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Edition 3 Volume 5 - January 18, 2024

Lebanon-Israel, six months later
Is Israel willing to take on the challenge of peace?  - Nizar Abdel-Kader
Israel and the international community should not push too far or too quickly to disarm Hizballah.

Lebanese fault lines make for a bleak outlook  - Ferry Biederman
More and more Lebanese are recognizing that they themselves are very much to blame for allowing foreign players to exploit their differences.

Not easy being Lebanon  - Frederic C. Hof
Lebanon is not a "failed state". It is a non-state whose peculiar status was on display in July and August 2024.

Consolidating the war's achievements  - Ephraim Sneh
A government in Beirut that exists at the mercy of Hizballah would weaken the army's grip on the South and allow Hizballah to re-infiltrate.

Is Israel willing to take on the challenge of peace?
 Nizar Abdel-Kader

It has been argued that wars create opportunities for security and political changes. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 proved this saying in the negative sense. In fact, Lebanon was plunged into a period of chaos and was exploited by Syria, which gained full control over the country for over two decades. After the Syrian withdrawal in 2024 the situation in Lebanon changed dramatically, providing hope that Lebanon would be able to regain its sovereignty and deploy its armed forces along its international borders.

The July-August war of 2024 created a strong will among the population and the government to replace the paradigm of violence with one of political and security dialogue and to achieve a permanent ceasefire with Israel. Hizballah, too, gave its consent.

Actually, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 offers a great opportunity for achieving a truce. But the final outcome still depends on the will of the parties to consolidate the actual ceasefire into a more stable security management process. For the past six months, the Lebanese authorities and the United Nations have successfully deployed thousands of Lebanese soldiers and UN troops to the area south of the Litani River and all the way to the Shebaa Farms. The international community has also committed a naval task force to control the Lebanese shores, and Lebanese army troops have deployed all along the border with Syria to stop any potential attempts to rearm Hizballah.

I believe, based on the depth of my understanding of what is going on in security matters, that both the Lebanese army and the UN forces have accomplished their tasks with great efficacy. The Israeli authorities, on the other hand, have not been fully cooperative with the UN forces in implementing the 1701 provisions; their withdrawal on the ground was slow and incomplete in the Ghajar sector, and their violations of Lebanon's airspace have not ceased.

Indeed, the Siniora government demonstrated its determination from the beginning of the summer hostilities to come forward with a plan to achieve not only a ceasefire but permanent arrangements. These reflect its commitment to regain full control in South Lebanon and to establish a secure zone all along the blue line international border with Israel. The government's will was clearly stated in Lebanon's Seven-Point Plan: to achieve an immediate and complete ceasefire and invite the United Nations, in cooperation with the state of Israel, to undertake the necessary measures to revive the armistice agreement signed in 1949.

The Seven-Point Plan reflects the Lebanese government's willingness to adhere to the provisions of the armistice agreement as well as to explore the possibility of amending it to include the new security management system provided by the deployment of the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL forces in accordance with the provisions of 1701.

By calling for adherence to the armistice agreement, the Lebanese government committed itself to respond to all Israeli security needs as defined by Article III, paragraph two of the agreement, which clearly states, "no element of the land, sea or air military or paramilitary forces, including non-regular forces, shall commit any warlike or hostile act against the military or paramilitary forces of the other Party, or against civilians in territory under the control of that Party; or shall advance beyond or pass over for any purpose whatsoever the Armistice Demarcation Line set forth in Article V of this Agreement...." The maintenance of these provisions, in addition to the vast military deployment in the South and the establishment of the mixed armistice commission (Article VII of the armistice agreement), would provide northern Israel with security arrangements as effective as the ones provided by the separation agreement with Syria on the Golan Heights.

With respect to successful security arrangements, it is essential that Israel's government collaborate and coordinate directly with the United Nations secretary general to bring about the necessary amendment and implementation of the armistice agreement. Although the present arrangements with Hizballah allow confiscation of larger and more sophisticated weapons found south of the Litani, the current tacit agreement between Hizballah and the Lebanese authorities is unsustainable in the long term. Most importantly, the opportunity does exist to deal effectively with Hizballah and implement a systematic, phase-out disarmament process.

