Israel wrong for submitting to bad Lebanon maritime deal - opinion

Moderate Arab states are watching Israel’s behavior. The impression that Israel feared a confrontation with Hezbollah does not bode well for the Abraham Accords.

 ENERGY MINISTRY Director-General Lior Schillat leads a news conference at the Israel-Lebanon border, following the signing of a maritime border deal between the two countries, on Thursday. (photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)
ENERGY MINISTRY Director-General Lior Schillat leads a news conference at the Israel-Lebanon border, following the signing of a maritime border deal between the two countries, on Thursday.
(photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

Israel and Lebanon’s agreement over the maritime border is flawed in several ways. There was no reason to give up all of the disputed maritime areas.

Israel failed to take advantage of Lebanon’s great weakness in the negotiations. Lebanon is in a deep and ongoing economic and political crisis. The prospects of gas revenue from the disputed territory is far more critical to Lebanon than to Israel.

Moreover, the Iran-backed Hezbollah organization, which has launched attacks on Israel for decades, has been weakened in the Lebanese arena and even lost its majority in parliament after the May 2022 elections.

Similarly, Israel did not take advantage of many years of American support for a compromise proposal that would have given Israel almost half of the disputed territory. Israeli diplomacy failed to preserve American support for this compromise despite Jerusalem’s great efforts to mute the differences with Washington over the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Furthermore, Washington needs this agreement more than Israel. The US government is facing an energy crisis and inflation, and needs good news on gas exploration.

AN ISRAELI military observation tower overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and part of the maritime border with Lebanon, is seen near Rosh Hanikra. (Ammar Awad/Reuters) (credit: REUTERS)AN ISRAELI military observation tower overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and part of the maritime border with Lebanon, is seen near Rosh Hanikra. (Ammar Awad/Reuters) (credit: REUTERS)

The eagerness of the Israeli transitional government to reach an agreement makes sense only in light of the upcoming Israeli election on November 1. Israel hastened to sign an agreement even though Lebanon and the US felt greater urgency than Israel to reach an understanding. Moreover, it is unclear whether the US compensated Israel in other areas.

Israel could afford to wait for a better offer or perhaps a more friendly administration. It has a significant military advantage in the Eastern Mediterranean and can defend its interests there.

Israel-Lebanon: Hezbollah stirs tensions

It is true that an agreement between Israel and Lebanon, which lessens tensions, creates a better and more stable business environment to secure gas exploration and exploitation. However, the accord does not improve Israel’s regional position, because economic concerns are secondary in the strategic equation.

Lebanon refused to participate in a signing ceremony that could have lent the agreement diplomatic significance. Moreover, it is worth noting that Lebanon is not an independent state. It is essentially an Iranian satrapy using Hezbollah, its proxy, to call the shots in that state.

Hezbollah is a terrorist organization whose declared goal is to destroy Israel, and any deal would not be worth the paper it was written on. Hezbollah does not treat seriously signed agreements. Since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, it has invented various new pretexts to sustain tensions with Israel.

The blue line demarcation that received the blessing of the United Nations as an international land border between Israel and Lebanon is often violated. Indeed, the line of buoys that mark Israel’s northern security zone in the Mediterranean Sea has not been recognized by Lebanon and may well become the next pretext for renewed friction with Hezbollah.

The proximity of Israel’s approval of the agreement to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s threats to hit the rig in the Karish gas field generated the impression that Israel was terrified of the threats.

The claims made by Israeli government officials that the agreement will bring security and delay a war only reinforce this impression. This troubling message undermines Israeli deterrence, which implies unwillingness to strike when necessary. One of the rules of the game in our region is the employment of military force. The refusal to employ force communicates weakness, which encourages aggression.

The reality of Hezbollah’s threat to strike an Israeli gas rig could have supplied the legitimacy Israel needed to deal with the threat posed by the plethora of missiles in the organization’s hands. To attack the Iranian nuclear facilities and prevent an existential threat to the Jewish state, it is necessary first to eliminate the threat posed by Lebanon’s missiles.

We should not forget that moderate Arab states are watching Israeli behavior, especially in the Gulf. Without determined and effective action, Israel’s allies in the region, wary of American withdrawal and fearful of Iran, will be reluctant to rely on Israel and could later move closer to Tehran.

The impression that Israel feared a confrontation with Hezbollah does not bode well for the Abraham Accords.

The writer is the president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.