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Hassan Nasrallah Backtracks From War Talk
Feeling the sting of Lebanese fury.
By Hugh Fitzgerald
Upon briefly emerging from his hideout in mid-July, Hassan Nasrallah proceeded to threaten to make war on the Zionists. They would not be allowed, he said, to exploit the “oil” (sic) resources of the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean, which he claimed belonged to Lebanon. To prove he was serious, he sent three unarmed drones to scare the crews on the gas rig; they never made it to their target, but were shot down early in their trajectory by the Israelis. He then said that that had been just a preliminary warning, and he was prepared to go to war to protect Lebanon’s “oil” (gas) fields from Israel.
Now, it seems, Nasrallah has been having second thoughts. The Lebanese negotiating with the Israelis over their respective maritime economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean appear on the verge of an agreement. In exchange for Lebanon recognizing Israel’s exclusive right to the Karish gas field, the Israelis will agree to Lebanon’s exclusive right to the Qana gas field. Such an agreement will allow Lebanon to finally begin exploiting that field, and bring in much-needed revenue for a country that is on the brink of an economic abyss, with the Lebanese pound having lost 90% of its value in the last two years, with two-thirds of the Lebanese now living below the poverty line.
A report on Nasrallah’s rethinking his previous war talk is here: “Hezbollah Chief: ‘Not Certain’ If Heading to War With Israel Over Maritime Dispute,” Algemeiner, July 20, 2022:
The head of the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah said on Tuesday night that war with Israel over a maritime boundary is “not certain,” amid ongoing negotiations between Jerusalem and Beirut to resolve the dispute.
This remark comes just a week after Nasrallah had threatened war with Israel. “Nasrallah threatens war over Israel-Lebanon maritime border dispute,” by Tobias Siegal, Times of Israel, July 13, 2022:
“Lebanon’s leverage and only source of power in the maritime border negotiations [with Israel] is its resistance and strength. We must utilize this. This isn’t psychological warfare, we are serious about this,” he said.
“We possess options in air, land and sea. They are all on the table. We will respond with appropriate force at the appropriate time and place. War is much more honorable than the situation Lebanon is heading to now — collapse and starvation.”
The Hezbollah leader also sent a direct threat to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who said after the drone incident that Israel would “defend its infrastructure in the face of any threat” and accused Hezbollah of “undermining the Lebanese state’s ability to reach an agreement” with Israel over the maritime border.
In April, Gantz threatened to “use the necessary force against the right targets” in Lebanon, following rockets launched toward northern Israel.
“All Israelis are aware that Gantz’s threats regarding Lebanon are empty and void,” Nasrallah said Wednesday [July 12].
Addressing the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Lebanon about the maritime border between the countries, Nasrallah said: “Don’t believe the Americans.
“If you don’t implement our rights until September, the outcome will be severe,” he added, calling on Lebanese authorities to “use Hezbollah as leverage against Israel during the negotiations.”
Nasrallah, who dragged Lebanon into a war with Israel in 2006 that most Lebanese did not want, and from which they suffered greatly, is now presenting Hezbollah as the only real “resistance” to the Zionist aggressors, the only force in Lebanon that can prevent Israel from exploiting a gas field that by rights belongs to Lebanon. Judging by the Hezbollah drones Israel so quickly dispatched, the terror group is not exactly scaring the Zionists. But Nasrallah is proving to be an unwelcome interference with the Lebanese-Israeli negotiations. More from the Times of Israel report:
Last month, US energy envoy Amos Hochstein discussed with Israel’s negotiating team a Lebanese proposal to resolve the maritime dispute.
According to Hochstein, Lebanon had agreed to drop demands for control of part of the Karish field claimed by Israel, asking in exchange for full control of the Qana gas field that also straddles the countries’ offshore economic zones.
Tensions surrounding the dispute have risen in recent weeks, after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the Karish offshore field, drawing condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of it.
Israel says the field is part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone and has been seeking to develop Karish as it tries to position itself as a natural gas supplier to Europe.
Earlier in June, Israel, Egypt and the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding in Cairo that will see Israel export its natural gas to the bloc for the first time.
So the EU is eager for Israel to start sending its natural gas to the continent, no doubt including the deposits at the Karish field, as well as the gas already flowing from the Taman and Leviathan fields. According to the MOU, Israel’s gas will be sent by pipeline to LNG facilities in Egypt, and from there will be shipped, in liquefied form, to Europe. Both Egypt and the EU now have a stake in the smooth flowing of natural gas from Israel’s offshore fields.
