Israel

Hezbollah’s Retaliation: Is It The Perfect Time And Place?

A map of the Shebaa Farms (Shukran Wikipedia)

A map of the Shebaa Farms (Shukran Wikipedia)

In a very unexpected move, Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy in the occupied Shebaa Farms, in south Lebanon, killing two soldiers and wounding seven, in retaliation for Israel’s recent airstrike in the Golan Heights that killed Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian General.

A (Politically) Smart Move

Hezbollah needed to retaliate. For the past 3 years, the party has been constantly criticized for participating in the Syrian civil war and mainly for directing its weapons away from Israel and towards Syria. Even before Syria, Hezbollah faced a similar criticism in the wake of the May 7 events. “Hezbollah’s weapons are being used for political ends and are no longer directed at Israel”. M14 based its electoral campaign in 2009 on this discourse, and it eventually led to its victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections. M14 accused Hezbollah again of using its weapons in internal conflicts after the collapse of the Hariri government in 2011, and after Wissam Al-Hassan’s assassination in 2012. In 2011, it almost led to a fitna, and in 2012, it almost led to the downfall of the ruling M8 coalition.

Hezbollah tried to respond to this discourse by proving that it was still engaging in indirect combat with Israel, but it just wasn’t too convincing for the Lebanese public. The proof? almost no one remembers the drone that Hezbollah sent into Israel in October 2013. What everyone remembered however was Imad Mughaniyye’s assassination. Hezbollah didn’t respond to the attack properly back then, and it made them look weak. A lack of response over last week’s attacks would have made Hezbollah look even weaker (An Iranian General and Mughaniyye’s son were targeted), and it would have given the impression that Hezbollah cares more about its fight in Syria than its fight with Israel, even when Israel targets them inside Syria. Such loss of prestige would have been devastating for the party’s morale.

It was the time for payback. In fact, it was the perfect time for payback.

The Perfect Timing…

There’s a weird alliance going on between Middle Eastern rivals, with the United States and Hezbollah fighting together a common enemy called the Islamic State: Not long ago, the US provided actionable intelligence that probably saved lives in Dahiyeh. This indirect rapprochement was also followed by tense relations between Israel and the United States. Obama said that he will not meet with Netanyahu when the Israeli PM will come to the U.S. in March. One should not forget that for the United States, a possible deal with Iran is on the line here, and that the Israeli elections are in 45 days.  Should the Israeli army escalate, Hezbollah could drag Israel into two months of skirmishes, which wouldn’t be a perfect situation for Israel’s electoral process. No one wants to vote while Katyusha rockets are flying around the Israeli north. Even if Israel wants war, it would be a tough call in this particular timing: Hezbollah and Iran always said that “they would choose the perfect time and place” to strike back after every Israeli aggression (while M14 laughed at this sentence and accused them of cowardice). So if Hezbollah wanted to prove a point without suffering major Israeli consequences, now was the time. Such an opportunity doesn’t come twice.

… And A Perfect Location

Hezbollah chose the perfect place to strike. The attack happened in the Shebaa farms:

  • From the Lebanese point of view, Shebaa is an occupied Lebanese territory. By attacking Shebaa – and Shebaa only – Hezbollah is preemptively turning down an M14 political maneuver accusing Hezbollah of avenging the death of an Iranian General: Hezbollah could counter this maneuver by simply saying that they were not only avenging the death of their commanders, but also trying to pressure Israel into retreating from occupied Lebanese territory: A proxy battle suddenly becomes a liberation war.
  • From the Israeli point of view – Technically speaking – Israel considers the Shebaa farms to be part of the (annexed) occupied Syrian Golan, not Lebanon. So in a way, Hezbollah retaliated very accurately, in the Golan (from the Israeli point of view), where they were attacked in the first place. Hezbollah did not escalate, and only treated Israel like Israel treated the party. Hezbollah also did not make any abduction (like 2006) which means that it does not want to engage with Israel and start an all-out war. If there was a desire for war, you would have seen an abduction and probably an attack on the Israeli-Lebanese border, not on the Golan-Lebanese border or on disputed territory. Today was about deterrence. About red lines (assassinating Hezbollah’s leaders is apparently no longer acceptable). About changing the rules of the game. It was not a declaration of war (yet). Hezbollah wanted to send a message and at the same time strengthen its political presence in Lebanon while giving Israel the choice of not escalating (since the attack happened in disputed territory)
  • From an “international” point of view, the attack happened inside disputed Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli territory. So good luck trying to speak of a violation of U.N resolutions, or even accusing one side of hostilities clearly enough to justify an all-out war such as the July 2006 one.

