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Israel Navigated into Troubled Waters

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After Prime Minister Yair Lapid, gave away the farm, or more directly Israel’s maritime territory, to Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, Israel is now on high alert. Lapid’s territorial surrender was greeted with a slap in Israel’s face by Lebanon, which took everything Israel gifted them and then moved the goalposts by disagreeing to agreed Israeli security and compensation requirements.

In response, Defense Minister Benny Ganz, who had also agreed to the terms of a bad deal, put the Israel Defense Forces on high alert.

Now Israeli decision-makers are preparing various potential military scenarios, over renewed tensions with Lebanon.

One of the altered Lebanese clauses demands that Total Energy, the French conglomerate that holds the license for both Israel’s Karish rig and Lebanon’s future drilling rig, will buy a portion of the reservoir in the waters that Israel was about to surrender to Lebanon. This is a Lebanese admission that the disputed waters are indeed, at least partly, Israeli sovereign maritime territory, which Lapid and Ganz are about to gift to them in return for a low percentage of royalties if, or when, Lebanon is capable of drilling from a future rig.

Israel has informed the United States, acting as liaison negotiators in a deal, and who many observers see as favoring Lebanon over Israel, that Israel opposes the Lebanese changes in what many in Israel consider an already bad deal.

United States officials, and perhaps people at the top of Israel’s echelon, seem not to comprehend or are ignoring who the decision-makers are in Lebanon. They primarily include the leader of the Lebanese Parliament and the religious Iranian proxy Hezbollah – Lebanese twins, joined at the hip by their Shiite connections.

Everyone is familiar with Hassan Nasrallah, the turbaned Hezbollah leader. But not many people are aware of the intimate link between this Iranian-backed terrorist firebrand and the refined, suited, elderly stateman, Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament since 1992 and, equally significantly, the head of the Lebanese Shiite Amal Movement.

One of the shocking revelations made at the recent ICT World Summit on Counterterrorism at Herzliya was the depth and breadth of Hezbollah’s money laundering and business enterprises in South America, and how their expanding family and clan ties strengthen the spread of their legitimate and criminal enterprises, including how they have certain corrupt leaders of several Central and South American countries in their pocket.

While Hezbollah and the Amal leaders become billionaires, the Lebanese people see zero benefit, only increasing poverty and oppression by their corrupt and dangerous leaders.

To suggest that Hezbollah is a separate part of Lebanon’s cultural and political life is to misunderstand Lebanon.

There was an actual war between Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in Lebanon in the late 80s, but under an Iranian-Syrian brokered peace deal, and later a division of labor, Amal and Hezbollah became two sides of the same coin. They are now united in their political and religious ambitions. And, as research exposes, it is the Shia diaspora, often led by Amal businessmen, particularly in Central and South America, who, apart from Shiite Iran, fill Hezbollah’s war chest.

For Israel to suggest that it is negotiating through a US proxy with the Lebanese government, and not with Hassan Nasrallah, is fatally erroneous. To say that Hezbollah will not be a recipient of future natural gas revenue is delusional. I repeat, they are joined at the hip with Amal, and Amal and Hezbollah control what happens in Lebanon.

An unconsidered result of Israel’s surrender of its legitimate maritime rights to Lebanon is what will happen if the quantity or quality of the gas in soon-to-be Lebanese waters is not substantially profitable, and no drilling takes place. That will mean that Israel will have gifted Lebanon its maritime territory for nothing because there will be no compensation based on energy production to be paid to Israel. This will not be a “water for peace” deal and the Israeli Karish rig, and Israel itself, will be even more exposed to Hezbollah aggression from maritime waters gifted freely to Lebanon much closer to the Israeli rig than before.

And to think that, when the terms of this deal were being finalized, Ganz said, “this deal harm’s Iran’s interests.”

How wrong can he be? If there is sufficient gas to make a Lebanese rig profitable, then Amal-Hezbollah will be major recipients of the profits. And until or instead of drilling, Lebanon’s new Mediterranean maritime territory will be infinitely closer to Israel’s Karish gas rig.

While Yair Lapid has said there is no need for this troublesome deal to be authorized by the Israeli Knesset, hopefully, saner voices will prevail.

Israeli law required only that international agreements be submitted to the Knesset for review, not a vote of approval. However, historically, agreements regarding territorial changes have been brought to the Knesset legislature for a vote.

If this deal translates to Lapid/Ganz gifting strategic expanses of the Mediterranean to Amal and Hezbollah, while still being treated like an unrecognized pariah enemy, it is the equivalent of these Israeli leaders gifting huge chunks of Judea and Samaria to Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, our land version of Amal and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

If they push this deal forward without the issue being brought to the Knesset for a debate and a vote, the country will be in an uproar. With an upcoming election in November, Israel is sailing into stormy waters.

About the Author
Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism,' '1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel, 'BDS for IDIOTS,' and his latest work 'A Tale of Love and Destiny,' the dramatic life of a Jewish heroine.
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