Posts Tagged ‘Hezbollah’

Israel Attacked ‘Hezbollah Arms Depot’ in Syria’s Damascus

January 17, 2018

This is a breaking news story…

Flames rising from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017. Israel was blamed for the attack
FILE photo — Flames rising from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017. Syria blamed Israel for the attackSAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP

Syrian opposition sources claimed Israeli warplanes attacked the Almas military airport near Damascus early Wednesday morning. According to reports, a Hezbollah arms depot was the target of the attack.

There was no official response from the Syrian government or the Israeli army.

The attack follows one from last week which was also attributed to Israel in which an arms depot in a Syrian army military base near Damascus was attacked with jets and ground-to-ground missiles, the Syrian army said.


Hamas Approaches Endgame in Gaza as Israel Sharpens Its Tunnel-elimination Prowess

January 14, 2018

Either way, Israel will keep building an anti-tunnel barrier along the Gaza border while looking for and destroying passages that have already been dug

By Amos Harel Jan 14, 2018 4:27 PM

An Israeli jeep drives near where Israeli forces said they had destroyed an attack tunnel from Gaza, December 10, 2017.

An Israeli jeep drives near where Israeli forces said they had destroyed an attack tunnel from Gaza, December 10, 2017. Amir Cohen

The destruction of the Hamas tunnel on the Gaza border Saturday night supports the conclusion that Israel has found a defense against the threat of attack tunnels under the Strip. Even if the defense isn’t perfect, it’s pretty effective. The tunnel that was identified and blown up over the weekend near the Kerem Shalom crossing, near where Egypt, Israel and Gaza meet, is reportedly the fourth to be found by Israel since October.

The latest tunnel demolition worsens Hamas’ dilemma on how it should act as Israel gradually deprives it of one of its main offensive assets. The finding of the latest tunnel isn’t directly related to the barrier that Israel has been putting up along the Gaza border. Saturday’s tunnel was found in an area where work on the barrier hasn’t yet begun.

But the combination of technology, intelligence and operational means, along with the planned completion of most of the security barrier by year-end, show that the clock is ticking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. (The first tunnel destroyed belonged to the smaller Islamic Jihad.) As Hamas leaders’ would view them, the tunnels are a strategic project in which hundreds of millions of shekels have been invested over nearly a decade, involving thousands of laborers and fighters. And now all this may be going down the drain.


At this point, Hamas hasn’t responded clearly to Israel’s steps. Also, Hamas members haven’t been directly involved in the firing of rockets from Gaza at the Negev, some of which have been launched by Salafi groups and some by Islamic Jihad.

Hamas’ decision not to respond to the destruction of the tunnels also apparently reflects the trap the organization finds itself in. It’s having a hard time seeing to the economic needs of the 2 million Gazans, it has a poor relationship with Egypt, and implementation of the Hamas-Palestinian Authority reconciliation agreement is sputtering.

This time the embarrassment is even greater because Israel has announced that some of the latest tunnel was under Egyptian territory.

And the consequences for Hamas are greater than usual. Not only has the group’s planned offensive activity under the border and under the Kerem Shalom crossing — the main goods crossing into the Strip no less, along with pipelines supplying natural gas and diesel — been uncovered. This time the tunnel reflects an intrusion into the sovereignty of Egypt, which Hamas is greatly dependent on in its efforts to improve conditions in Gaza.

One can assume that the Israeli army is also prepared for a possible attack by a Palestinian group through a tunnel before other tunnels are discovered and destroyed.

Regarding the latest tunnel, Hamas claimed that the air force had bombed a “civilian” tunnel that had been used for smuggling goods, rather than a Hamas tunnel. In Israel, officials insisted that the tunnel had been dug with the help of Hamas’ elite Nukhba unit, and that the tunnel had a branch under the border crossing — evidence of plans for a terror attack inside Israel.

Israel’s excavations toward the Egyptian border may uncover plans to smuggle weapons from Sinai into Gaza or to get terrorists out of Gaza — if necessary to have them reinforce an attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side of the border. For years the Palestinian groups have viewed the crossings as legitimate and even desirable targets for terror attacks, despite the possible negative effects for Gazans. There is also a history of suicide bombings and the use of tunnels against the Erez, Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings between Gaza and Israel dating back a decade.

The stepped-up pace of Israeli army activity regarding Gaza is evidence of the efforts to deal with the tunnels, efforts that are far from over. In any event, Israel’s priorities in Gaza are clear. The main effort is building a barrier along the border to counter the tunnels, while looking for and destroying tunnels that have already been dug.

In addition to concerns about a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, dealing with the tunnels is another constraint in Israel’s considerations over whether to get into another large confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. Depriving Hamas of the offensive weapon of the tunnels is such a priority that Israel’s leaders are willing to show relative restraint over rocket fire from Gaza, as long as there are no casualties on the Israeli side.

This also comes against the backdrop, according to foreign reports, of Israeli operations against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. In the north, this effort involves going right to the edge, with a relatively high risk of an outbreak of hostilities. Israel must therefore be cautious in calculating its moves so it can keep chalking up successes and avoid a conflagration on both fronts.

Amos Harel
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US is leading the way in challenging Iran

January 14, 2018

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg | 

US President Donald Trump has given the Iran nuclear deal a “last chance” and for the final time waived sanctions related to its nuclear program. If the agreement’s “disastrous flaws” are not fixed within 120 days, Trump says the US will withdraw from the deal.

In particular, the US insists on immediate inspections at all Iran’s nuclear sites, and it wants the curbs on Iran’s nuclear program — which expire after 10 years under the deal — made permanent. Trump has also asked Congress to modify US law on the nuclear deal to include clear automatic triggers that enable the US to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions if Iran violates the deal.

A man looks at Iranian-made missiles at Defense Museum in Tehran on Sept. 23, 2015. (Reuters)

Iran is, of course, desperate to save the deal without any changes. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has frequently said the deal was “not renegotiable.” The reason for Iran’s attachment to the deal is that it has reaped great benefits from it, without significant sacrifices. It was able to maintain its nuclear program, end its isolation and receive billions of dollars from previously frozen assets.

European foreign ministers will meet in Brussels next week to discuss the Trump ultimatum. While voicing serious concerns about Iran’s non-nuclear activities, Europeans would rather have the deal stick without amendments. Unlike US businesses, which have not benefited significantly from the deal, Europeans have been falling all over each other trying to secure trade and investment deals with Iran, made possible by the end of nuclear-related sanctions.