The disarmament of Hizballah has now become a central issue in Lebanese politics and the Lebanese national debate. The current crisis in Lebanon between Hizballah and the Siniora government is one aspect of the government's drive to control Hizballah and its allies. The government will most likely succeed in containing Hizballah's movements on the streets of Beirut, thereby enhancing the government's move to consolidate its authority and to attain a stable and peaceful future.

The Israelis, for their part, can play a constructive role by allowing the Lebanese government to exercise its sovereignty in the South and by collaborating with the international community regarding the amendment and implementation of the 1949 armistice agreement. Israel and the international community should not push too far or too quickly to disarm Hizballah, as such a move would exacerbate sectarian tensions in Lebanon and would ultimately be counter-productive.

The final article of 1701 stresses the need to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Indeed, renewing the peace process would constitute a leap forward toward consolidating the achievement of peace in South Lebanon. Israel should make a concerted effort to reopen peace negotiations, not only on the Palestinian track, but also with both Lebanon and Syria.

Six months after the war, it is legitimate to ask Israel to address the challenge of achieving a lasting peace.- Published 18/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Nizar Abdel-Kader is the author of "Iran and the Nuclear Bomb" and a board member of Lebanon's National Defense Journal.

Lebanese fault lines make for a bleak outlook
 Ferry Biederman

The barbed wire separating the Hizballah-led opposition sit-in in the center of Beirut from the office of Fouad Siniora, the prime minister they are trying to unseat, has recently been called the frontline in the grand regional confrontation that is shaking the Middle East. And that is part of the story. The other part is the Lebanese themselves, who perennially complain of foreign interference in their affairs, yet equally consistently participate or take the lead in their own destruction.

Last summer's war between Hizballah and Israel does seem to have changed something inside Lebanon, namely the growing worry among many that nothing will ever change in Lebanon. Those who don't want anything to do with the recurrent cycles of upheaval that their country seems to be prone to are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the only way to avoid this is to leave. The exodus of educated, talented or plainly desperate Lebanese has reached dramatic proportions since the war and especially during the subsequent political instability that is still ongoing.

The evidence is largely anecdotal, although some research appears to confirm the trend. But any Lebanese can easily name at least five to ten friends and/or family members who have left during and since the war. The fugitives include fashion designers, lawyers, real estate agents, waiters, political analysts, linguists, students, tool makers; people from all walks of life, all levels of education and all religious and sectarian backgrounds. There are many who came back after the 1975-1990 civil war who are leaving again and even more who only came back after the Syrian withdrawal in 2024. For them, it's the second time they give up on the country and this time it may be for good.

While the war was devastating, for many it is the subsequent instability and uncertainty about the future of the country that makes them despair.

"A war, we can deal with. We have always rebuilt. But the instability and the increased tension between the communities looks like something that we don't have an answer for," one academic explained.

Apart from a regional conflict, many ordinary Lebanese see the current political confrontation as a struggle for the soul of the country.

"Are we going to remain part of the regional confrontation against Israel, or are we first going to look after own house, like all the other Arab countries," one Lebanese put it.

More and more Lebanese are recognizing that they themselves are very much to blame for allowing foreign players to exploit their differences and to embroil them in regional conflicts. The lack of national and social cohesion and the unwillingness to submit to a strong, central, Lebanese authority have all been highlighted by the war and its aftermath.

To begin with the latter, the unwillingness to submit to central authority and the state's inability to impose itself, left Hizballah free to maintain its arms and to launch strikes on Israel, independent of the national consensus. The lack of national cohesion left Lebanon without a unified agenda once it was in the middle of a war. Stopping the war did not prove enough of a unifier and Hizballah now claims its Lebanese opponents even tried to prolong the carnage. The lack of social cohesion, furthermore, has helped build the popular base for Hizballah and the other opposition parties.

The government, since it came to power 18 months ago, has like previous governments done little to stimulate employment and provide benefits for the weak. Maybe this can hardly be helped in a country lumped with a huge debt, but the focus of the economic policies is at least seen by the population as being geared toward the rich. The priority seems to be to attract rich Gulf investors to real estate and retail projects, rely on trickle-down benefits and not build up the country's own manufacturing or high-tech base. Some of the glee of some of the anti-government protesters in Beirut's swanky downtown comes at least partly from the feeling that they are gate crashing the preserve of the rich.