M18/M14’s Discourse: What To Expect

For the next few weeks, M14’s propaganda would be mainly directed at demonstrating how Hezbollah dragged (or tried to drag, depending on the Israeli reaction) Lebanon into another proxy war, while at the same time criticizing Hezbollah for involving Lebanon in the Syrian civil war. But that, Hezbollah should be able to handle. It is the loss of prestige and the impression that Hezbollah was abandoning the Israeli conflict for good while slowly “moving into Syria” that was killing the party politically. Now the party would gain momentum (especially if Israel’s response isn’t strong enough) and most importantly would be able to put the Syrian opposition, the Islamic State, and the Israeli Defense Forces in the same box. It would force Lebanon to rally behind Hezbollah – at least momentarily while/if Israel responds – and it will eventually make Hezbollah look like a victor which should help M8 gain the upper hand  in Lebanese politics after eight months of political vacancy and deadlock. The Lebanese cabinet’s slow response to today’s crisis (seriously, why hasn’t the cabinet met yet?) is the perfect proof that there is indeed a political void in Lebanon. A political void that M8 could easily fill should Hezbollah’s Shebaa ambush turn into a military/political victory. Of course, everything depends of Israel’s reaction, and the aftermath of today’s skirmishes, so we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, the only thing we can do is to be grateful we have a wise president guiding us in these times of trouble.

The Maronite-Zionist Treaty Of 1946 (Text)

May 30th 1946

We, the undersigned:

1. His Beatitude Antoine Arida, the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, acting on behalf of the Church and the Maronite community, the largest community in the Lebanese Republic with citizens residing in other countries, represented by Cheikh Toufic Aoud, ex-minister by virtue of authorization addressed to the President of the Jewish Agency, Professor Weizmann on May 24th 1946,which hereinafter shall be in this treaty addressed as “first party”.

2. Dr. Bernard Joseph , acting on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine which is known in International Law as the representative of Jewish people around the world aimed at creating the Jewish National Home in Palestine,which hereinafter shall be in this treaty addressed as “first party” [NOTE : This is clearly an error as the Jewish Agency for Palestine is afterwards addressed in this treaty as “second party”].

ART.1: The first party expressly and fully recognizes the historical link uniting the Jewish people to Palestine, the Jewish people’s aspirations in Palestine, and the Jewish people right to a free immigration and independence in Palestine. It also declares its approval on the Jewish agency’s declared current political program including the establishment of a Jewish state.

ART.2: The second party expressly and fully recognizes the independence of Lebanon and the right of its inhabitants to choose the regime they deem as appropriate. The second party also declares that its extending and widening program does not include Lebanon. On the contrary, it respects the state of Lebanon in its current form and borders. The Jewish immigration does not include Lebanon.

ART.3: The two parties commit themselves reciprocally to abstain from undermining their respective aspirations and status; the so-called commitment has a binding obligation restraining the representatives of both parties – officials and non officials – in the country, abroad, in international conferences whether occidental or oriental, from expressing any kind of support to decisions or actions that may harm the other party. Also do their utmost to avoid taking such decisions or undertaking such actions.

