Lebanon Opportunities (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 10, September 1, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. For the first time since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, a new government has been established in Lebanon. This is a "National Unity Government," whose members have been skirmishing for days over the wording of the clause in the platform that recognizes the role of the "resistance" - that is, the Hizballah militia in "liberating" the Shaba'a Farms, now held by the IDF. Israel has followed the debates in Beirut apathetically, as if they have nothing to do with it. The political system in Israel has yet to cure itself from the trauma of the last war on top of the controversial 1982 "Peace for Galilee" war. Israel has developed a tendency to turn its back on Lebanon, throw its hands up in the area and suppress any information that might demand action. And recently, this tendency has only become worse. However, it would be a serious mistake to continue along this course. New opportunities are being created in Lebanon, concomitant with escalating dangers. Israel's inaction, consisting solely of intelligence-gathering along the border without any diplomatic initiative, could lead to unnecessary damage. The Israeli media's instinctive and willing news-out on Lebanon coverage and the ignorance in the Knesset corridors about Lebanon have combined to create a disincentive to do what is necessary. This is not good at all. It is not coincidental that the exchange deal with the Hizballah on July 16 - the coffins of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in exchange for the release of terrorist Samir Kuntar and four Hizballah prisoners - took place on the same day that the Lebanese government determined how to allocate the 30 ministries in its new cabinet. This decision is the fruit of the "Doha Agreement," which was intended to put an end to Lebanon's long-term internal crisis. Hizballah deliberately chose to conclude the deal with Israel at about the same time as it closed the internal Lebanon deal, thus blending the final strains of the war that broke out two years ago with the opening melody of the new game in Beirut. The symbolism was carefully planned, and it took on immediate significance in Hassan Nasrallah's speech that same evening. The Hizballah secretary general presented his proposal to develop a "defensive strategy" in Lebanon jointly with his opponents from the parties organized together as the March 14th Alliance, headed by Saad Hariri, Walid Junblatt and Samir Geagea. Put simply, he proposes to set limits on Hizballah's freedom of movement and deployment - including its 40,000 missiles and rockets - in exchange for granting the "resistance" a formal and legal status. The attempt to work through the major point of disagreement - the very fact that Hizballah maintains its own private army that does not report to the army of the government - is not new. The main points of the "defensive strategy" have been around for quite some time. But now, following the establishment of a unity government headed by Fuad Siniora, there's a strong push to move the negotiations along, deeper and faster. There's no guarantee that there will ever be any agreement on the meaning of the joint "defensive strategy," or that any agreement will stand the test of time. But the main point is this: the very attempt - or apparent attempt - to formulate a document means that Hizballah will not initiate new provocations along the border. Nasrallah specifically emphasized that he would leave the handling of the "Shaba'a Farms" issue (known to Israelis as Mt. Dov) to the regular army. The new president (and former commander of the armed forces) Michel Suleiman even threatened to "liberate" the disputed enclave "through diplomatic methods or in any other way." In other words, Nasrallah has given the Lebanese government a mandate to take responsibility for this issue and Hizballah has been released from the obligation that it took upon itself to fight for the Shaba'a Farms. Hizballah has thus progressed from an aggressive, provocative, threatening stance towards Israel to a defensive and restrained posture and it has retreated from its threats to try to kidnap more Israeli soldiers or civilians, because, Nasrallah says, "Lebanon is the only Arab state" which has none of its citizens in Israeli jails. Under the auspices of the "defensive strategy," Nasrallah is elegantly retreating from the front. This doesn't mean that Hizballah has put down its weapons. Absolutely not! The emphasis will now move over to the effort to combat what they refer to as the Israeli "breaches"- the Israel Air Force's reconnaissance overflights, the Israel Navy's patrols in Lebanon's territorial waters to prevent terrorists from smuggling in arms from the sea. It is likely that, at some point towards the end of the year, Hizballah will make an attempt to fire the anti-aircraft missiles it has received from Syria and Iran in order to intimidate IAF planes - which usually fly high above missiles' range - and especially the drones, which fly lower. They also may attempt to attack Israeli warships with land-to-sea missiles, which damaged Israel's Hanit missile boat in the 2006 war. From their point of view, this course of action would be a precise implementation of the "defensive" dimension of the new "strategy," with Hizballah not as the liberator of lands or the savior of the prisoners, but rather, as the defender of the homeland. Extract from an article in Issue 10, September 1, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.