Israel and Lebanon are formally at war. Not that Lebanon itself poses a great threat to Israel. It was the domination of Lebanon by the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (PLO) in the 1970s which led to constant Israeli bombardment of Lebanese targets, including the Beirut airport, and all-out war in 1982.
Similarly, Hezbollah’s excessive role in Lebanese politics, its dominance of southern Lebanon in particular, and its harassment of Israeli forces in the past three decades led to Israeli offensives in 1993 and 1996, to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. southern in 2000 and total war in 2006. With its ever-increasing-range rockets and missiles, Hezbollah is a far greater threat to Israeli security than the PLO.
It is therefore not surprising that when, for the first time in 30 years, Lebanese and Israeli officials sat down on October 14 to negotiate with each other, their meeting was described as “historic”. In fact, Lebanon has made it clear that it is still at war with Israel. It can do no less as long as Hezbollah maintains its tight grip on the country’s political and economic system..
In fact, in a way reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s mediation after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the negotiators did not address directly. The Americans mediated the process, although Israelis and Lebanese sat in the same large tent, located in a city just north of the Israel-Lebanon border.
Negotiation is, in fact, much less than peace, much less than normalization like that of the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Rather, it is about establishing a long-disputed maritime border, which would allow Lebanon to drill for gas and expand Israel’s already significant gas exploration and production capacity. It is clear that Lebanon will benefit more from such an agreement, simply because, as Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Energy has rightly pointed out: “The issue is important to us. It is even more important to the other party. We already have gas reserves that satisfy our local needs “.
Notably, Hezbollah did not seek to block the negotiations. A natural gas find in the Eastern Mediterranean would provide some relief to Lebanon’s economy, which is in dire straits. It is possible that, should Lebanon conclude a maritime boundary agreement with Israel, it may then be willing to negotiate a border agreement that resolves the current controversy, and military confrontation, over the small area known as the Shebaa Farms.
At the moment, however, there is only the prospect of an agreement, but it would benefit both countries. However, just as important, it would represent a setback for Turkey in a region it seeks to dominate. Ankara has bitterly opposed the Abrahamic Accords and is a virulent critic of Israel.
Turkey tries to expand its influence in Lebanon. It continues to maintain troops in Iraq and Syria. It has tensions with Egypt, Italy and France due to its intervention in Libya and its maritime agreement with that country. It remains the only country that recognizes the government of Northern Cyprus, which emerged after Turkey’s invasion of the island in 1974. It continues to stoke tensions by challenging Greek and Cypriot drilling rights and sending a prospecting vessel to explore in Search for gas in disputed waters. Ankara has become the bully of the region.
It will be some time before Israel and Lebanon reach an agreement on their maritime border. They will take even longer to reach an agreement to regularize their land border. However, any agreement, no matter how small, between Israel, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan clearly despises, and Lebanon, whose politics he tries to penetrate, goes against his increasingly hegemonic vision of what it is. , in effect, an Ottoman restoration. And that, in itself, is a good thing in an increasingly unstable Eastern Mediterranean.
Dov S. Zakheim is Senior Advisor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Vice Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Foreign Policy Research. He was Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.