A Recent Conference in Lebanon Urges “Neutrality” toward Israel

Last weekend, a group of prominent Lebanese figures—under the aegis of the patriarch of the Maronite church—gathered to discuss the benefits of returning to the country’s historic position of diplomatic neutrality. At the heart of the conference’s agenda was an implicit, and sometimes explicit, attack on Hizballah, the Iran-backed group that exercises extensive control over the country’s political system, and has aligned it with Tehran, Damascus, and Moscow. David Daoud comments on the attendees’ approach to Israel:

Similar initiatives have been attempted in the past, foundering on ambiguity and selective application of neutrality. . . . This past weekend’s conference attempted to close that gap by unambiguously extending Lebanese neutrality to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and defining it to mean just that: neither joining the Arab-Israeli normalization process known as the Abraham Accords nor maintaining Lebanon as a perpetual battlefield against Israel. In furtherance of entrenching neutrality, the conference also challenged Lebanon’s anti-normalization laws, which criminalize people-to-people contacts between Lebanese citizens and Israelis as innocuous as sharing a direct message on Twitter.

Participants stressed that their proposal to repeal the laws was not a call for normalization in the sense of a peace treaty between the two governments. It was rather a case to align the legal system with a core tenet of neutrality: the principle of an open society. The same laws, they noted, also drive a wedge between the country and 300,000 Lebanese citizens residing in the UAE; prevent Lebanese from engaging Palestinian efforts to foster civil society in their territories; and prevent Lebanese individuals and businesses from profitably engaging multinational companies that do not abide by any exclusionary laws.

In adopting these positions, the conference and its participants sought to reclaim and redefine the concept of Lebanese patriotism. For much of Lebanon’s history, that became almost synonymous with supporting perpetual war with Israel in the name of the Palestinian cause. That this permanent bellicosity failed to advance Palestinian rights and resulted only in misery and destructive conflict for Lebanon mattered little. It was an ideological mainstay that many Lebanese feared to challenge lest they be labeled traitors.

As with all purported solutions for Lebanon’s woes, skepticism is warranted. Lebanese activists and politicians have a track record of promising change while failing to deliver.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel-Arab relations, Lebanon


What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security