The leader of the group that has impoverished Lebanon is blaming Israel for the country’s impoverishment even though it was Israel which first discovered gas in that part of the Mediterranean and even though it was Israel which offered to help Lebanon develop their own gas production. “Nasrallah says war with Israel not certain,” Naharnet, July 20, 2022:
“There will be no oil extraction across the Israeli entity if Lebanon does not obtain its rights,” Nasrallah added, according to remarks published Wednesday in the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper.
Noting that war is “not certain,” Nasrallah said: “We’re not sure that we’re heading to a war. We might witness a surgical attack and a proportionate response, and the issue is related to the response of the Israelis, which might push things gradually to war.”
Nasrallah has now injected a note of uncertainty, where before he threatened war unconditionally should Israel start to exploit the Karish field. Obviously he’s scared of having to follow through on his threats, which he now knows Israel will respond to with overwhelming force, just as it has been doing in response to minor attacks, that caused no damage, from Hamas. More from the Algemeiner report:
“It is not our desire to open a front,” he continued. “We only want our rights and we’re escalating our rhetoric so that the Americans and Israelis submit, because the course of the collapse in Lebanon is continuing.”
Lebanon has been afflicted by a deep economic crisis since 2019, amid high national debt, political stagnation, corruption, sectarianism, and a rollback in foreign aid. The value of its currency has cratered, electricity shortages have resulted in chronic outages, and more than three-quarters of the population live below the poverty line.
Lebanon is before “a historic and golden chance to overcome its crisis,” said Nasrallah on Tuesday, adding that “if we don’t make use of it, we might not extract oil [sic] for the next 100 years.”
He asserted that while Lebanon “has offered major concessions” in the US-mediated talks, it “has not obtained the least of its demands.”
The Lebanon-Israel negotiations have not required “major concessions” by either side. In a Solomonic decision, each side agrees to give up something. Lebanon will drop its claim to a share in the Karish gas field – which is not a “major concession,” because even the UN supports Israel’s claim to Karish – and in return, Israel will allow Lebanon to exploit the Qana oil field, which will be recognized as lying in Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone. Both sides will gain, because an end to uncertainty will allow both the Israelis and the Lebanese to proceed, full speed ahead, with their exploitation of their respective fields.
A war with Israel “might escalate to [involve] the entire axis in a manner that would destroy it,” the Hezbollah chief warned — an apparent reference to the regional alliance of Shiite and other actors that, like Hezbollah, operate with Iranian support, including in Syria, Iraq, and the Gaza Strip.
Nasrallah is threatening a war between the Jewish state and other actors who, like Hezbollah itself, are local allies of Iran. He has in mind not just his own terror group, but the Alawite-led army of Bashar Assad in Syria, the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia In Iraq, and Hamas in Gaza, which, though its members are Sunni, has had no problem accepting aid from Shia Iran, as both Hamas and Iran share the same annihilationist goal for the Jewish state.
Earlier Tuesday [July 19] Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned that while Israel has “no interest in escalation, Hezbollah’s aggression is unacceptable and is liable to lead the entire region into an unnecessary escalation, just when there is a genuine opportunity for Lebanon to develop its energy resources.”
Nasrallah has previously spoken of war in the context of the maritime dispute. Earlier this month, he said that if “Lebanon receives no aid” and “is pushed towards collapse, hunger and people fighting one another,” then war would be a preferable alternative.
“The threat of war, and even going into war, is much more honorable and glorious,” Nasrallah claimed, according to a translation shared by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “If we decide to go to war, this alternative has a future.”
“The enemy can be defeated — before the war, when it begins, during the war, when it ends,” he added. “Then we will be able to impose our conditions, bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, and save our country.”
That was a week ago. Now Nasrallah appears to be succumbing both to his fellow Lebanese, and to his fear of an Israeli response to any further acts of aggression by his group, such as sending armed drones over the Karish oil field. The Lebanese are furious at his bellicose intervention, and want no more interference from Hezbollah – whether threatening words or drones — to get a deal done with Israel so that they can begin at once to start exploiting the Qana gas field, which will bring a much-needed boost to Lebanon’s ravaged economy.
Nasrallah has now felt the sting of Lebanese fury at his attempt to threaten war, and his sending drones to “scare the workers” at the Karish gas rig, a threat that can only complicate, and slow down, Beirut’s negotiations with Israel. The Lebanese economy needs its own gas – at the Qana field – to start flowing asap. Nasrallah has witnessed how easily Israel shot down his drones. He also saw the devastating Israeli response – the total destruction of an underground weapons factory, with sixteen tons of explosives blown up – to Hamas’ ineffectual rocket attack on the Jewish state that caused no casualties or damages. The Israelis have signaled that they mean business; there will be no more tit-for-tat. And Nasrallah has suddenly discovered that perhaps, after all, war with Israel is not the answer.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons