Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Security first? The contours of a Lebanese policy for peace talks with Israel

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/08/2009

661054_pw_diplomacyThe Lebanese have grown accustomed to governments unable or unwilling to deal with their southern neighbour. Some regret that these governments haven’t been able to defend the country militarily and diplomatically (from the IDF’s ferocious attacks), while others deplore that none has come up with a policy for peace talks with Israel.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a contributor to NOW Lebanon, has come up with an interesting analysis on the subject. He believes Lebanon should define a policy on Israel and embark in peace talks because “Lebanon will never defeat Israel militarily, [so] its ‘conflict’ with the Jewish state can only be resolved by diplomacy”. He concludes his article with the following statement:

Since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, both governments have failed to produce a policy on Israel. The Mitchell team is determined to change all this, but they need the help of Lebanon’s leaders, who must not be shy about talking peace with Israel, just like their Syrian and Palestinian brethren. The rest will become details.

At face value, his conclusion is indisputable, but if you look into it, you discover there is an important dimension to Israeli-Lebanese relations that Hussain Abdul-Hussain completely leaves out: the “security” dimension.

This is quite common among Beirutis. But if you ask Israelis or Lebanese living in Southern Lebanon, it’s their primary concern. And this issue is certainly the murkiest. Here’s why:

  • Since the 1960s, the Lebanese government has failed to secure its border with Israel. So before embarking in Peace talks, the Lebanese government should see how it will be able to achieve that and start working on it.
  • Since the 1960s, Israel has been “retaliating” after each attack coming from Lebanon. This has brought a lot of destruction, death and distrust in Southern Lebanon. Shouldn’t Lebanon build a defensive strategy so as to dissuade, limit or restrain the “IDF”?
  • An armed grouped, Hezbollah, backed by the majority of the local population wants to keep the fight going. Their most popular argument within their constituency is similar to the one of the Israeli army: only military strength will ensure our security and disuade our enemy from attacking us. It’s a defensive argument (that is not weaker than that of the Israeli army). What could the Lebanese government answer to this argument be?
  • There are other armed groups that are held back by Hezbollah (mostly Palestinian, and Sunni islamists) who are willing to pursue the fight, and the Lebanese State doesn’t seem to have a hold on them.

Before asking the government to come up with a diplomatic strategy toward Israel, I think it is foremost important to ask them to come up with a coherent military and defensive strategy, one that takes into account and deals with Hezbollah and the Palestinians of Lebanon.


10 Responses to “Security first? The contours of a Lebanese policy for peace talks with Israel”

  1. stacyx said

    I just wanted to let you know I really enjoy this website and the perspective it offers. Thanks!

  2. lirun said

    thank you for linking to my blog..

    i find this post disappointing..

    i understand the urgency you have to deal with our military strength but i assure you one thing.. no one on israels side who is an israeli citizen has any interest in conflict with lebanon.. it achieves nothing for us and helps us in absolutely no way shape or form..

    lebanon may not have had a detailed internal policy on the southern border.. i dont know.. so you say.. but they certainly have implemented a very cohesive path..

    (a) allow the hizbulla to control the south – even if behaving in an unauthorised manner without government consultation

    (b) openly declare that there is no point in israel seeking peace with lebanon until every other country on earth has peace with israel

    i think its a shame.. even if we had a cold peace like the one egypt has with israel – things would still be better for all.. a warm peace could in fact be amazing.. simply amazing.. it could do a lot to strengthen ties and frankly i think lebanon and israel are almost like separated twins.. immensely diverse demographically with all religions all walks of life and a combination of ancient traditions living alongside super modern lifestyles..

    once we have peace between us – we could form the centre of the modern middle east where we could teach tolerance and progress based on our eternal values and shared environment..

    i realise that lebanon would struggle with its huge palestinian population if it were to advance peace before the israel-PA deal was secured.. but jordan did it and everyone benefits.. during and since the conflict in gaza trucks sent by king hussein have never been held up at the israeli border securing invaluable donations to the victims of the violence..

    we need to change the paradigms.. lebanon is probably our best chance..

  3. Welcome to my blog Lirun.
    I’m glad you took the time to check out a couple of posting.

    Let me set the record straight. I’m a peacenik. I am actually against “cold peace”. I find it a dangerous solution and an obstacle to “real” peace. If one looks at the cold peace that was established between Israel on one hand, and Egypt, Jordan and the PLO on the other, one notices three things:
    – it is not a first step solution but a lasting one. It doesn’t “warm” up.
    – it doesn’t change mindsets. Most Jewish-Israelis and their neighbours still distrust each other and are not interested in developing personal and social ties with each other.
    – it doesn’t stop the military build up. Israel is always as militarised as it was before the cold peace. Come to think of it, it has gained strength because its concentrating its efforts on development of strategies and weapons (the military industry has grown exponentially during the past 10 years). As for Jordan and Egypt, their military strength has actually increased (owing to the USA) but is used internally to secure the “cold peace”.
    – it doesn’t hasn’t brought peace with the Palestinians (not even lukewarm peace).