ART.4: The two parties commit themselves to provide mutual help at the following levels: political, commercial, security and social in order to promote the position of the first party and realize the aspirations of the second one. This engagement includes:

a) Raise the awareness of public opinion in the Orient and the Occident on the cause of each party, according to the spirit of the treaty hereby.

b) Concert their efforts to open the doors of each country with view to deepen cultural and social rights and promote commercial trades and the exchange of liaison officers to forge good neighboring relationships between one another.

c) The first party recognizes the right of every Jewish to immigrate to Palestine commits itself to help as much as possible in the realization of this immigration in the event that it shall pass through Lebanon.

d) The second party commits itself, after the creation of the Jewish state, to respect the sacred character of the holy sites in Palestine and commits itself as well after retaining the command of power to consider the treaty hereby as an integral part of the government program.

e) The two parties commit themselves to provide help, if requested, to one another in order to maintain security in their respective countries. This engagement has the binding obligation to take all necessary measures to block the entrance or exit of hostile elements capable of sowing public disorder and the obligation to refrain from providing any kind of help for such elements.

f) The two parties commit themselves to exchange information on all issues such as the politics of their countries, their economy, security, and relations with third parties.

g)At the industry, agriculture and scientific research levels, the two parties commit themselves to exchange information and advice in order to synchronize the Lebanese and Jewish efforts with a view to ensure the best development of their respective industries (including the tourism sector), agriculture and research on the basis of mutual cooperation.

h)After creating the Jewish state, the second party commits itself to reserve a friendly treatment to the representatives of the Maronite Patriarch, to facilitate the buying of a land and the construction of a Patriarchate worthy of the Maronite community.

i)The second party commits itself to require from its offices all over the world to support the cause of the first party and back its representatives in Washington, London, and Paris and in international conferences.

ART.5: In order to achieve the afore-mentioned obligations, and additional practical means of collaboration and mutual aid, the two parties will hold direct or indirect (through representatives) talks depending on the relevant advancement and circumstances. The first party has already chosen Cheikh Toufic Aouad to be its authorized representative till further notice.

ART.6: The treaty hereby takes effect upon signature. Each party has the right to terminate it within six months notice.

In witness whereof the two parties have signed this treaty.

Double original copy, Jerusalem, May 30th 1946.

On behalf of His Beatitude His Grace Antoine Pierre Arida, Toufic Aouad

On behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Bernard Joseph

Source: Central Zionist Archives 525/3269

Just to make things clear here, I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I had always heard and read rumors about such a treaty so when I found the text on the internet I thought of republishing it. Be it good or bad, Lebanese need to know their history and such a treaty should be as accessible to the Lebanese public as the 1983 agreement between Lebanon and Israel. Keep in mind the importance of the treaty’s timing, less than 3 years after the independence of Lebanon and 2 years before the 1948 Nakba.

Hezbollah’s Awkward Silence

Lebanese Army soldiers near the site of the explosion close to the Lebanese-Israeli border (REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)

Lebanese Army soldiers near the site of the explosion next  to the Lebanese-Israeli border (REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)

This is huge. For the first time since 2006, Hezbollah responds to an Israeli aggression on Lebanese soil. There was the Ayoub plane, among many other confrontations, but nothing compares to the event of midnight Tuesday. And the very fact that an Israeli patrol got ambushed in Alma Al Shaeb by Hezbollah members only gets mentioned in details in Ibrahim Al-Amin’s Al-Akhbar article without getting the usual glorification of Hezbollah raises many questions. Hezbollah stayed silent on the issue, and even its media, Al-Manar, didn’t deny or confirm Al-Akhbar’s story but simply  copied it  on the website with a disclaimer that they are not responsible of the content of the article.

B..B…But Why?

