Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lebanon’s government

Hezbollah Threatens to Take Over Lebanon

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

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Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

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Ahmadinejad Tour Provides Ominous Proof of Obama’s Failure

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s triumphant tour of Lebanon — which kicked off today with a rapturous welcome from crowds that lined the road from Beirut’s airport into the city — is more than a morale boost for the Iranian president or another demonstration of the strength of his Hezbollah ally that now dominates Lebanon’s government. It was more proof of both the Islamist regime’s increasing confidence and the failure of American efforts to isolate Iran.

Viewed through the prism of Lebanese politics, Ahmadinejad’s visit is part of Hezbollah’s attempt to solidify its grasp on power in a country that is now clearly back under the thumb of Iran’s ally Syria.

In terms of the Middle East peace process, Ahmadinejad’s scheduled jaunt into southern Lebanon tomorrow is a reminder of Iran’s desire to promote armed struggle against Israel. Since the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, Iran has paid for both the rearming of Hezbollah and the reconstruction of many areas in Lebanon that were destroyed in a fight that the Islamist terrorist group provoked. Ahmadinejad’s visit can be seen as a symbol of the transformation of Lebanon into a full-fledged confrontation state rather than the Western ally that many thought was created after the Cedar Revolution in 2005.

Just as devastating is the symbolism of the planned conclave between Ahmadinejad, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, and Turkish Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. Despite the brave talk emanating from Washington about America’s success in getting mild sanctions against Iran passed by the United Nations, Iran may be in a stronger diplomatic position today than it was two years ago. The spectacle of Turkey sliding closer to an informal alliance with Iran, and with Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria combining to compromise Lebanon’s independence, demonstrates that Iran’s influence is growing rather than shrinking as Obama has claimed.

With a friendly trading partner in NATO member Turkey, the Iranians must now believe that any sanctions, even ones that are harsher than those currently in place, will always be able to be flouted. And with terrorist allies ensconced on two of Israel’s borders — Hezbollah and a Lebanese Army that seems to be morphing into a Hezbollah auxiliary in the north and Hamas-run Gaza in the south — Iran is also in a position to launch destabilizing terror strikes against Israel, as well as raising the possibility of another bloody war on either front.

While President Obama and his foreign policy team have been chasing their tails trying to orchestrate dead-end peace talks between Israel and a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in peace, Iran’s own diplomatic offensive is gaining ground. As the clock keeps ticking toward the moment when Ahmadinejad can announce the success of Iran’s nuclear project, there is little sign that the administration understands that Iran’s successes are the fruit of Washington’s spurned attempts to engage Tehran and its lackluster campaign to promote sanctions.

With the cheers of his Lebanese allies and the sweet talk from Turkey still ringing in his ears, it would be understandable if Ahmadinejad concluded that he has once again bested Obama. But as troubling as this diplomatic triumph for Iran may be, the confidence it may have engendered in the Iranian regime is something that ought to scare the Middle East and the rest of the world. An Iranian government that thinks it cannot lose in a confrontation with America, Israel, or the West is one that is liable to do anything if challenged. The consequences of such a mindset may be incalculable.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s triumphant tour of Lebanon — which kicked off today with a rapturous welcome from crowds that lined the road from Beirut’s airport into the city — is more than a morale boost for the Iranian president or another demonstration of the strength of his Hezbollah ally that now dominates Lebanon’s government. It was more proof of both the Islamist regime’s increasing confidence and the failure of American efforts to isolate Iran.

Viewed through the prism of Lebanese politics, Ahmadinejad’s visit is part of Hezbollah’s attempt to solidify its grasp on power in a country that is now clearly back under the thumb of Iran’s ally Syria.

In terms of the Middle East peace process, Ahmadinejad’s scheduled jaunt into southern Lebanon tomorrow is a reminder of Iran’s desire to promote armed struggle against Israel. Since the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, Iran has paid for both the rearming of Hezbollah and the reconstruction of many areas in Lebanon that were destroyed in a fight that the Islamist terrorist group provoked. Ahmadinejad’s visit can be seen as a symbol of the transformation of Lebanon into a full-fledged confrontation state rather than the Western ally that many thought was created after the Cedar Revolution in 2005.

Just as devastating is the symbolism of the planned conclave between Ahmadinejad, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, and Turkish Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. Despite the brave talk emanating from Washington about America’s success in getting mild sanctions against Iran passed by the United Nations, Iran may be in a stronger diplomatic position today than it was two years ago. The spectacle of Turkey sliding closer to an informal alliance with Iran, and with Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria combining to compromise Lebanon’s independence, demonstrates that Iran’s influence is growing rather than shrinking as Obama has claimed.