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Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

Regional players, including the Gulf Cooperation Council, support the US position. At their summit in Kuwait last month, GCC leaders applauded the GCC-US strategic partnership and announced that they were keen to work with the Trump administration to counter Iran’s “aggressive and expansionary” policies in the region. They denounced those destabilizing policies “in their nuclear dimensions and ballistic missile program.” They emphasized the need to “prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” stop its ballistic missile program and counter its activities aimed at destabilizing the region and endangering its peace. They reserved their harshest criticism for Iran’s support for terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and other sectarian militias.


While there is no consensus on the nuclear deal, all parties agree Tehran has to be held accountable on issues such as its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities in the region.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

While there is no consensus now on the nuclear deal, all actors — including Europeans — agree that Iran has to be held accountable on non-nuclear issues, including its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities in the region. The recent protests in Iran have prompted additional concerns about human rights and the regime’s stability and long-term survival.

As GCC states have done before, Trump stressed the need to tie together Iran’s ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism and the nuclear issue, making any missile testing by Iran subject to “severe sanctions.” Similarly, the US administration has taken strong action against Iranian officials who are believed to support terrorism.

At the same time as the US was approving the waiver on nuclear-related sanctions, it also announced sanctions against 14 Iranian individuals and organizations, including the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani.

In another blow to the malign activities of Iran and its regional proxies, the US Department of Justice has set up the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team of federal prosecutors to investigate drug trafficking and money laundering believed to be carried out by the terrorist group and Iranian proxy.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the new team would examine cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force that targeted Hezbollah’s money laundering and drug trafficking in the United States. The Justice Department “will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” he said.

Unlike previous investigations of Hezbollah, the new probe is politically sensitive because there are accusations, yet to be proven, that the Obama administration sought to downplay the issue as it tried to conclude the nuclear deal. “While I am hopeful that there were no barriers constructed by the last administration to allowing DEA agents to fully bring all appropriate cases under Project Cassandra, this is a significant issue for the protection of Americans,” Sessions said.

Previous investigations of Hezbollah activities in the US and elsewhere have led to numerous convictions of its operatives for narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime and money laundering, as well as assassinations and other acts of terrorism.

Washington’s push to counter Iran’s malign activities appears to be the most serious to date — and the most comprehensive, as it covers the nuclear program, ballistic missiles program, support for terrorism, narcoterrorism and money laundering. America’s allies are gradually joining the fight on one or more of these fronts.

•  Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is a columnist for Arab News. Email:
Twitter: @abuhamad1


British Parliament To Debate Full Ban on Hezbollah

January 13, 2018
 JANUARY 13, 2018 16:34

Currently, the UK only proscribes Hezbollah’s ‘military wing,’ but not its ‘political wing.’

British Parliament to debate full ban of Hezbollah as terrorist entity

The Union Flag flies near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, June 7, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, driven by an antisemitic ideology, which seeks the destruction of Israel,” Labour Friends of Israel director Jennifer Gerber told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “The British government has repeatedly failed to take action to ban it in its entirety. This debate is intended to increase the pressure on them to do so without further delay or excuses.”

MP Joan Ryan, the head of the pro-Israel Labour Party group, worked to obtain the cross-party parliamentary debate on the terrorist proscription of Hezbollah. The Labour Party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends.”

According to a statement from Labour Friends of Israel, the group “has long called for the complete proscription of the terrorist group Hezbollah. Currently, the UK only proscribes Hezbollah’s ‘military wing,’ but not its ‘political wing.’

The UK’s distinction is not one that Hezbollah itself recognizes. Its deputy secretary-general, Naim Qassem, stated in 2009 that the ‘same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.’

“This false distinction means that Hezbollah flags can be flown on the streets of Britain,” LFI wrote. “This is most notably seen in London during the annual al-Quds Day parade. Last June, LFI vice chair Louise Ellman wrote to the home secretary, Amber Rudd, calling for Hezbollah’s proscription as well as asking London Mayor Sadiq Khan to review the policing of the event. In November, she met with the Metropolitan Police to discuss our concerns.”

The US, the Arab League, the Netherlands, Israel and Canada have all designated all of Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The White House on Friday urged all countries to outlaw all of Hezbollah.

“I also call on all our allies to take stronger steps with us to confront Iran’s other malign activities,” President Donald Trump said. “Among other actions, our allies should cut off funding to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its militant proxies, and anyone else who contributes to Iran’s support for terrorism. They should designate Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terrorist organization.”

The European Union designated Hezbollah’s so-called military wing, Izzadin Kassam, a terrorist entity in 2013. The UK classified Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist entity in 2008 because of the group’s attacks on British soldiers in Iraq.

The EU’s terrorist classification followed Hezbollah’s 2012 attack on an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, resulting in the murders of five Israelis and their Bulgarian Muslim bus driver. The trial of the two Hezbollah suspects is slated to proceed in February.

The two men on trial for the attack, Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, fled to Lebanon. Their trial is being held in absentia, because Lebanon’s government has refused to extradite the two suspects to Bulgaria.

A third Hezbollah attacker, Lebanese-French national Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini, is believed to have carried the bomb onto the bus. He died during the blast.

Germany’s most recent intelligence data show that 950 Hezbollah operatives work in Germany. The Hezbollah members raise funds and recruit members. They also play a key role in supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against the Jewish state.

Israeli and German lawmakers appealed to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière to ban Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine from Germany. De Maizière rejected the request.

In 2013, Taleb Yaacoub, a Hezbollah member carrying both Lebanese and Swedish passports, was convicted in Cyprus for plotting to murder Israelis. The Cypriot court sentenced the man to four years prison.

In 2015, a Cypriot court sentenced Hezbollah operative Hussein Bassam Abdallah to six years in prison for collecting explosives to use against Israelis.



Iran vows to pursue ballistic missile development, slams ‘irrational’ Trump

January 13, 2018

Amid US president’s push to incorporate Tehran’s ballistic capabilities into nuke accord, Iranian official says program ‘the only deterrent against enemy threats’

Iranians gather next to a replica of a medium-range ballistic missile during a demonstration outside the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 4, 2017, marking the anniversary of its storming by student protesters that triggered a hostage crisis in 1979. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Iranians gather next to a replica of a medium-range ballistic missile during a demonstration outside the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 4, 2017, marking the anniversary of its storming by student protesters that triggered a hostage crisis in 1979. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

An Iranian government official on Saturday said that Iran would pursue its ballistic missile program despite US pressure, and slammed US President Donald Trump for his “irrational behavior,” calling him the “most hated president in American history.”

