Lebanon and Israel, these two nations are in a state of tension and hostility with each other for the last three decades or more. The last major conflict dates back to the 2006 war, involving an Israeli incursion, which ended 33 days later in a ceasefire brokered by the UN. Both countries since then have seen no improvement in diplomatic relations. However, the maritime deal signed recently is of great significance and presents many possibilities for resolving issues through debates, opportunities for working together, and also fodder for conspiracy theories relating to a change in Hezbollah’s ideology and political stance.
Both countries have had zero diplomatic relations since the creation of Israel and have engaged militarily from time to time. Before 1982, Lebanon was an ally of the Arab states and fought Israel in various wars. The emergence of Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s changed everything once and for all.
Hezbollah is a group supported by Iran and follows the policy guidelines from Iranian authorities. It was initially a militia group supported by Iran. However, as time passed, the group emerged as one of the most influential actors, militarily and politically: not just in Lebanon but in the rest of the Middle East as well. The group turned political and joined Lebanese politics in the 1990s, and got seats at the parliamentary level. Now, after many years of conflict and political activism, Hezbollah is sitting with major seats and allies in the Legislative Assembly of Lebanon and its members hold important government positions, which makes Hezbollah an unavoidable actor when it comes to Lebanon’s political structure and decision-making. The recent deal between Israel and Lebanon is also reportedly carried out with due consultation with the group.
International law sees an implied recognition when states indicate through acts that they have recognized another state. This deal is being perceived as an indirect acceptance of Israel by Lebanon, as it has entered into a legal arrangement with Israel. However, implied recognition is all about intentions. Lebanon’s government categorically states that the deal is just a technical arrangement and nothing else. Historically, such agreements and treaties are also signed where leaders clearly express the nature of the deal, to make sure it doesn’t impact long-standing policies. Lebanese leaders, before and after signing the deal, had made it clear that the deal is a technical settlement of the dispute and doesn’t give any indication of Lebanon accepting Israel.
What does the deal bring up for Lebanon and Israel?
The deal brokered by the USA is aimed at resolving the longstanding sea dispute concerning the rights of states over demarcation Line 23. Both states since the emergence of Israel have claimed some 330 sq mi area off the shores of both countries. The area has Qana and Karish, major gas fields, and is home to hydrocarbons and many natural resources. The conflict intensified in 2010 when Israel found more natural resources in the fields. Since then, talks were carried out to settle the dispute. And this maritime deal appears to have accomplished it.
The agreement resolved the issues and settled down the limits of each state and defined their rights in the area according to the international law of the sea. The deal is providing a chance for Lebanon to address its economic crisis and take some respite in times of chaos and disturbance.
Also, the deal is more than just a victory for Hezbollah and Lebanon – as the country was in dire need of such relief. If the issue had not been resolved, having in view the current situation of Iran and its unavailability for handling allied foreign groups, Hezbollah might have faced several challenges and the situation could have led to damage to the group’s influence in the country.
Future of the deal and the relationship between Israel and Lebanon
The deal was signed and agreed upon by the now ex-prime minister of Israel Yair Lapid. His government was ideologically committed to Zionism but is seen as relatively moderate and open-minded. The deal was a sign of that.
The government is now changed and Prime Minster Netanyahu is the current head of the government, who initially referred to the deal as a “historic surrender” to Hezbollah before the new elections in Israel.
Lebanon’s side was headed by President Aoun. The deal also had a green light from Hezbollah. However, they also had asked and made sure that the deal at no stage gives any signal of Lebanon accepting Israel as a state. The president repeatedly denounced such a move and clearly stated that the deal is only meant to settle down the dispute and had no political dimensions.
The future of the deal is quite shaky, as the recent change of leadership in Israel is deemed as a threat to the agreement, knowing the current PM’s remarks regarding the deal as a move toward surrendering to Hezbollah. He also had indicated, on October 22, at “neutralising” the deal as he did with the OSLO accords. He said that the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians “were not canceled, they were neutralised.” Hezbollah also stated that the arrangement is not an international treaty, referring to the claim that none of the parties sit under one roof and neither signed a paper having the signatures of both parties. However, the chances of withdrawal from Lebanon’s side are low, given the current economic crisis.
Lebanon is facing economic challenges for the last many years and the international community has not been interested in picking up and helping the government in Lebanon due to the state’s support to the Hezbollah group, which is now integrated with the political system of Lebanon. Hence the deal is a win-win for the political factions in Lebanon and Hezbollah itself.
Moreover, the relationship between both states will undergo little impact as the intentions of both parties were made clear before signing the deal. Lebanon signed for economic relief, as did Israel. However, we may see a halt in hostile engagements between both sides in the near future because of the economic significance of the deal and the guarantees by the
USA that the future governments will not affect or withdraw the deal addressing Lebanon’s concerns.
But, considering the new elections in Israel and the power shift back to Netanyahu, the deal may yet see certain setbacks. These may not necessarily mean a withdrawal from the entire deal, but other issues may get highlighted and steps might be taken to mitigate the benefits that Hezbollah and Lebanon’s government would get.
Netanyahu is unlikely to settle for a strong, stable, well-off Lebanese state which is so beholden to Hezbollah.
Basit Nabi Haroo is pursuing Masters in Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University. Feedback at [email protected]