With a friendly trading partner in NATO member Turkey, the Iranians must now believe that any sanctions, even ones that are harsher than those currently in place, will always be able to be flouted. And with terrorist allies ensconced on two of Israel’s borders — Hezbollah and a Lebanese Army that seems to be morphing into a Hezbollah auxiliary in the north and Hamas-run Gaza in the south — Iran is also in a position to launch destabilizing terror strikes against Israel, as well as raising the possibility of another bloody war on either front.

While President Obama and his foreign policy team have been chasing their tails trying to orchestrate dead-end peace talks between Israel and a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in peace, Iran’s own diplomatic offensive is gaining ground. As the clock keeps ticking toward the moment when Ahmadinejad can announce the success of Iran’s nuclear project, there is little sign that the administration understands that Iran’s successes are the fruit of Washington’s spurned attempts to engage Tehran and its lackluster campaign to promote sanctions.

With the cheers of his Lebanese allies and the sweet talk from Turkey still ringing in his ears, it would be understandable if Ahmadinejad concluded that he has once again bested Obama. But as troubling as this diplomatic triumph for Iran may be, the confidence it may have engendered in the Iranian regime is something that ought to scare the Middle East and the rest of the world. An Iranian government that thinks it cannot lose in a confrontation with America, Israel, or the West is one that is liable to do anything if challenged. The consequences of such a mindset may be incalculable.

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RE: Western Inaction on Lebanon

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

Kudos to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) — who, as Jonathan noted, used her post as head of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid today to put a hold on $100 million in American assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which was approved for 2010 but not yet disbursed — and to House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who had applied a hold on the aid even before last Tuesday’s deadly border incident, out of concern about reported Hezbollah influence on the LAF. It’s encouraging that Congress recognizes the dangers, which I had outlined here earlier, of not responding to Lebanon’s naked aggression against Israel last week.

Nevertheless, it’s worrying that the administration clearly doesn’t share this understanding. The 2009 aid that remained in the pipeline is still being handed over as scheduled, because, a State Department official told the Jerusalem Post, the U.S. is still trying to determine the facts of the incident.

Yet on Wednesday, a day after the incident occurred, UNIFIL — an organization not known for its pro-Israel bias — had already confirmed that the Lebanese soldiers fired first, without provocation, and that no Israeli soldiers had strayed into Lebanese territory, contrary to Lebanon’s claim. Moreover, the Lebanese government has vociferously endorsed the attack and, as I noted earlier, even justified it on the grounds that Beirut no longer recognizes the UN-demarcated international border. Are any other facts really necessary to grasp that this is not behavior Washington should be encouraging by making it cost-free?

But it gets even worse. The official also told the Post, “we continue to believe that our support to the LAF and ISF [Internal Security Forces] will contribute toward improving regional security.” How exactly does supporting an army that has just launched an unprovoked, deadly, cross-border attack on a neighbor — and whose government has just announced that it no longer recognizes the international border, thereby implying that more such attacks are likely to follow — “contribute toward improving regional security”?

Continuing the pretense that Lebanon’s government is the West’s ally against Hezbollah won’t make it true. It will merely make it easier for Beirut to launch additional attacks against Israel by sparing it any need to consider the costs.

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Western Inaction Makes Another Israel-Lebanon War More Likely

After last Tuesday’s incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Western states hastened to call for calm and restraint on both sides. The implicit message was that the West sought to avoid another Israel-Lebanon war. Yet war is precisely where Western inaction is inexorably leading.

By Wednesday, UNIFIL had already announced its unequivocal findings: not only did the Lebanese shoot first, with no provocation, but the Israeli soldiers they targeted — killing one and seriously wounding another — were all on Israel’s side of the border. At no point did any Israelis stray, as Lebanon had claimed, into Lebanese territory. Moreover, the attackers were regular Lebanese Army soldiers, not Hezbollah terrorists for whom the government could disclaim responsibility.

But the border is unmarked at that point, lying some 70 meters north of the fence Israel built, and the Israelis were clearing vegetation between the fence and the border. So had Lebanon simply apologized and said it was an honest mistake — that its soldiers erroneously thought the Israelis were violating its sovereignty — there might have been justification for letting the incident slide.

But that isn’t what Beirut said. Instead, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri announced that Lebanon doesn’t recognize the international border (the so-called Blue Line) at that point; it claims additional territory south of the line. In short, far from apologizing and promising to respect the Blue Line henceforth, Lebanon’s government announced that its policy is to ignore the international border wherever it disputes the UN demarcation.