In an interview on Saturday with the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), an operation partly funded by the Iranian government, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said Iran makes decisions based on national interests and that its ballistic capabilities served as a deterrent.

“Ballistic capability is the only deterrent against enemy threats,” Boroujerdi was quoted by ISNA as saying, “after Iran has agreed to have no nuclear weapons and to use no weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons, because it is totally against the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

The remark comes on the heels of Trump’s decision on Friday to sign a waiver on Iranian sanctions, suspending punitive measures for another 120 days and keeping the Iran nuclear deal alive. The US president warned that this would be the last time he does so unless Congress and European countries fix the nuclear deal’s “terrible flaws,” and heed his call to strengthen it, including incorporating Iran’s missile program into the accord.

In this January 9, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The US president has to sign sanctions waivers every four months, while the American intelligence services monitor the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the nuclear deal, signed in 2015, which rolled back crippling sanctions against Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

In a statement following the signing of the waivers, Trump laid out four conditions that must be met, including increased inspections, ensuring “Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon,” and that there be no expiry date to the nuke deal. The current one expires after a decade.

His last condition required Capitol Hill lawmakers to pass a bill unilaterally incorporating Iran’s missile program into the nuclear deal.

“The legislation must explicitly state in United States law — for the first time — that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions,” the president’s written statement said.

Iran has repeatedly said that the nuclear accord could not be renegotiated, including earlier Saturday when the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Tehran would “accept no changes” to the deal and will not allow the accord to be linked to any non-nuclear issue.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran stresses clearly that it will take no measures beyond its commitments under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the deal’s official name] and will accept no changes to this agreement now or in the future, and will not allow that the JCPOA be linked to any other issue [than the nuclear issue],” said Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

The ministry added that, “The internal solidity of and international support for the agreement have blocked attempts by Mr. Trump, the Zionist regime and the ominous alliance of hard-line warmongers to terminate this agreement or make changes to it.”

In the interview with ISNA Saturday, Boroujerdi said that “while many European countries and the signatories of the nuclear deal have repeatedly protested [against] the irrational behavior of Trump, he is still considered as a serious violator of JCPOA.”

But “Trump was forced once again to extend Iran’s nuclear sanctions waiver despite all the boasts,” he added.

Boroujerdi said Trump was “the most hated president [in] the American history, whose hatred has crossed US geological boundaries and [has] become a global phenomenon.”

Agencies and Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

Israeli Army Warns: Danger of Violence Escalating Into War Is Growing

January 13, 2018

With eye on recent events, military intel warn of potential war ■ Abbas may have backed himself into a corner ■ Gaza threat looms over Israelis

By Amos Harel Jan 13, 2018 12:52 PM

An Israeli soldier walks near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in Israel, October 30, 2017.

An Israeli soldier walks near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in Israel, October 30, 2017. AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

The odds of a neighboring country, or one of the terrorist organizations operating inside of it, launching a war against Israel this year are almost nonexistent, according to the Israeli army’s intelligence assessment for 2018.

Sounding remarkably similar to the 2017 assessment provided to the defense minister, the military noted there is not much left of the Arab armies, and Israel’s neighbors are mostly preoccupied with themselves, while internal problems are distracting Hezbollah and Hamas.

Is there any difference from 2017? Well, the danger of deterioration – perhaps even to the point of war – has grown significantly, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stated. The intelligence branch and the chief of staff, who is beginning his fourth and final year at the helm of the army, are concerned about two possible scenarios.

The first would be the result of a reaction by one of Israel’s enemies to an Israeli show of force. The second would stem from a flare-up on the Palestinian front. When the terrorism genie gets out of the Palestinian bottle, it takes many months or even years to put it back.

The first scenario, which the army terms “the campaign between the wars,” might happen when Israel tries to prevent rivals from obtaining advance weaponry they might want to use during a future war, according to Eisenkot.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, center, being briefed by Col. Gilad Amit, commander of the Samaria Brigade, following the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, January 18, 2018.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, center, being briefed by Col. Gilad Amit, commander of the Samaria Brigade, following the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, January 18, 2018.IDF

Most of these operations occur under the radar, far from Israel’s borders. Usually, such operations draw little media attention and Israel invariably dodges the question of responsibility. The previous Israel Air Force commander, Gen. Amir Eshel, told Haaretz last August there were nearly 100 such attacks under his five-year command, mostly on Syrian and Hezbollah arms convoys on the northern front.

However, the more Israel carries out such attacks, and the more it does so on increasingly sophisticated systems (according to foreign media reports), the higher the chances of a confrontation with other countries and organizations, increasing the danger of a significant retaliation.

A similar thing is happening on the Gaza border. Work on the defense barrier against cross-border attack tunnels is advancing, while Israel is simultaneously developing and implementing more sophisticated methods to locate these tunnels.

At least three tunnels were seemingly located and destroyed near the Gaza border in recent months. However, this success could exact a price if Hamas or Islamic Jihad decide to try and use the remaining attack tunnels before they are completely destroyed or redundant.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, accompanied by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a visit to a military exercise in the Golan Heights in 2017.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, accompanied by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a visit to a military exercise in the Golan Heights in 2017.Ministry of Defense

It is usually accepted practice to call out intelligence officials over mistaken forecasts. But we received a small example of all these trends on various fronts over the past two weeks. The cabinet convened for a long meeting about the northern front last Sunday. Arab media reported early Tuesday morning about an Israeli attack on Syrian army weapons depots near Damascus. A base in the same area, which Iran had reportedly built for one of the Shi’ite militia groups, was bombed from the air in early December. In most of the recent attacks, the Syrians fired at the reportedly Israeli aircraft. The Syrians also claimed recently that the attacks have become more sophisticated, made in multiple waves and even included surface-to-surface missiles.

