Gedalyah Reback

Lebanon Can’t Keep Up with Israel

It’s an exaggerated metaphor, but I find it relevant. Ronald Reagan outspent and out-equipped his Soviet rival throughout the 1980s, making competing with the United States a fool’s policy. Lebanon hardly represents Israel’s main rival, and that’s what makes Lebanese policies just ridiculous. Israel is looking at the bright side of its frozen relationship with Turkey by not holding back and expanding its economic relationships with Greece and Cyprus. Israel is about to enter into the energy industry in a big way. Combine that with alternative energy and desalination tech, and the country is becoming an energy superpower.

Lebanon is scurrying to remain relevant in the natural gas bonanza. The divided country has protested Israel’s definition of maritime borders and locked up its relationship with Cyprus in protest. But this was never an issue before. The claims seem absurd considering Lebanon doesn’t have its own capacity to go on this sort of drilling venture. Lebanon has only scratched the surface offering contracts to international energy outfits to explore off the country’s coast. While Lebanon hopes to know who will merely be looking for gas off its shores by the end of 2012, Israeli companies will be getting ready to launch production within the year. The main reason Lebanon is disputing borders is thanks to Hezbollah trying to stay relevant. And that is dragging Lebanon down.

With Hezbollah in the driver’s seat, it’s just one more example of Lebanon not being able to keep up. In the six years since the Second Lebanon War, Israel’s done much more than restock its weapons and recalibrate its strategy. Israel’s economy has weathered the storm and continued to expand its international reach via new technologies. And now, partially because of Hezbollah’s grandstanding over natural gas, Israel is expanding its naval power. Hezbollah’s held anniversary celebrations for a Pyrrhic victory against the Jewish state, and even that’s disputable. Lebanon saw billions of dollars in damage thanks to Hezbollah, only to bring in 15,000 more international peacekeepers and draw isolation from the international community. Hezbollah is living in the past to artificially lace itself on the political pedestal, while Israel has arguably been more goal-oriented and gotten over the drawbacks of the war.

Lebanon has been at a disadvantage for years relative to Israel. The country has not had an independent foreign policy in 20 years, thanks to Syria’s influence and Hezbollah’s blocking power. Lebanon has more reason to warm its relationship with the Israelis than keep it on ice, but Lebanon won’t do that. Its politicians are impotent when it comes to having a practical or independent policy toward Israel. Despite what leverage Hezbollah’s political rivals have these days in the wake of their neighbor’s problems, they haven’t been able to formulate a sound alternative policy to years of Syrian control.

Hezbollah still maintains too much clout and is too dependent on Iran to promote a sound policy regarding Israel to the benefit of Lebanon. Lebanon could extract some benefits for the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian refugees by being more open to Israeli overtures. But that’s impossible with Hezbollah’s pathetic attitude and political grandstanding. Lebanon cannot compete with Israeli ingenuity in the Mediterranean and lacks the capability, much less the fortitude to modify its approach to Israel. It cannot challenge Israeli claims to anything, much less offshore gas deposits Lebanon wouldn’t have known existed if its hadn’t been for Israeli investment in exploring the untapped seabed. As Hezbollah fruitlessly continues to make up excuses to keep its country as an antagonist to the Jewish state, Lebanon loses out on the potential to expand its political independence and its economic strength by developing a deeper approach to its relations with Israel.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.