The agreement reached with Lebanon exhibits strength and strategic wisdom
By Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilead | October, 2022
|Photo: Adam Fagen | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0|
Hizballah is threatening to harm Israel to win points domestically while being deterred by the power of the IDF strikes • The agreement is good for Israel and Lebanon alike, and is the best solution for Hizballah and the region • Missing this opportunity would be a cause for regret for both Israel and its citizens •
Israel’s strength is comprised of two aspects: Its overall security military power and political wisdom. The combination of both creates strategic might, and in the absence of wisdom, we often witness weakness. The agreement forming between Israel and Lebanon is a clear manifestation of wisdom reliant upon Israeli military deterrence, which, in turn, is based on the IDF’s might. Simply put, the IDF’s power deters Hizballah, Iran’s proxy, whose primary goal is to eliminate Israel.
Hizballah is a Lebanese Shiite organization that represents Iran’s aspirations, and is building up its force to strike Israel severely someday – its home front, infrastructure and economy – while establishing offensive military capabilities. To date, Hizballah has developed a combined arsenal of 150,000 rockets, many dozens of precise missiles, elite units, and full territorial control of the entire area between Beirut and the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Hizballah has been deterred from using its force since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but has invested great resources, fully funded by Iran, in building unprecedented terror and violence capabilities against Israel. It is constantly searching for a cause that would enable it to target Israel in its supposed capacity as “the protector of Lebanon”. Such is the case at hand. Hizballah is threatening to strike if Israel should fail to sign the agreement with Lebanon while being deterred by IDF’s powerful detriment. It therefore appears to be pouncing on the agreement that is being drafted, seizing the opportunity to present itself as sovereign over Lebanon.
In effect, the agreement, which is currently in its finalization stages and may be signed soon, removes Hizballah’s cause, and allows Israel to be viewed as having signed yet another agreement with an Arab country, despite it not being a political one. Its weakness does not allow Lebanon to recognize Israel, or sign a peace accord with it. The agreement will delay a harsh and unnecessary confrontation at present between Hizballah and Israel for a long time, perhaps even beyond that, for as long as Iran would be willing to help its proxy when it will be unprecedentedly attacked by Israel. it allows for the gas reserves – an economic miracle at a time of global energy crisis and financial distress – to be fully utilized. Israel has the privilege of natural gas reserves that can be exported to its Arab allies and, in future, perhaps to Europe too, who is in dire need of it. It is true that the Karish rig is in Israeli territory, and its operation requires no agreement; however, conflict would cause tremendous disruption across the country, and therefore, if this important understanding will not be reached with Lebanon, it would be a folly.
Various arguments have been made against the agreement by those who object to it, which, ostensibly, seem futile:
False – Israel is allowing Hizballah to use the gas field to finance its growth. Truth – A gas field has yet to be discovered. Gas production from it is a long-range prospect, and it would be the Republic of Lebanon who would enjoy it, the citizens of which are sinking fast into the depths of an indescribable financial distress. In graphic terms: There is no electricity, the refrigerators are empty, pharmacies are not functioning, and banks are closed. It is not in Israel’s best interest for its northern neighbor to go bankrupt, for that would only allow Hizballah to gain greater control.
False – Israel is succumbing to Hizballah’s pressure and threats. Truth – Israel, with generous and skilled U.S. mediation, is establishing an agreement-based arrangement that would enable it to remain financially stable and secure, while expanding its gas production, and giving Lebanon a chance to free itself of Hizballah’s yoke someday, perhaps even to join other neighbors of Israel and sign a normalization accord with it.
False – Israel is giving up its sovereignty. Truth – This is not a political agreement; it is de facto consent to the current convenient security situation with regard to Hizballah’s deterrence from taking action against Israel. The international border that is yet to be recognized by Lebanon will only be outlined once Hizballah will be banished from Lebanon, and the latter will be free to determine its own fate without being pressured by Iran or its proxy.
Moreover, it is noteworthy that Israel is facing a range of security challenges, primarily the aggravating Iranian threat. In this case, Israeli pressure exerted on the U.S. president had convinced him to withdraw from the agreement, bad though it was, with Iran. While the agreement was valid, Iran had stalled its efforts to build weapons-grade nuclear capabilities. Since the agreement was vacated, probably under Israeli pressure, Iran has progressed toward becoming a nuclear threshold state, and is now able to decide whether to obtain weapons-grade nuclear capabilities alongside its diverse ballistic targeting abilities, such as various kinds of UAVs, including armed ones, missiles, rockets, and entrenchment in failed states. That is the real challenge from which we should be defending ourselves, and it is dependent, first and foremost, on the IDF’s ability to build up its force in orders of magnitude, as well as on Israel’s ability to reach strategic coordination with the United States. Both of these elements serve as the only guarantee for grappling in future with Iran. Should petty political rhetoric lead us to dismiss an understanding of this importance? Such an occurrence would be the greatest folly!
There is an abundance of examples for political wisdom joining forces with military might, such as the 1973 Yom Kippur War that resulted in the peace agreement with Egypt. Israel’s national security is inconceivable in the absence of the special relations forged with the Arab states. The Middle East’s strategic political map dramatically contributes to Israel’s strength, as do its military might and solid alliance with the United States and other important countries around the world.
A political statement has been made whereby a future government headed by Netanyahu would cancel the “bad” agreement, although it is in fact an excellent one. This statement is clearly false, since it is inconceivable for any Israeli government to vacate any agreement reached between Israel and Lebanon, or any other Arab country, with U.S. mediation. That would be insane adventurism that could only take place if we were to truly lose our minds. It is safe to assume that this will not happen.
Why now? I am no expert on political considerations, but I believe the timing is practical. First and foremost, the Lebanese President, General Michel Aoun, will be completing his term in office on October 31. It is impossible to know who, if anyone, will be elected as his successor. It is therefore an urgent, vital need. Moreover, it is in Israel’s best interest to begin producing gas from Karish and maintaining the country’s prosperity, as opposed to engaging in pointless wars. In hindsight, one might have recommended that Israel only engage in wars of necessity that garner broad consensus in Israeli society, and refrain from complicated misleading wars of choice. Compare, for instance, Operation Defensive Shield and the First Lebanon War.
To conclude, it is timely and strategically essential for Israel’s national security to sign the agreement with Lebanon, which amounts, for the most part, to an economic contract-based arrangement. Failing to sign the agreement, especially for political reasons, would be a cause for great regret for both Israel and its citizens!
Authored by Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilead, head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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