A few days beforehand, there was a report about an Israeli aerial attack – apparently on a cross-border attack tunnel – next to the Gaza border. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the demonstrations to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital were dying down, out of a seeming lack of public interest. Then, on Tuesday evening, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, from the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad, was killed in a drive-by shooting attack near Nablus. The army responded by surrounding villages and erecting roadblocks around Nablus, for the first time in two years. The IDF moves were acts of collective punishment the chief of staff would normally rather avoid, but they were approved on a limited basis due to the murder of an Israeli.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted that the Shin Bet security service is close to solving the murder, but at the time of writing it was still unclear who did it. Hamas and Islamic Jihad released statements praising the deed, while, in a rare move, Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – which has been virtually inactive for a decade – took responsibility for the attack.

Its statement, which was posted on several Facebook pages, attributed the attack to the “Raed Karmi cell,” marking the anniversary of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades leader’s death. Israel assassinated Karmi – the military leader in Tul Karm responsible for the killing of many Israeli civilians and soldiers during the second intifada – on January 14, 2002.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a more amicable time, May 3, 2017, at the White House in Washington D.C.
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a more amicable time, May 3, 2017Carlos Barria, Reuters
Woe to Abbas

The Palestinian Authority, whose leadership has avoided condemning the murder of an Israeli citizen, is making an effort nonetheless to capture terrorists in designated areas in Nablus under its jurisdiction. The Israeli moves in the area added to the humiliation of the PA, which looks like it has navigated itself into a dead end.

President Mahmoud Abbas is in trouble. The Trump declaration on Jerusalem provided him with a temporary escape. Last November the Palestinians received worrisome information that the Trump administration’s brewing peace plan was leaning in Israel’s favor. Trump’s so-called deal of the century would likely include leaving settlements in the West Bank in place, and declaring Abu Dis the Palestinian Jerusalem, capital of a prospective state.

These planks are unacceptable to Abbas. However, the Trump declaration allowed the PA leader to accuse the Americans of giving up any pretense to being an honest broker. He found refuge in the embrace of attendees at the Islamic Conference in Turkey, and in halting all discussion of renewing negotiations.

Abbas soon discovered that rejecting a reopening of talks with Israel didn’t stop the drumbeat of bad news coming his way. UNRWA was facing a severe financial crisis well before the Trump administration threatened to freeze the U.S. share of funding for the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugee assistance. The crisis, incidentally, also worries Jordan, which hosts at least 3 million Palestinian refugees and descendants. The flow of funds from the donor nations to the territories is dissipating, at a time that the reconciliation process between the PA and Hamas has ground to a halt, with Abbas saying he doesn’t see any benefit that can come of it.

Meanwhile, Fatah members from activists in the field to the aging leadership are despairing of the chance of realizing the two-state solution. Israel protests the statements of senior Fatah officials about the right to wage armed struggle. It recently arrested a retired Palestinian general on the charge that he had organized protests in East Jerusalem. Fatah plans a council meeting next week, in which participants are expected to adopt a militant line.

Abbas, who turns 83 in March, is increasingly feeling his years. His health has deteriorated and so has his patience and fitness to work, although it seems his love for travel has not faded. Claims of widespread corruption, some of which allegedly involve his family, are increasing. Other forces in the West Bank are aware of his weakened physical and political condition. Hamas is vigorously encouraging attacks against Israel, probably in expectation of humiliating the PA. Last week the Shin Bet asserted that for the first time, an Iranian agent was operating a Palestinian terror cell in Hebron.

Meanwhile, a multiparty effort is being made to halt the violence and prevent a sliding into a military confrontation. Under the shadow of rockets by Salafi groups in Gaza, Israel and the PA announced the transfer of additional funds from the PA to pay for increasing the electricity supply from Israel to the Strip. There has not been a single rocket fired this week, but the situation remains fragile. The army increased security around communities close to the border and has stepped up exercises that simulate terrorists using tunnels to infiltrate under the border to kidnap and kill Israelis. The chief of staff watched the elite Shaldag unit going into action in such a scenario this week.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in the funeral of their comrade in the central Gaza Strip October 31, 2017.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in the funeral of their comrade in the central Gaza Strip October 31, 2017. SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

The army has to stay alert because Islamic Jihad has yet to avenge the killing of its people together with Hamas operatives in a tunnel explosion on the border last October. In November, Jihad militants fired over 20 mortar shells in a four-minute span at an army outpost near Sderot (no one was injured).

Shells were fired a month after that, probably by Islamic Jihad, at Kibbutz Kfar Aza during a memorial ceremony for Oron Shaul, who was killed in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and whose body is being held in Gaza. Army officials expect more attempts.

The large number of gliders the Palestinians have launched near the border recently likely attests to intelligence gathering ahead of attacks. Israeli officials are also kept awake by recent reports from Syria of a mysterious glider attack against a Russian air force base in the country’s north. Organizations in Gaza are in arm’s reach of this technology.

An opposition fighter fires a gun from a village near al-Tamanah during ongoing battles with government forces in Syria's Idlib province on January 11, 2018.
An opposition fighter fires a gun from a village near al-Tamanah during ongoing battles with government forces in Syria’s Idlib province on January 11, 2018.OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP

Syria war still isn’t over 

The civil war in Syria, which enters its eighth year in March, has not completely died out. The Assad regime, which has restored its rule over most of the country’s population, is still clashing with rebels in the Idlib enclave in northern Syria and is preparing for an eventual attack to chase the rebels out of the border area with Israel, along the Golan. The two attacks on the Russian base in Khmeimim (artillery shelling, which damaged a number of planes and helicopters, preceded the glider attack) indicate that some of the groups are determined to keep fighting Assad and his allies.

The war in Syria started with a protest by residents of Daraa, a town in the south, against a backdrop of economic difficulties for farmers whose incomes were suffering from desertification. The regime’s brutal methods of oppression led to the spread of protest, and things quickly descended into civil war, in which several countries have meddled until today. The war often has consequences on nature. There has been a rise in the number of rabies cases in Israel in recent months, mainly in the north. One of the possible explanations involves the migration of rabies-infested jackals from Jordan and Syria. During the war Syria has suffered a total collapse of civilian authority, and certainly of veterinary services. When there are no regular vaccinations, neighboring countries suffer as well.

The Middle Eastern country suffering the second bloodiest civil war, Yemen, gets only a tenth as much attention as Syria. The war in Yemen has raged for three years. Some 3 million residents out of a total of 28 million have fled the country as refugees. Over half of those remaining suffer from food insecurity. The UN recently estimated that about a million residents have contracted cholera from contaminated water or food.

