Eiland: Hezbollah conflict unlikely in 'foreseeable future'

Former Nat'l Security Council head says projected quiet is a positive effect of Syrian turmoil; Israeli deterrence in Lebanon is working.

June 20, 2011 22:23
3 minute read.
Major General Giora Eiland

aluf giora eiland 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The unlikelihood of another armed confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah “in the foreseeable future” is one of the positive side-effects of the tumult in Syria, former National Security Council head Giora Eiland said Monday.

Eiland, speaking at the World Zionist Congress’ Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, said that over the past five years Hezbollah has felt “pressure to avoid another provocation [of Israel], and in this regard Israel managed to deter them quite successfully. I think the events in Syria are even more helpful.”

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According to Eiland, currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, while most people in Lebanon are not supportive of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah – a Syrian client for so long – is forced to be supportive of the beleaguered Syrian leader, something not very popular on the Lebanese street.

“Hezbollah understands that if there are problems in Syria, and Assad collapses, then all of their assistance from Syria is not guaranteed. They are deterred and need to be very careful. I don’t see another cycle of violence between Hezbollah and Israel in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Eiland said that if the Assad regime collapsed, there would be three possible scenarios: a positive, democratic result; a Syria controlled by “very religious Sunnis, like the Muslim Brotherhood”; or a Syria that would break up along the lines of different ethnic groups, and which foreign elements – like al-Qaida – might use “to cause instability in the country and elsewhere.”

Regarding Egypt, Eiland said that those who filled Tahrir Square earlier in the year had three expectations: to remove Hosni Mubarak and extract revenge on him; to gain greater liberty; and to improve their economic situation.

The current regime in Cairo, Eiland said, can deliver the first expectation – but will have difficulty fulfilling the other two.

Eiland said that while liberty and democracy could come to Egypt, currently the country’s two strong players – the military and the Muslim Brotherhood – were “not very eager to change the current situation and transfer their authority to the people.”

“I don’t think real liberty will emerge,” he said.

And regarding economic improvements, Eiland said that if the government wanted to bring this about, they were incapable of doing so for “fiveto- 10 years,” meaning there will be a great deal of frustration over the next decade.

Eiland said that while the current Egyptian regime is “much more hostile to Israel” than the Mubarak regime – and the future regime will probably be even more hostile – “the peace agreement is not under any real risk because of economic reasons.”

According to Eiland, the peace agreement with Israel gives Egypt four indirect benefits the country’s leadership will not want to jeopardize.

First, he said, Egypt will not want to give up the $4 billion a year of natural gas it sells to Israel. (Eiland pointed out that natural gas, unlike oil, must be sold to countries nearby.) Secondly, he said, the Egyptian economy depends on tourism, and one of the jewels in the country’s tourist crown is Sinai. Since problems with Israel could impact negatively there, the Egyptians, he said, have an interest in creating a calm and normal atmosphere necessary for tourism to Sinai.

Thirdly, Eiland said, the Suez Canal provides a great deal of revenue for Cairo, and the threat of a confrontation with Israel could reduce the use of the canal.

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