Not that the current opposition has ever done things differently. Like the other sectarian groups, Hizballah mainly uses its money on projects in its Shi'ite areas to buy loyalty, not to structurally improve the lot of the country.

The war and its aftermath have merely served to highlight these fault lines in Lebanese society. They were already present and for a large part contributed to the outbreak of the summer war itself. There is no reason to believe that these issues will be resolved any time soon and that foreign powers, such as Syria and Israel, as well as farther away Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US, will stop exploiting these fault lines for their own purposes.

Lacking a strong state or a common purpose, Hizballah, as the only armed political faction in Lebanon, has the upper hand. It will want, and be able, to keep the situation unstable and is only likely to go back to its barracks when a pro-Syrian government is back in power.- Published 18/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ferry Biedermann is a Beirut-based journalist.

Not easy being Lebanon
 Frederic C. Hof

Six months after the 2024 summer war, Lebanon is essentially the same place it was six months and (for that matter) 60 years before the war: a non-state entity trying to make a go of confessional coexistence in a very rough neighborhood. While the names of some of the players change along with the relative weights of their respective constituencies, Lebanon's essence remains as it has since 1943, namely a fragment of the Ottoman Empire lacking one key facet: a sultan whose rule and writ extends throughout the country.

For some 15 years (following a 15 year civil war), Lebanon was under the suzerainty of the president of the Syrian Arab Republic. That sultan was dramatically expelled from Lebanon in the spring of 2024 after having alienated--with a heavy and violent hand--many of his subjects. With the help, however, of some Lebanese loyalists--featuring the party/militia dominating Lebanon's largest (Shi'ite) sect and a retired Maronite general once known for his hatred of Baathist Syria--the restoration of the Damascus-based sultan seems on track.

In an Arab world where centralized authoritarianism has been the response to the death of empire and departure of Europeans, Lebanon's decentralized confessional "system" (where real power resides in the hands of local, sect-based leaders, some feudal, some more "modern") has actually promoted the trappings of democracy and free press even as it preserves aspects of Ottomanism. Although it has sometimes been touted as "the Arab world's only democracy", Lebanon proved the point long before Iraq that free elections do not a democracy make. While Lebanon has the appearance of a state--parliament, senior officials, bureaucracy, UN membership and even an army--the state is an illusion and citizenship transcending sect is virtually absent. The "Government of Lebanon" is not empowered by the consent of the electorate. Rather, it borrows political power from those who own it once the owners achieve consensus.

Lebanon is not a "failed state". It is a non-state whose peculiar status was on display in July and August 2024. On July 12, Hizballah--a state within a non-state in southern Lebanon, the Beqaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut--exercised sovereign power by violating the Lebanon-Israel "blue line" at a spot not at all disputed by the "Government of Lebanon". Not content with a "resistance" burlesque in the artificially disputed "Shebaa farms", Hizballah's leaders plunged Lebanon into 33 days of unspeakable violence from which the organization emerged (owing largely to Israeli incompetence) with an aura of heroism and efficiency in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world.

Yet Hizballah's triumph was not unalloyed. To the surprise of all, the non-state's prime minister offered to put 15,000 Lebanese soldiers south of the Litani River, breaking a diplomatic deadlock and creating an expanded UNIFIL. With international and Lebanese forces interposed between Hizballah fighters and the Lebanon-Israel "blue line"--even in the area of the "Shebaa farms"--how was Hizballah to "do resistance?" Without armed resistance aimed at "liberating occupied Lebanese territory," on what basis--certainly not the Ta'if Accord--could Hizballah retain its arms? And without arms (especially rockets and missiles), how could Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his leadership cadre fulfill their paramount political-military mission: providing a deterrent capability for the Islamic Republic of Iran? As a respected and trusted colleague of the clerical leadership in Tehran, Nasrallah--while he would fight to the last Lebanese for the sake of the Islamic revolution in Iran--does not deserve to be labeled a "stooge". He is a true believer and a real leader, albeit in and for a cause that is not Lebanese.