As UNIFIL noted, both Israel and Lebanon dispute this demarcation at various points, but both had pledged to respect it until those disputes were resolved. Now Beirut has essentially renounced that pledge.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that the shooting was planned in advance — namely, the presence of numerous Lebanese journalists, including the one from the daily Al-Akhbar who was killed when Israel returned fire. Mainstream Lebanese journalists don’t normally flock to the border to watch Israeli soldiers do routine tree-trimming. That so many were there last Tuesday indicates they had been told to expect action.

To sum up, Lebanon’s official army launched a planned, unprovoked attack on Israel. Lebanon’s government not only endorsed the attack but also proudly proclaimed its contempt for the international border. This stance elicited predictable cheers from radicals like Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and even “moderates” like Jordan backed it.

But from the West, there has been nothing except evenhanded calls for restraint on both sides: no blistering condemnations, no urgent Security Council deliberations, no demands for an international investigation, no threats of, say, reducing Western military aid to Lebanon.

Thus the lesson for Beirut is that such incidents are all gain, no pain: by attacking Israel, it can earn credit and breathing space from the radicals — a serious concern for a government that exists only at their mercy — without incurring any penalties whatsoever from the West. That gives it a strong incentive to launch additional attacks.

Eventually, it may well go too far, sparking another Israel-Lebanon war. And the West will have only itself to blame.

After last Tuesday’s incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Western states hastened to call for calm and restraint on both sides. The implicit message was that the West sought to avoid another Israel-Lebanon war. Yet war is precisely where Western inaction is inexorably leading.

By Wednesday, UNIFIL had already announced its unequivocal findings: not only did the Lebanese shoot first, with no provocation, but the Israeli soldiers they targeted — killing one and seriously wounding another — were all on Israel’s side of the border. At no point did any Israelis stray, as Lebanon had claimed, into Lebanese territory. Moreover, the attackers were regular Lebanese Army soldiers, not Hezbollah terrorists for whom the government could disclaim responsibility.

But the border is unmarked at that point, lying some 70 meters north of the fence Israel built, and the Israelis were clearing vegetation between the fence and the border. So had Lebanon simply apologized and said it was an honest mistake — that its soldiers erroneously thought the Israelis were violating its sovereignty — there might have been justification for letting the incident slide.

But that isn’t what Beirut said. Instead, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri announced that Lebanon doesn’t recognize the international border (the so-called Blue Line) at that point; it claims additional territory south of the line. In short, far from apologizing and promising to respect the Blue Line henceforth, Lebanon’s government announced that its policy is to ignore the international border wherever it disputes the UN demarcation.

As UNIFIL noted, both Israel and Lebanon dispute this demarcation at various points, but both had pledged to respect it until those disputes were resolved. Now Beirut has essentially renounced that pledge.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that the shooting was planned in advance — namely, the presence of numerous Lebanese journalists, including the one from the daily Al-Akhbar who was killed when Israel returned fire. Mainstream Lebanese journalists don’t normally flock to the border to watch Israeli soldiers do routine tree-trimming. That so many were there last Tuesday indicates they had been told to expect action.

To sum up, Lebanon’s official army launched a planned, unprovoked attack on Israel. Lebanon’s government not only endorsed the attack but also proudly proclaimed its contempt for the international border. This stance elicited predictable cheers from radicals like Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and even “moderates” like Jordan backed it.

But from the West, there has been nothing except evenhanded calls for restraint on both sides: no blistering condemnations, no urgent Security Council deliberations, no demands for an international investigation, no threats of, say, reducing Western military aid to Lebanon.

Thus the lesson for Beirut is that such incidents are all gain, no pain: by attacking Israel, it can earn credit and breathing space from the radicals — a serious concern for a government that exists only at their mercy — without incurring any penalties whatsoever from the West. That gives it a strong incentive to launch additional attacks.

Eventually, it may well go too far, sparking another Israel-Lebanon war. And the West will have only itself to blame.

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For Once, Israel Prefers an Ally to an Enemy

Recent articles about the Obama administration’s preference for enemies over allies ring depressingly familiar to Israelis, whose country is a past master of that perverse art (see, for instance, its treatment of the South Lebanon Army and the Druze). Thus it was encouraging to learn that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has for once preferred an ally to an enemy, by twice rejecting Qatar’s offer to restore low-level relations.

Qatar opened trade relations with Israel in 1996, then severed them during Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. But about six months ago, Haaretz reported, Qatar offered to let Israel reopen its trade mission in Doha if Israel would let it bring large quantities of cement and other construction material into Gaza, grant it leadership over efforts to rebuild the Strip, acknowledge its regional status, and publicly laud its regional role. It reiterated this offer four months later. Both times, Israel refused.

