June 17, 2024
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Lebanon: Strategy Not Confrontation

The last issue of The Jewish Link included a letter warning readers on the threat posed by Lebanon (and Hezbollah in particular) to Israel (“Lebanon’s Very Real Threat to Israel,” March 15, 2018). Despite the fact that Jewish organizations and the Israeli government have been cautioning us on this threat since the 2006 war, the author made it seem that it is entirely new or ignored. Comparing it to Israel’s other neighbors, the letter’s author says, and I quote, that Lebanon “may be the most immediate threat of all.” Nothing could be farther from the truth, but only if the Israeli government approaches Lebanon as the strategic challenge that it is, and not as a faceless mass demanding war.

It is important to note that Israel has several, more immediate, threats to its security. The most obvious one is the two fronts of the conflict with the Palestinians. Gaza, a terrorist enclave, is, as we all know, home to Hamas, a group that goes to war with Israel every few years. It holds the residents of Gaza hostage in order to launch attacks on the Jewish state. The West Bank is mostly under Israeli control but also the base for more low-level terror. Overall, this situation is unsustainable and resolving it is Israel’s top national security priority (as it should be).

A less apparent threat is Syria, home to a four (at the very least) way war involving hundreds of groups and more than 20 foreign powers. Aside from the Kurds, a fractured ethnic group with territorial aspirations that run orthogonal to Israel’s interests, there are three primary belligerents: the rebels, the regime and ISIS. The rebels are a diverse coalition of Islamists, democrats, nationalists and al-Qaeda offshoots that are united in their opposition to the al-Assad regime. The regime, meanwhile, is a supposedly secular Ba’athist government aligned with Iran, Israel’s chief geopolitical challenger. Finally, there is ISIS, a nearly extinct terrorist organization, hated bitterly by everyone else involved. None of these belligerents are anything but hostile towards Israel, aside from a few small rebel groups which will never amass any serious credibility. As such, it would be self-defeating from Israel to intervene in this war, despite the fact that some Israeli politicians call for doing so (including PM Netanyahu), although they haven’t named a group they are planning to support. Avoiding involvement and securing the Syrian border further should be Israel’s second defense priority.

Nowhere here does Lebanon come into play. Of course, the Lebanese border (unlike the Jordanian, and, for now, the Egyptian ones) is not exactly a peaceful one. Hezbollah, claiming to be a Lebanese “resistance movement” is actually a tool for Iran’s twisted interests (a fact which it does not deny).

Israel should aim to build bridges with the Lebanese populace, through social media and possibly through humanitarian efforts along the lines of Operation Good Neighbor. Instead of using Maronite villages for aerial wargames, Israel should clarify that (despite the ramblings of a few ministers) it is uninterested in bombing them back to the Middle Ages.

Somewhat counterintuitively, strengthening the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is a must from Israel’s perspective. Aside from a few isolated incidents, Israel has never fought the LAF directly (as an example, the LAF sent a grand total of two planes—one of which was shot down—as its token effort in the Six-Day War after Syria arm-wrestled it into doing so). However, the LAF is affected directly by the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. It is under international sanctions because of Hezbollah’s anti-Israel activities (to prevent weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah), and as such, cannot purchase enough arms to become more powerful than Hezbollah. This led to Hezbollah becoming the most powerful military in Lebanon, since Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, doesn’t abide by these sanctions (but has no interest in arming the LAF). Not only this, but the well-intentioned UN regulation that the LAF is prohibited from crossing the Litani River means that Hezbollah is the only military force (aside from UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon. This means that a rule that started out as a way to prevent Lebanon and Israel from coming into conflict actually brings Hezbollah right to Israel’s doorstep. It is imperative that Israel allow the LAF to overtake Hezbollah, thus paving the way for real peace with Lebanon’s civilian government.

Oren Nesher

Fair Lawn

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