Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations, despite sharing a border. Each claims about 330 square miles of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones. Israel already successfully explores and develops gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, which has added tremendously to the economy and political clout. Israel’s newest offshore drilling station, the Karish gas rig, is located in Israeli territory legally recognized by the UN.
However, Lebanon claims that area and much more. Indirect negotiations (not face-to-face) under US auspices to end this dispute over the demarcation of economic water borders as well as the land border (also recognized by the UN), are reaching a climax which could lead to war. As of 10/10/22 the Karish rig is undergoing preliminary testing prior to its opening. Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy in Lebanon, is threatening a war coinciding with the Karish going operational, its “red line.”
Evidently, the US thinks that because Israel is a strong and relatively wealthy country, it should be the party which gives up the most. This in itself is a problematic argument, but it’s made much worse by the fact that the Lebanese are controlled by the terrorist Islamist Republic of Iran, which is fighting Israel in what could be an existential conflict.
Israeli Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid has rejected Lebanon’s latest, additional comments to a proposed maritime agreement, senior political officers told local media following the October 6 security cabinet meeting. Lapid clarified that Israel would not “compromise its security or economic interests” in any way, even if that would mean an end to the negotiations. (HonestReporting.com)
Lebanon’s new “must haves” are not surprising. The US-brokered diplomacy, aimed at resolving a dispute over rights to offshore fields which might produce a wealth of natural gas, is led by US Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein. He turns out to be yet another Western diplomat who is ignorant of the “bazaar” mentality of Middle East negotiations.
Note: Bazaar mentality: you never initiate a negotiation or finally accept an offer, but ‘pocket’ the concessions offered and continue the negotiations. You always prolong the negotiations, wearing out the other party while you further your plans.
Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman lamented Monday that this was a squandered opportunity that put to waste years of hard work: “We spent years trying to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. Got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for Israel. No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to Israel. Would love to understand how we got here,” Friedman tweeted. (https://www.israelhayom.com/2022/10/03/no-one-then-imagined-100-to-lebanon-and-0-to-israel/)
Lebanon is widely acknowledged as a failed state, with the majority of its population hungry and angry with its incoherent and corrupt government. For decades, Lebanon has failed to recover from its murderous infighting, which can be traced partly to its religious diversity, with half of its citizens Muslims, one-third Christian, and the balance made up of Druse and others. That includes a large community of Palestinian “refugees” living there. Lebanon’s main problem, however, is Iran. Just as in Syria and in parts of Iraq and Yemen, Iran has infiltrated and taken over Lebanon and equipped a proxy army, Hezbollah. When Iran takes over a country, the welfare of that country is unimportant; it’s just a tool in Iran’s arsenal to achieve an Iranian caliphate to eventually control the West.
Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist creature, is almost entirely attuned to whatever Iran tells it to do. Hezbollah’s goal is to destroy Israel. Its purported purpose is to militarily defend Lebanon against Israeli incursions and to reclaim “Lebanese” territory. However, Israel has no designs on Lebanese territory and has even received approval from the UN regarding its land border with Lebanon (which Hezbollah nevertheless disputes).
Envoy Hochstein, in the tradition of American negotiators in Israel’s sphere, has proposed that it accept 100% of Lebanon’s demands in the Eastern Mediterranean, with some minor concessions to Israel. In any event, Hezbollah rejects the entire agreement, adding additional requirements. Acting Prime Minister Lapid had immediately commented favorably on the proposed deal, although the opposition vehemently disagrees. As should have been expected from Iranian negotiating tactics, Hezbollah’s leader, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, has vociferously opposed any concessions whatsoever in the talks with Israel. In addition, he consistently threatens to target Israel’s offshore gas installation and has already fired drones at the Karish gas rig. Drilling may commence at Karish imminently, which could spark a war with Lebanon.
With Lebanon, Iran’s tactic is to continue to smuggle advanced arms into Lebanon, which Hezbollah will unleash on Israel when Iran gives the order. Tens of thousands of missiles are secreted in nearly every other dwelling in southern Lebanon, near Israel’s northern border. Israel has publicly and repeatedly said that any significant attack will unleash a devastating retaliation from Israel, destroying countless homes and infrastructure and most likely killing civilians along with fighters. It’s unavoidable when the enemy perpetrates a war crime by placing weapons in civilian homes, schools, hospitals, etc.
Whether the acting Israeli prime minister even has the authority to make a deal with Lebanon is in question because Israeli elections will be held soon, on November 1. Most likely, the negotiations will drag on and nothing will be finalized. In the meantime, Israel’s government is on record that as soon as Karish is operational, drilling will begin. Nasrallah is just as adamant that Karish will not start up and that Israel will pay a heavy price.
This could lead to a devastating, perhaps long or short war with Lebanon. My belief is that Israel will not fight with one hand behind its back, but will unleash its awesome power on Lebanon. At the same time, it will absorb many missile hits on civilian and military targets and possibly may have to defend other fronts as well as its northern border.
Iran’s strategy has always been to negotiate and negotiate, interminably, while doing what they need to do underground or even out in the open. The US is proving not to be a negotiator that Israel can rely on to represent its interests. Israel may have to fight a brutal war against Lebanon/Iran because of America’s missteps with Iran.