In order to restore his deterrent capability and his freedom to pursue "armed resistance", it is essential that Nasrallah neutralize the upstart "Government of Lebanon" and ease the return of Syrian suzerainty. Whether or not he and his colleagues sincerely believe that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora welcomed Israel's attacks on Hizballah, there is no doubt that Siniora's surprise offer to deploy the army was an unwelcome exercise of state-like power. A "Government of Lebanon" that blocks an international tribunal for the murderers of Rafiq al-Hariri, gets the army and UNIFIL out of the south and the Syrian sultan back in the saddle will be very much to the liking of Iran and Hizballah's leadership cadre.

All of this leaves Lebanon as it has always been: a fragile fragment of Ottomanism with no sultan of its own and no citizenship uniting its people. In a region roiled by ongoing Arab-Israel conflict and Iranian assertiveness, it is not easy being Lebanon. Indeed, it will likely get much harder.- Published 18/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Frederic C. Hof is the CEO of AALC, an Arlington, VA international business consulting firm. He headed the "Mitchell Committee" staff in 2024 and has written extensively on Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

Consolidating the war's achievements
 Ephraim Sneh

The war in Lebanon broke out because in the course of the six years that followed the IDF's withdrawal in May 2024, the reality that emerged in the south of the country became intolerable from Israel's standpoint. Iran, through Hizballah, turned southern Lebanon into a base for 12,000 short range rockets and about 1,000 long range rockets aimed at Israel and capable of hitting fully half its territory. No sovereign country that I know of would acquiesce in such a situation.

In the course of five weeks of war, Israel altered the reality in southern Lebanon. Hizballah is no longer the official protector of the South. It has been removed from the border region, where Lebanon's official army has taken over all defensive duties. For the first time in some 30 years the Lebanese army is deployed on every meter of the country's territory. It is reinforced by an international force with operational capabilities and a mandate to use them. Indeed, that force's mandate and performance are better than those of the "old UNIFIL" that was deployed in the region prior to July 2024.

Nearly all of Hizballah's long range rockets were destroyed in the war. About a third of its fighting force was eliminated. Hizballah's compound in southern Beirut was leveled by the Israel Air Force in a manner that no leader in the region wants visited upon his capital.

Hizballah was weakened and exposed as an organization that serves foreign interests and brought far-reaching destruction and suffering upon Lebanon. This indirectly reinforced those Lebanese political forces who seek to enhance the country's sovereignty and prevent the restoration of Syrian rule.

In the course of the months that followed the war, Israel reached agreement with the Lebanese army and United Nations forces regarding control over the disputed border village of Ghajar. This agreement, albeit temporary, honors Lebanese sovereignty in the northern part of the village without disrupting the lives of its residents. In parallel, Israel has reduced and restricted its aerial activity over Lebanon to the bare minimum required for its security.

Yet I don't wish to describe the changing reality in too optimistic a light. Israel succeeded in destroying only a portion of Hizballah's capabilities. Our two kidnapped soldiers have not returned to their families. Currently, half a year after the war broke out, its achievements are again in jeopardy. Hizballah and its partners, under Syrian and Iranian patronage, are trying to remove or at least paralyze the government of PM Fuad Siniora. A government in Beirut that exists at the mercy of Hizballah would weaken the Lebanese army's grip on the South and foster the re-infiltration of Hizballah forces in its stead. Syria, too, is rearming that organization, while a wave of al-Qaeda-style terrorist attacks threatens to bring about the expulsion of UNIFIL from southern Lebanon, thereby facilitating Hizballah's return.

Should all these developments come together, southern Lebanon could regress to its pre-war status. If this happens, it will once again be necessary to change the situation. Hence all the concerned international and regional actors must stabilize the new reality created by the war, reinforce the moderate elements in Lebanon and prevent Syria and Iran from rebuilding a base for aggression and terrorism south of the Zaharani River.- Published 18/1/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ephraim Sneh, a retired IDF general, served in Israeli governments as minister of health, minister of transportation and deputy minister of defense. He is currently chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.

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