This is Hezbollah’s salvation. The president is turning against them, Jumblatt is showing more hostility every day. The Caretaker Prime Minister felt abandoned by Hezbollah when the party didn’t nominate him for the premiership again,  while the new PM has to form a government according to the wills of an anti-Hezbollah majority. Aoun’s drifting away from the March 8 Alliance, while Nabih Berri and Saad Hariri are flirting . And just when you think things couldn’t get worse, Bashar Al-Assad lost control on East Syria, Hezbollah is facing wide criticism over his role in the Syrian conflict, while diplomatically his military wing just became a terrorist organization in the EU. Even though Hezbollah’s still far from being politically dead – The governmental deadlock still shows the party’s political strength to veto decisions even if he can’t take them anymore – his silence on the issue is pretty weird. Such an Israeli intervention gives Hezbollah some of the legitimacy he lost after the Qusayr Battles. Nasrallah can go right now on TV and respond to Sleiman by telling  him that the resistance is still needed and efficient, and the Alma events are the clear evidence . When the Ayoub drone was launched into Israel – While Hezbollah was in power and the Qusayr battles hadn’t even started –  the party didn’t miss an occasion to remind us of the achievement even though he didn’t need lots of propaganda back then (compared to his status now). But when Israeli troops get intercepted in a Lebanese border town – At a moment Hezbollah needs a boost of popularity more than anything – the party chooses silence?

Collateral Damage

Hezbollah stayed silent, but so did Israel. Hezbollah is facing diplomatic challenges with the new EU ban along with political and military setbacks in Lebanon and Syria. He can’t even risk opening another military front on the Israeli border, and that’s why he probably chose to stay silent in the aftermath of the ambush. The Israelis got his silent message, and there’s no need to make a big media issue out of it that might escalate things too quickly for a party already involved in battles hundred of Kilometers north of the Lebanese-Israeli border. Same goes for the Israelis. They don’t have time for diplomatic/military clashes: The Israelis are relaunching peace talks with Palestinians for the first time since 2010, and the last thing they want is being accused of an aggression against the Lebanese. For both Israel and Hezbollah, their clash is a clear violation of the 1701 resolution, because it indicates hezbollah’s presence south of the Litani and Israeli presence on the other side of the border.

Test Test

There’s a decent reason why the Israeli troops covertly entered 400 meters inside Lebanese  territory. They might be planning a new attack, collecting intel, or even simply visiting a town to help boost the bad tourism season. But the most likely reason is that they want to take the pulse. 2013 is not 2006, and there’s a completely new and different situation in the Middle East. The Israelis are probably checking  if Hezbollah’s still out there watching them and – in case he is out there – if he is ready to clash with them with the worsening of the Syrian war. Either Hezbollah has an informer on the Israeli side that told him about was happening that day, or it’s not the first time Israelis enter Lebanese territory in the same way – so they can be noticed the first few times by Hezbollah and see if he’ll clash with them – to make their test of Hezbollah’s readiness and presence.

 Sometimes silence is a virtue.

Malikiya Battle And Lebanese Politics

Operation Hiram Map

In Lebanese politics, the Malikiya battle is something exceptional. Almost every politician used it at least once. Here’s two examples for the President  and for a Minister. Speaking of the battle that was fought between the army and the IDF makes you feel that Lebanon was the only winner of all Arab states in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It shows a Republic dedicated to a Palestinian cause, a sovereign country, and a powerful army.

What Actually Happened

The Lebanese have the gift of distorting stories. A courageous stand almost became 60 years  later  a won war. Malikiyia was a disputed Lebanese Palestinian town. As you can notice, I did use the word “was”. (more…)

Hezbollah’s Drone: A Bit More Than An Airplane

Still Image by the IDF Showing the Drone getting shot down

The first thing that came to my mind was the kaff. The kaff – The Arabic word for slap – is very common in our society. All that has to be done is to watch some Lebanese drama series. It’s usually the point where an argument between a wife and her husband goes to the next level . One can respond to a slap with a another one, with a fight, with an insult or can simply walk away. The slap isn’t as threatening as a kick or a hit, but it’s a provocative action that can give you all the attention you want from the person you slapped. And what’s interesting with the slap is that the one who got hit doesn’t usually slap back. That’s usually in the drama series, of course. (more…)