The initial report attributed Israel’s refusal to security concerns: fear that Hamas would use the Qatari construction material “to build bunkers and reinforced positions for missile launches against Israel.” That in itself was encouraging: after 17 years of “risks for peace” that, without exception, led to suicide bombings and rocket barrages, it’s reassuring to know that this government puts security first. Still, reasonable people could disagree over whether the risk truly outweighed the benefits of relations with another Arab country.

But a subsequent report removed all doubts about the decision’s wisdom. The real reason for Israel’s refusal, it said, was not security but Egypt’s objection: at a time when Cairo is taking enormous flak from the Arab world for blockading Gaza’s southern border, at Israel’s request, it would be intolerable for Israel to let Qatar become the Arab world’s hero by breaking the blockade.

Israel has many legitimate grievances against Egypt, from its viciously anti-Semitic state-controlled press to its insane effort to make Israel, rather than Iran, the focus of this month’s NPT Review Conference. Nevertheless, Egypt has on balance proved a valuable ally. Qatar has proved the opposite.

Unlike Qatar, Egypt has never used Israel’s counterterrorism efforts as an excuse for severing its ties with Jerusalem. Moreover, it has led Arab opposition to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas front, whereas Qatar has cozied up to this front: for instance, Doha brokered the 2008 agreement that granted Hezbollah veto power over Lebanon’s government, and it is planning joint military exercises with Iran.

And unlike Qatar, which seeks to bolster Gaza’s Hamas government by rebuilding the Strip, Egypt, after some initial faltering, is now striving to undermine Hamas by enforcing the blockade. And it’s working: in part because Hamas can no longer smuggle large quantities of cash across the Egyptian border, its revenues have fallen steeply, forcing it to impose new taxes that have proved deeply unpopular.

Thus for all its flaws, the Egyptian alliance is worth preserving — and certainly shouldn’t be sacrificed to gain a “friend” like Qatar, which has consistently worked against Israel’s interests. That may seem self-evident. But given Israel’s history of favoring enemies over allies, Netanyahu’s government deserves kudos for recognizing it.

Recent articles about the Obama administration’s preference for enemies over allies ring depressingly familiar to Israelis, whose country is a past master of that perverse art (see, for instance, its treatment of the South Lebanon Army and the Druze). Thus it was encouraging to learn that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has for once preferred an ally to an enemy, by twice rejecting Qatar’s offer to restore low-level relations.

Qatar opened trade relations with Israel in 1996, then severed them during Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. But about six months ago, Haaretz reported, Qatar offered to let Israel reopen its trade mission in Doha if Israel would let it bring large quantities of cement and other construction material into Gaza, grant it leadership over efforts to rebuild the Strip, acknowledge its regional status, and publicly laud its regional role. It reiterated this offer four months later. Both times, Israel refused.

The initial report attributed Israel’s refusal to security concerns: fear that Hamas would use the Qatari construction material “to build bunkers and reinforced positions for missile launches against Israel.” That in itself was encouraging: after 17 years of “risks for peace” that, without exception, led to suicide bombings and rocket barrages, it’s reassuring to know that this government puts security first. Still, reasonable people could disagree over whether the risk truly outweighed the benefits of relations with another Arab country.

But a subsequent report removed all doubts about the decision’s wisdom. The real reason for Israel’s refusal, it said, was not security but Egypt’s objection: at a time when Cairo is taking enormous flak from the Arab world for blockading Gaza’s southern border, at Israel’s request, it would be intolerable for Israel to let Qatar become the Arab world’s hero by breaking the blockade.

Israel has many legitimate grievances against Egypt, from its viciously anti-Semitic state-controlled press to its insane effort to make Israel, rather than Iran, the focus of this month’s NPT Review Conference. Nevertheless, Egypt has on balance proved a valuable ally. Qatar has proved the opposite.

Unlike Qatar, Egypt has never used Israel’s counterterrorism efforts as an excuse for severing its ties with Jerusalem. Moreover, it has led Arab opposition to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas front, whereas Qatar has cozied up to this front: for instance, Doha brokered the 2008 agreement that granted Hezbollah veto power over Lebanon’s government, and it is planning joint military exercises with Iran.

And unlike Qatar, which seeks to bolster Gaza’s Hamas government by rebuilding the Strip, Egypt, after some initial faltering, is now striving to undermine Hamas by enforcing the blockade. And it’s working: in part because Hamas can no longer smuggle large quantities of cash across the Egyptian border, its revenues have fallen steeply, forcing it to impose new taxes that have proved deeply unpopular.

Thus for all its flaws, the Egyptian alliance is worth preserving — and certainly shouldn’t be sacrificed to gain a “friend” like Qatar, which has consistently worked against Israel’s interests. That may seem self-evident. But given Israel’s history of favoring enemies over allies, Netanyahu’s government deserves kudos for recognizing it.

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