian civil war threatened to spill over into Lebanon, the country’s military cooperated with Hizballah to keep Sunni jihadists out. This cooperation, combined with Hizballah’s increasing political influence, has blurred the lines between the terrorist organization and the Lebanese state itself. At least, this is how Israel and Saudi Arabia see the situation. The U.S. disagrees, as Jonathan Spyer writes:

As the 2006 war [with Israel] and subsequent events graphically demonstrated, Hizballah and its patrons [in Tehran] can operate an independent foreign and military policy without seeking the permission of the [government] in Beirut. What has happened in the intervening decade, however, is that Hizballah and its allies, rather than simply ignoring the wishes of the state, have progressively absorbed its institutions. . . . Hizballah and its allies prevented the appointment of a Lebanese president for two years, before ensuring the ascendance of their own allied candidate, Michel Aoun, in October 2016. . . .

What of the issue of security cooperation between Hizballah and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)? No serious observer of Lebanon disputes that open cooperation between the two forces has increased over the last half decade. . . . The U.S., however, has continued its relationship with the LAF, which was the recipient of $200 million in assistance from Washington last year. . . .

The difference of opinion between the U.S. and Israel in this regard is of growing importance because of the emergent evidence of hitherto unreported Hizballah activities. In particular, there is deep disquiet in Israel regarding revelations of an Iranian-supported, homegrown Hizballah arms industry. This, combined with what may be the beginnings of a slow winding-down of the Syrian war raises the possibility of renewed tensions with Hizballah. . . .

[If and when war does come, Israel’s] intention will be to dismiss any distinction between Hizballah and the Lebanese state, and to wage war against Lebanon [itself], on the basis that the distinction has become a fiction. This will involve an all-out use of military force that will be intended to force a relatively quick decision. For this to be conceivable, a diplomatic battle must first be won.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Second Lebanon War, U.S. Foreign policy

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East