Such outbreaks can erupt easily, even closer to home. The European Union is expected to hold an emergency session in Brussels about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Israeli defense establishment has confirmed the frequent reports by humanitarian organizations of the continued collapse of civilian infrastructure, mainly water and sanitation, in Gaza. Wastewater from Gaza, flowing straight into the sea, is reaching the beaches of Ashkelon and Ashdod. I recently asked a senior Israeli official if he doesn’t fear an outbreak of an epidemic like cholera in Gaza.

“Every morning, I am surprised anew that it still hasn’t happened,” he replied.

Amos Harel
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Flare-up with Israel tests Hamas effort to keep Gaza on low boil

January 13, 2018

Palestinians watch as demonstrators clash with Israeli troops, near the border with Israel in the east of Gaza City on Friday. (REUTERS)

ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER: The worst fighting on the Gaza Strip front since 2014 is being calibrated by Hamas, which wants to signal defiance of Israel and the US while being careful not to trigger a new war for the enclave’s penned-in Palestinians.

Since President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinians in Gaza have launched 18 cross-border rockets or mortars — a third of all such attacks in 3-1/2 years of relative quiet.
For Israel’s part, though residents in the south have raised a clamor for harsh retaliation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has counselled caution and targeted mostly unmanned Hamas facilities in night-time airstrikes.
The careful moves reflect the balancing act maintained both by Hamas that controls Gaza and the Israeli government — old foes who share a reluctance to go to war again.
Gaza’s neighborhoods still bear the scars of the destruction caused by Israeli attacks during a seven-week conflict in 2014. In Israel, there is little eagerness to endure the daily sirens warning of rocket strikes.
But ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are keenly aware that even a single incident — a rocket causing multiple fatalities in Israel or Israeli forces killing a militant leader — could set off a conflagration that would be beyond their leaders’ control.
Two Hamas gunmen have died in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes and 15 protesters from Israeli gunfire.
“The recent weeks of rockets and Israeli bombardment proved an explosion is possible,” said Gaza political analyst Akram Attalla. “How long will Hamas continue to take Israeli strikes to its positions without a response? And how long will Israel’s Netanyahu tolerate internal criticism? There is no guarantee.”
While there have been no Israeli fatalities or serious injuries in the rocket strikes, farmers in communities close to the Gazan border think twice about tilling fields where they might be exposed and children practice duck-and-cover drills should air raid sirens sound.
“Lately we do feel that there is more presence of the army. We have been told to be more careful, to clear the bomb shelter just in case. You never know when the next rocket will come,” said Hila Fenlon, resident of the farm collective Nativ Haasara.
Hamas has responded to Trump’s move by mobilizing mass protests at the border and turning a blind eye to other factions firing into Israel in two weeks of daily attacks, which have tailed off recently.
“This saves face for Hamas, as it appears to be the one that stands behind these protests without the need to go to war,” said Attalla.
A more violent response was tamped down in debate among Palestinian factions who agreed that an armed confrontation could erode the international support Palestinians have won diplomatically and shift attention from the political process.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said no-one should underestimate the potential for hostilities to resume under what he called an Israeli occupation, however.
Israel withdrew troops and settlers from the territory in 2005 but remains the conduit for the passage of goods and supplies most of its electricity. Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, maintain tight restrictions on the passage of Palestinians through their borders with the enclave.
“The situation in Gaza is very difficult and is not tolerable and is doomed to explode,” he told Reuters.

Iranian support
Israel sees an outside catalyst for the violence — Iran, which both Hamas and its sometime ally Islamic Jihad (IJ) say has pledged unlimited assistance for them as the Syrian civil war, where Tehran deployed reinforcements for Damascus, winds down.

Israel has gone out its way to blame IJ and other groups for the rocket and mortar attacks, rather than Hamas, and even gave grudging credit to Hamas for being mindful of Palestinian civilian needs.
“Calls to respond with full force against Hamas are irresponsible,” the top Israeli general, Gadi Eizenkot, said in a speech last week. He noted Gaza’s “danger of humanitarian collapse,” which, he said, had forced Hamas to engage with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and secured a renewed power supply to the enclave.

Israel also has problems elsewhere.

Having neutralized much of the rocket threat from Gaza with their Iron Dome interceptor system, and hard at a work on an underground wall that would block guerrilla tunnels from the territory, Israeli defense officials say they worry more about Iran and the combustible northern front with Syria and Lebanon.
They also fear that the $1.1 billion sensor-equipped barrier on the 60-km frontier could tempt Gaza militants to use their tunnels to strike Israel before they lose them.
A range of economic initiatives have been broached, from the construction of an island off Gaza to handle direct imports by sea to the issuing of more permits for Palestinian laborers or agricultural exports to enter Israel.
“There is an effort to help the (Palestinian) population in a way that will not go to the armed wing of Hamas,” said Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief and head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, which has prepared a 180-page memorandum on the Gaza crisis.
Israeli concern about worsening Gaza’s internal problems has put it at odds even with the Trump administration, which has threatened to cut US contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that provides essential aid for Palestinian refugees in the enclave, supporting and administering hundreds of schools and dozens of health facilities.
Israel says funds should be cut gradually and UNRWA should ultimately be dismantled and its responsibilities transferred to the UN’s global refugee agency.
Cutting aid to UNRWA would spell “huge pressures on Gaza’s residents,” said Saleh Naami, another Palestinian political analyst.
Peter Lerner, a former Israeli military spokesman, agreed.
“While UNRWA is far from perfect, the Israeli defense establishment, and the Israeli government as a whole, have over the years come to the understanding that all alternatives are worse for Israel,” he said.

Where is The Latest Iranian Revolution Headed?

January 13, 2018
 JANUARY 13, 2018 07:47

The protests of the past two weeks are significant.

Where is the latest Iranian ‘revolution’ headed?

A WOMAN chants slogans during a protest against the visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, outside the European Union Council in Brussels. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters). (photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)

It is still too soon to say that the wave has entirely spent itself. Demonstrations are still taking place, despite the IRGC’s announcement on Monday of an end to the unrest. In the cities of Sanandaj, Zahedan, Meybod, Abarkuh, Kordkuy, Aqqala, Alvand and Buin Zahra, among other centers, rallies were held. But the number of those attending the demonstrations is decreasing.

