Lebanon in Israel’s Middle East Strategy

Lebanon has become a failed state in recent years. It is in a continuous political paralysis that prevents the formation of a functioning government and this reality has contributed to the deterioration of the country into a severe economic crisis the likes of which Lebanon has not known since the end of the bloody civil war at the end of the last century.

A Failed State

As a failed state, Lebanon lacks weight and importance because even decision making as for its own future is not in its hands. In fact, it has become another arena of conflict, one of many, between rival regional forces, whether a conflict between Iran, which supports the Hezbollah organization, and Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries, which provide support to the members of the Sunni community in the country, or whether an Israeli-Iranian conflict in which the Hezbollah organization serves as a representative and protector Tehran’s interests on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Israel is aware of the weakness of the Lebanese state and does not see it as an entity capable of independent decision-making. In this context, it should be remembered that in recent decades, Israel’s regional policy has been based on four foundations:

The first, the preservation of regional stability, peace and calm, and certainly in the area around Israel and ensuring peace along its borders.

The second, an attempt to promote a peace process towards the Arab world based on normalized relations between Israel and the Arabs.

The third, an attempt to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a standstill, in terms of maintaining the status quo while managing the conflict and not necessarily an effort to resolve it. Preserving the status quo means preventing a deterioration into violence and escalation, but at the same time also avoiding progress towards a solution that involves territorial concessions on the part of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

And finally the fourth, an attempt to curb Iran’s attempts to achieve regional hegemony in the Middle East and more importantly, an attempt to curb the Iranian race to nuclear power.

With such evidence, the importance of the countries of the first circle surrounding Israel, led by Egypt and Jordan, to maintain peace and calm is clear, as is the importance of the Gulf countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which are a cornerstone in Israel’s efforts to strengthen the strategic cooperation between the countries of the region against Iran.

Against this background, it will be understood why Israel’s focus is not on harnessing Lebanon so that it contributes to the advancement of Israel’s interests, but rather on denying the ability of Lebanon, and especially the Hezbollah organization, which is a significant and decisive player within the Lebanese system to harm These Israeli interests.

And so, if in the fifties and sixties of the last century Israel saw Lebanon, which was then under Maronite hegemony, as a possible ally for making peace; in the 1970s, after the PLO established a presence on Lebanese soil and even turned this country into a base for military activities against Israel, the latter focused its efforts on neutralizing the threat posed by the PLO from the territory of Lebanon. Today, Hezbollah is setting the tone in the country, and certainly in matters of calm or confrontation. This, due to the military power he built for himself with the help of Iran. For example, he has close to 150,000 surface-to-surface missiles, several hundred of which are long-range precision missiles that cover the entire territory of Israel. He also maintains considerable political influence in the country and, with allies from the Shia community – such as Amal movement – and others, has the right to veto the decisions made by state institutions.

The Hezbollah Influence

In Israel there is a debate about whether there is sense and logic in separating the Lebanese state – the Lebanese army, the government and the political system in the country – and the Hezbollah organization. Such a distinction is a cornerstone of the American policy towards Lebanon which holds that strengthening the Lebanese state will one day enable it to deal with Hezbollah.

Supporters of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah chant slogans ahead of the leader’s televised speech in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 following the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The headbands read: death to America (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

But Israel maintains that Hezbollah is the decider in any case, even if it is attentive to the opinion of the Shiite and Lebanese public, and certainly do not want to bring a war on them. These are indeed a restraining factor in the organization’s decision-making, but on the other hand it does not listen to the Lebanese army or its government, and acts according to its interests and those of its ally Iran.

Therefore, Israel perceives the Lebanese state as a weak and even hollow entity, irrelevant to questions of peace and war. Instead, Israel focuses on establishing a deterrent capability against Hezbollah, with the help of which it hopes to ensure peace along the border between the two countries.

Alongside this, over the past decade, Israel has been conducting a secret campaign (a campaign between the wars) against Hezbollah, designed to harm its arming efforts – hitting Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah while they are in Syrian territory, as well as an effort to stop the missile precision project (turning missiles in Hezbollah’s hands into missiles capable of striking Precise).

It is clear to Israel that Hezbollah does not necessarily stand on its own, since it proves itself to be a link in the axis of resistance, or in the words of Israel and the US, the axis of evil, which is led by Iran and in which Syria and the Hamas organization are also members. Therefore, Israel takes into account that a confrontation with it may have an impact on what is happening in Syria and in Iraq and against Iran and vice versa.

In conclusion, the Israeli view of Lebanon is narrow – through the prism of the threat of missiles and terror posed by Hezbollah, and in any case, through the prism of the desire to neutralize this threat. However, Israel is attentive to what is happening in Lebanon and takes into account that the Lebanese public, certainly the Shiites, as well as the institutions of the Lebanese state can help restrain Hezbollah. The fact that Hezbollah is becoming more and more identified with the state, due to the ability to influence what is happening in it – politically and not just militarily – makes it more and more attentive to the moods in the country.

All this was reflected in the comprehensive negotiations conducted by the two countries with American mediation on the question of marking the maritime boundary line between the two states. An agreement on this question may allow Lebanon to extract gas from the gas fields off its shores and thus help it get out of its economic predicament. But due to the political paralysis that prevails in Lebanon, it is difficult to reach to the agreement, and Hezbollah is taking advantage of the impasse to unleash far-reaching threats of war, if an agreement is not reached according to the equation – that if Lebanon does not utilize its resources, Israel will not be able to utilize its own resources either.

Yes, in Israel’s view, Hezbollah is Lebanon, and it therefore is focusing its attention on it. Thus, the only relevant question that preoccupies it vis-a-vis Lebanon is how it is possible to maintain peace along the border, to curtail the capabilities of the Hezbollah organization, and to prevent Iran from strengthening its influence there.