June 5, 2008


Israel, Don't Undermine Beirut (David Schenker, 6/02/08, Jerusalem Post)

Today, in the aftermath of the Doha agreement, the future of the March 14 coalition lies in the balance. And its survival -- indeed, the future disposition of Lebanon -- depends at least in part on what Israel does. Israel, like its Arab neighbors, has a lot at stake on what happens in Lebanon. The struggle in Lebanon today is nothing short of a battle to shape regional trends, a fight between moderation and militancy.

While Washington has sided with the government of Lebanon against Hizbullah, it would be unseemly if not counterproductive for Israel -- technically still at war with its neighbor -- to publicly pick favorites in local Lebanese politics. Nevertheless, given its pro-Western stance, it's difficult to understand Israel's ambivalence toward the disposition of the Saniora government and the Cedar Revolution vis-a-vis Hizbullah.

Supporters of the Lebanese government have long claimed that Israel is actively protecting the Assad regime in Syria and, in the process, undercutting the Saniora government. The recent announcement of the resumption of Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations in Turkey -- coming so closely on the heels of the Syrian-backed Hizbullah military offensive -- has been yet another blow to the morale and survivability of the March 14 coalition.

In Beirut, it's widely feared that an Israeli-Syria deal would come at the expense of Lebanon. This view has merit: many current and former Israeli officials and academics make no secret of their belief that an agreement could be facilitated by recognizing a return of Syria to Lebanon and by ensuring somehow that the Assad regime be insulated from the sanctions which would accompany the regime's implication by the International Tribunal in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.

Even if Israeli-Syrian talks don't come to fruition -- and there is little to indicate they will considering Damascus' repeated declarations that it will not undertake a strategic reorientation from Teheran to the West nor change its relationships with Hamas and Hizbullah -- peace talks with Damascus undercut those who oppose the agenda of Hizbullah and Syria in Lebanon. Negotiations alone stand to erode international support for the tribunal, one of the few real levers of pressure held by the majority. This is what the March 14 coalition fears, and of course, this is why the Syrians are so interested in talking with the Israelis now.

The ultimate nature of the government in Beirut -- whether pro-West or aligned with Teheran and Syria -- should be an important policy concern for the Israeli government.

...to imagine that you control other peoples. The notion that Israel can thwart eventual self-determination in Hezbollahstan is delusional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 5, 2008 9:07 AM
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