The wave of unrest was the most intensive to hit the country since 2009. Its details constitute evidence of broad alienation from the regime of a significant section of Iran’s youthful population. The unrest at its height spread to over 80 cities and towns. The average age among those arrested was 25. Demonstrators chanted anti-regime slogans and attacked facilities of the Basij paramilitaries and other regime-associated institutions.

Notably, Tehran’s costly policy of regional interference formed a focus for the protesters’ rage. Slogans such as “Leave Syria, think about us!” and “Death to Hezbollah!” were heard. More general anti-regime slogans, including “We don’t want an Islamic Republic” and “Death to the dictator” were also chanted by demonstrators.

The protests began in the pro-regime, conservative city of Mashhad. Their initial focus was new austerity measures introduced by President Hassan Rouhani. There is evidence that the initial instigators of the demonstrations were themselves from among the hard-line “principalist” opponents of Rouhani.

But these elements did not anticipate the rapid growth of the demonstrations or their intensity. The regime, clearly taken by surprise, reacted in

A NUMBER of conclusions can be drawn from the direction of events so far.

1. For those hoping for the downfall of the Islamist regime, a major absence in the Iranian context is that of a revolutionary “party.” This does not necessarily mean a formal political party but, rather, a revolutionary trend with a level of organization and popular appeal, a vision for the future and a broad strategy for defeating the Islamist regime. At present, nothing of this type exists in the Iranian context – neither as a network inside the country, nor as a widely respected focus on the outside.

Because of this absence, the 2009 protests, which were concerned with the apparently rigged reelection of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were diverted through the election of the “moderate” Rouhani.

The current protests, meanwhile, which are economic in nature, may well be similarly diverted by a combination of a strong hand, some cosmetic concessions, and probably, ironically, also by the scapegoating of the “moderate” president.

Such diversionary moves are possible because of the dispersed and divided nature of the opposition. As long as no nucleus of political (and, probably, military) opposition to the regime emerges, it is difficult to see a way that a wave of unrest can smash the edifice of the Islamic Republic.

2. The regime has been keen, naturally, to blame the unrest on foreign agitators. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Twitter feed suggested that a “pattern activating these events” was apparent. According to the supreme leader, a “scheme by the US and Zionists” with money from a “wealthy government near the Persian Gulf” (obviously Saudi Arabia) was responsible.

Given the Iranian regime’s penchant for interference in neighboring countries – with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen chief among them – it is tempting to hope that the supreme leader’s fears are justified. There is, however, no actual evidence to support such a claim.

In US President Donald Trump’s recent speech outlining his national security strategy, he referred to Iran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” and identified the need to “neutralize Iranian malign influence.”

One way to help the achievement of the latter goal would be to keep the Iranian home fires burning. Tehran foments unrest in neighboring countries in order to keep neighbors weak. There is now an opportunity to return the compliment. There are a variety of ways that this might be achieved – from ensuring that protesters and demonstrators remain organized and in communication with one another, to punitive means to disincentivize those countries and individuals assisting the regime in acquiring the means of repression.

3. Among the most difficult type of people to unseat from power through revolution are revolutionaries themselves – at least as long as the revolutionary elite does not begin to crumble from within. There are as yet no signs of this in Iran. Rather, the rising force within the elite is precisely that force most committed to the values of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 (and to spreading its influence into neighboring lands) – namely, the IRGC and associated hard-line figures.

The rising, militant elements within the regime were themselves participants as young men in the revolution of 1979. Even if there were a similarly determined and organized leadership seeking to make revolution against the Islamic Republic, it would find this cadre a tough nut to crack. And as we have seen above, currently there is not.

Nevertheless, the protests of the past two weeks are significant. They point to the sharp fissures within Iranian society and the extent to which the regime is detached from large sections of the population and its wants and needs.

The guardians of the Islamic Republic of Iran have in recent years proved masters at identifying and exploiting the fissures in neighboring societies. The field is now ripe for this process to turn into a two-way street, depending on the will and the ability of Iran’s opponents to recognize the opportunity and make use of it.


US prosecution drive could weaken Hezbollah in Mideast

January 12, 2018

Lebanon’s Hezbollah members carry Hezbollah flags in southern Lebanon May 26, 2015. (Reuters)
NEW YORK: Vigorous prosecutions of Hezbollah’s drug traffickers and other vice units could starve the Iran-backed militia of cash and hurt its military activities in the Middle East, an expert on the group told Arab News.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank, praised this week’s decision by the United States to launch a task force to probe “narcoterrorism” by the Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
The group pockets $200-$300 million each year – 20-30 percent of its annual budget – from smuggling cocaine to the US and other illicit schemes before using the cash to fund activities in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Ottolenghi said.
“You could severely disrupt flows of funds that come through Hezbollah’s Latin American involvement to their war machine in the Middle East,” said Ottolenghi, the author of several books on Iran and its Shiite proxy militia.
“You could weaken them at the global level – impairing their ability to interface with the cartels, logistically being able to carry out terrorist strikes abroad, and reduce their leverage in Lebanon, which is contingent on their financial largesse.”
Ottolenghi’s comments followed Thursday’s decision by the US Justice Department to create a unit of specialists on money-laundering, drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime aimed at Hezbollah’s fund-raising wing.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it would “leave no stone unturned” in targeting Hezbollah’s sprawling network, whose reach extends across Africa and into Central and South America, according to the department.
The team will build prosecutions, disrupt drug rings and staunch cash flows, Sessions said. He noted criticism that former president Barack Obama held back from cracking down on Hezbollah’s global web in order to achieve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The creation of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) comes amid a stepped-up effort to battle Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and the group’s expanded military capabilities.
Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, praised the new HFNT, saying an “aggressive, multi-agency investigation” of Hezbollah was “sorely needed” and thanked President Donald Trump’s administration for delivering.
“The Iran-backed Hezbollah uses its criminal network to fund ongoing efforts that undermine US interests. Obama officials blocked efforts to take the terrorist group down,” Wicker said via Twitter on Thursday.
“The American people and their representatives in Congress require a full assessment of Hezbollah’s criminal enterprises.”
Wicker and other Republicans have bashed Obama following a report in Politico in December that his administration hindered a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) program targeting Hezbollah’s trafficking operations as it brokered the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Washington has long targeted Hezbollah with sanctions, accusing the group of terrorist attacks and destabilizing parts of the Middle East using resources gained through global drug smuggling and money laundering operations.
In 2011 the Obama administration cracked down on the group’s far-flung associates, branding Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank a “primary money laundering concern” for handling the funds of alleged Hezbollah drugs chief Ayman Joumaa.
The US Treasury and DEA later described a massive operation involving Panama- and Colombia-based drug traffickers shipping multi-ton amounts of cocaine to the US, Europe and elsewhere around the globe.
The network laundered billions of dollars of their own cash and that of other traffickers through Panama shell companies, various banks in Lebanon and elsewhere, and an operation that exported used cars from the US to West Africa.
Former DEA official Derek Maltz said Hezbollah most recently used the proceeds to buy weapons for the group’s operations in Syria, and some funds went to Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels are battling Saudi-supported government forces.
Against this backdrop, Ottolenghi warned that the new HFNT faced a formidable task and would need talent, tools and the full diplomatic clout of the Trump administration to make a dent in Hezbollah’s criminal web.
“You’re dealing with a global network of people who are very loyal to one another, are loyal to the cause, and often benefit from great wealth for themselves personally and for the enterprise,” Ottolenghi told Arab News.
“They are talented, multilingual gangster-cum-entrepreneurs who travel seamlessly across borders and have global connections for support and cover. In short, we need talent, resources and the lowering of bureaucratic barriers that have impeded the government from doing the right thing until now.”

How Lebanon Managed to End Its Bloodiest Conflicts, While Israel Failed

January 12, 2018

Both Lebanon and Israel increased their territories in the wake of war and found themselves ruling new populations. But there’s one glaring difference between the two expanded states

By Oren Barak Jan 12, 2018 7:01 AM

File photo: IDF soldiers patrol the border with Lebanon on March 28, 2000 in Lilach, Israel.

File photo: IDF soldiers patrol the border with Lebanon on March 28, 2000 in Lilach, Israel. Mark H. Milstein / ANS / Getty

In August 1978, Prime Minister Menachem Begin met secretly in Jerusalem with Camille Chamoun, a leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian community and a former president of his country. In the meeting, Begin promised Chamoun that Israel would expand its aid to the Christians in Lebanon, and in this context drew a comparison between the Lebanese Christians and the Jews who were persecuted in the Diaspora. The meeting between the two concluded with ardent embraces, but as Chamoun left the Prime Minister’s Residence, his face clouded over. “Mr. Prime Minister,” he said to Begin, “don’t make the same mistakes that we made in Lebanon. The French forced ‘Greater Lebanon’ on us and made us annex Muslim-populated areas. That was the source of our troubles. Don’t annex Muslim territories to your country.”

Begin listened, but said nothing.

In a recently published book, “State Expansion and Conflict: In and Between Israel/Palestine and Lebanon,” I draw a first comparison of its kind between two expanded states: “Greater Lebanon,” which was established in 1920, in the wake of World War I; and “Greater Israel” (or Israel/Palestine), which came into being after the 1967 Six-Day War. What both cases have in common is that a relatively small political unit – the autonomous district of Mount Lebanon and the State of Israel, respectively – added to itself territories that had previously been outside its boundaries. Thus, instead of becoming (in Lebanon) or continuing to be (in Israel) a more-or-less homogenous nation-state, as its leaders had hoped, each state became a divided society: namely, one containing a number of religious, ethnic or national groups between which there is tension, friction and sometimes also violent conflict.

Nevertheless, there is one outstanding difference between these two expanded states. “Greater Lebanon,” which later became the independent state of Lebanon, was eventually accepted by the majority of its inhabitants, including the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims who lived in the areas annexed to it in 1920, and was also accepted by its Arab neighbors (including Syria, which initially refused to recognize Lebanon’s “separate” existence, but eventually, in 2008, established diplomatic relations with it). In contrast, not one country – including Israel itself – has recognized the existence of “Greater Israel” as a state. Moreover, many of its residents, including most of the Palestinians but also a not insignificant number of Israeli Jews, refuse to accept it to this day.

At the same time, all efforts that have been undertaken to date to bring about the “contraction” of the two expanded states have failed. Lebanon’s borders remain unchanged since 1920, as have the borders of Israel/Palestine since 1967. (Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but no recognized international border exists between it and that region, and the Strip itself is under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade.) This lengthy existence of the two expanded states – almost a century in the Lebanon case, and a half-century for Israel/Palestine – obliges us to take them seriously as political phenomena, and also creates an opening for a comparison between them.

Such a comparison shows that in the first decades after the expansion, the political leaders in both countries adopted different ways to cope with the divided society they had created (in Israel/Palestine) or asked others to create for them (in Lebanon – and here it needs to be remarked that, contrary to what Chamoun said to Begin, it was the Maronite Christians who pressured France, their ally, to expand their country’s borders in 1920). Moreover, the decisions made by these leaders engendered consequences that were sometimes similar and sometimes different, and in some cases became intertwined – as occurred, for example, in the period of the Israeli-Maronite alliance of 1976-1982, which reached its zenith in the first Lebanon War.

Both cases, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, were at first characterized by relative political stability, whether in the wake of a power-sharing arrangement between the different communities, such as existed in Lebanon from 1943 to 1975, or by the establishment of a system of “control” of one community over the other, as existed in Israel/Palestine until the eruption of the first Palestinian intifada in 1987. But in both expanded states, political stability was undermined later, when those who viewed themselves as being victimized by the situation – groups consisting largely of Muslims in Lebanon (though some of them included Christians, too), and the Palestinians in Israel/Palestine – put forward demands that were rejected by each country’s leaders.

Arab prisoners of war are led blindfolded to interrogation in the old city of Jerusalem, June 8, 1967.
Arab prisoners of war are led blindfolded to interrogation in the old city of Jerusalem, June 8, 1967.GOREN / AP

Decline of statism

It’s important to note that in both Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, considerable differences existed in the countries’ strength, in the degree of their legitimacy in the eyes of their residents and in the scale of international intervention in their affairs. As a result, the conflicts that broke out in the two divided societies were different in character. In Lebanon, where a civil war raged from 1975 until 1990, the conflict revolved largely around power, positions and resources, but most of the parties involved did not challenge the very existence of the expanded state, and those who did were branded “isolationists.” But in Israel/Palestine, since 1987 the conflict has been over the expanded state itself, with one side, Israel, seeking to continue maintaining it, and the other, the Palestinians, seeking to part from it.

This basic difference between the two conflicts can explain why the conflict in Lebanon – in which, according to official estimates, 150,000 people were killed – concluded with a relatively successful peace process culminating in the 1989 Ta’if Agreement and in the end of the civil war, a year later, whereas the peace process in Israel/Palestine in the 1990s did not succeed in putting an end to the conflict and its collapse brought about the renewal of violence between the sides in 2000. True, Lebanon did not become a strong state in the wake of the Ta’if Agreement, and its political stability is occasionally disturbed, whether by local players (such as Hezbollah in 2006) or by external developments (such as the civil war in Syria since 2011, during which hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed into the country). But, unlike Israel/Palestine, Lebanon is considered a legitimate state by the overwhelming majority of its citizens.

Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, however, are not only cases that exist separately from each other. They are also neighbors, and as such it is worth examining the nature of the relations between them before and after Israel’s expansion in 1967, and to ask whether this factor influenced their relations.

In contrast to the prevailing image of Israel-Lebanon relations as inherently volatile, both countries have actually known periods of relative stability on their common border. For example, in the period 1949-1967, Israel’s relations with Lebanon, even without a formal peace agreement, were more stable than those it shared with Egypt, Syria or Jordan. In this period, the problems that arose between the two countries were handled relatively successfully by the Israel-Lebanon Mixed Armistice Commission, which included representatives from both sides and a United Nations observer.

In the wake of the 1967 war, however, relations began to deteriorate. Following the emergence of Israel/Palestine as an expanded state, Israel expelled the armed Palestinian organizations from the territories to Jordan, and in the wake of the civil war that erupted there in 1970 (“Black September”), they found shelter in the Lebanon-Israel border area, where they could operate against Israel in relative freedom. Israel tried initially to force the Lebanese government to restrain the Palestinian factions, as King Hussein had done in Jordan, and afterward tried to do so itself, notably in Operation Litani in 1978 and during the first Lebanon War in 1982.

It’s noteworthy that Israeli decision makers’ perception of Lebanon in this period was influenced also, and perhaps mainly, by the profound changes that occurred in Israel/Palestine following the state’s expansion in 1967. This was expressed particularly in the diminishment, not to say decline, of the statist orientation, which places the state at the center, and the rise of the communal orientation, which accords supreme importance to the ethno-national group both domestically and externally. A salient example of this is Israel’s attempt to annul unilaterally its 1949 armistice agreement with Lebanon in the wake of the 1967 war, even though Lebanon had not been involved in the war. But the height of this process was in the period of the Israeli-Maronite alliance, beginning in the mid-1970s.

Hezbollah as patron

The eruption of the civil war in Lebanon, in 1975, and the rise of the Phalangist Party, under the leadership of the Gemeyal family, as the largest and strongest Maronite Christian force in the country in the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, created a golden opportunity for Israel’s leaders, particularly those who advocated the “community” approach, such as Prime Minister Begin, but also for such security officials as Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eitan and David Kimche. In this way, they were able to deal a mortal blow to the armed Palestinian factions, considerably weaken Syria – Israel’s most significant enemy after the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979 – and radically transform Israel-Lebanon relations.

But Israel’s attempt to resolve in one fell swoop both conflicts – in Israel/Palestine and in Lebanon – ended in failure. Although Israel succeeded in 1982 in expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his supporters from Lebanon, and inflicting heavy losses on the Syrian army, Lebanon’s president-elect, Bashir Gemeyal, who was Israel’s chief ally, was assassinated, and Israel was accused of being responsible for the massacre perpetrated by its ally, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces militia, in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. The massacre itself, but also the “Reagan Plan” for Arab-Israeli peace presented by the U.S. administration, guaranteed that the Palestinian problem – which Israel had sought to make disappear in order to entrench its expanded state in Israel/Palestine – was not only not shelved but that it would come increasingly to the fore.

Clothes left behind by South Lebanon Army soldiers during the Israeli withdrawal are strewn on the barbed wire border fence between Israel and Lebanon as seen from Kfar Kila, 27 May 2000.     
Clothes left behind by South Lebanon Army soldiers during the Israeli withdrawal are strewn on the barbed wire border fence between Israel and Lebanon as seen from Kfar Kila, 27 May 2000.     THOMAS COEX / AFP

But these setbacks did not mark the end of Israel’s ordeals in Lebanon. In the wake of repeated attacks on its forces, this time by Lebanese militias – particularly Hezbollah, the Shi’ite party-militia – the government of Israel decided on a partial withdrawal from Lebanon and the creation of a “security zone” along the Israel-Lebanon border in which a local militia, the South Lebanon Army, would operate with Israeli backing and support. Nonetheless, Hezbollah’s attacks persisted, and according to Brig. Gen. (res.) Moshe Tamir, who served in the “security zone” in those years, the result was that Hezbollah was “transformed from being an outcast terrorist organization, operating contrary to the will of the central government in Lebanon, into a legitimate resistance movement of the Lebanese people against the Israeli occupation.”

It was not until 2000, nearly a decade after the end of the civil war in Lebanon, that Israel decided to withdraw its forces from Lebanon completely. But by then, Hezbollah was a well-trained and well-armed player in the Lebanese arena, enjoying the support of Iran and Syria. Indeed, even after the withdrawal by Israel, Hezbollah looked for, and found, ever more pretexts to continue fighting it.

The result, then, was that instead of solving the Palestinian problem in Lebanon, as Israel’s leaders had hoped to do in 1982, they found that the conflicts in the two expanded states were now intertwined. This situation found expression in the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, on which Israel embarked, in part, because of provocations by the Palestinian organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but also in prisoner-exchange deals between Israel and Hezbollah, in which the Lebanese organization portrayed itself, in part, as the patron of the Palestinians.

The expanded state of Israel/Palestine that emerged in 1967 created a divided society in this territory, in place of the relatively homogeneous society that had existed in the State of Israel since it had gained independence, and engendered far-reaching implications not only domestically but externally as well, including in terms of its neighbor, Lebanon.

In view of the far-reaching external impacts of Israel’s expansion in 1967, it would appear that in this case, Henry Kissinger’s well-known observation that “Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy,” is apt, albeit with a somewhat different meaning than he had in mind.

Prof. Oren Barak teaches in the departments of both political science and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and he is a research fellow in the Forum for Regional Thinking.

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