    Luckily, “cold peace” is not an option in Lebanon. The government cannot afford it politically; unlike Egypt, Jordan and Fatah, our regime is not autocratic and our government cannot impose “cold peace” on its population by military means (Hezbollah is stronger than the Army). Moreover, there is a consensus in Lebanon that we will be the last Arab country to sign peace with Israel (which is a silly policy, I agree with you).

    So we are left with three options:
    “Warm” war. This option is in the hand of the Israeli government (not the population) in consultation with the IDF (or vice versa), and has always been.
    Regular military incidents and provocations. This option is open to the IDF on one hand and to one of the many armed groups in Lebanon on the other (Hezbollah, Palestinian groups, Salafi groups…). All have in indulged in it, except for the Lebanese army (almost since 1948). The Israeli government is prone to escalation and cannot justify a low intensity war to the public opinion. So every once in a while, it will choose another option: Warm war (massive bombardment, land invasion, destruction of infrastructure…).
    Cold war. This is an extremely short term solution because the Lebanese State and the UNIFIL cannot secure a “calm border” with Israel. So there will always be border incidents and a limited number and mostly harmless rocket launches from this side to the other.

    The last option, that of“Warm” peace is unfortunately nowhere to be found. In this post, I was just trying to figure out how this situation could change, and I believe it can only be done once the Lebanese state defines a coherent and effective defensive strategy. It is a costly solution. It doesn’t conform with my ideals. But I don’t see any other possibility.

  4. lirun said


    let me start out by saying that we may disagree on many points.. we may agree on many others – please at no stage be mislead to think that if we disagree i take it personally.. i think debate is healthy..

    i have no doubt that ur into peace otherwise ud have no reason to link my blog.. and btw ive linked yours..

    i think the answer does not lie in government strategies that focus on military logistics.. let me put it this way.. lebanon will not be scaring israel into peace.. israel is quite happy to have peace with lebanon.. but lebanon knows it cant have peace with israel because syria and iran wont allow hizbulla to let lebanon go through with it.. we have no meaningful dispute.. the sheba farms surely isnt the issue.. its not even a populated zone..

    if lebanon wants peace with israel it just needs to ask.. now in light of the hizbullas influence – how can this happen?

    only through microscopic changes.. one at a time.. peace with israel wont be worth the price to lebanon if it leads to civil war.. what kind of steps: lets brain storm together:

    (a) start by permitting people with israeli stamps in the passport to cross the border.. (not sure if this is a problem currently but i believe it might be)

    (b) tacitly permit sporting tornaments to occur in low profile sports

    (c) avoid inhibiting scientific collaboration between doctors etc

    (d) facilitate the transfer of patients who need life saving surgery to enter israel for state of the art treatment

    (e) participation in international conventions etc

    (f) under the radar environmental collaboration

    (g) legal harmonisation on various standards that align with international standards

    (h) provide more extensive coverage of issues to do with the former jewish community of lebanon and restore jewish buildings in beirut that have long fallen into disrepair

    etc etc

    eventually once these things are fine graduate into a slightly more direct version of collaboration..

    this is slow and gradual.. but its better than waiting with arms folded..

  5. thanks for the add Lirun,
    & I agree with you, debate is healthy, and so is brainstorming. I hope we will have the opportunity to do both.

    I hear your points. But there’s one problem. No political party in Lebanon is willing to publicly condone such a plan, not even the parties that have had ties with Israel or that maintain them (and I’m thinking here of Walid Jumblatt’s Ishtiraki, Geagea’s Lebanese Forces, Amin Gemayel’s Kataeb or even Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement). Most of the points you raise are actually part of Obama’s new proposition. I don’t know how much his going to exert pressure on Arab politicians to accept it, and I have doubts he’ll exert pressure on Lebanese politicians to do it. I have already commented on that proposal here.
    And if you read this post, you’ll see why I don’t believe such an approach will work. I think peace-seekers need to be more creative, as creative as the warmongers but with hardly any funding… which is a greater challenge. I have a couple of thoughts on that subject. I hope to develop them in an upcoming post, a follow up to “regional normalisation: an assessment”. It’s a people centered approach.

  6. lirun said

    i dont think they need to openly endorse it.. just like they have often endorsed violence in a covert way – peace can also be covertly endorsed..

    while its hard to fund it – peace is easily supported by economic rationalisation.. it makes for great business..

    • Peace isn’t necessary for economic prosperity. I think the US and Israel have proven that point. War can be an extremely powerful economic engine on two conditions: that you are a producer of weapons and that your military can help you conquer property and markets. Both the US and Israel fill these conditions.
      As for regional economic opportunities, they don’t need peace for that. Cold peace is enough (as the example of Peace between Jordan and Israel has shown) and it’s not even necessary (as the collaboration between the Golf States and Israel has shown).

      I personally believe that cold peace between Israel and the Arab states is an obstacle for real peace (lasting, complete, just), because it doesn’t modify or challenge the dynamics that were created by war. Quite the contrary, it consolidates them.

  7. sean said

    There is an issue that is suspiciously absent in this conversation: 300,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon. So while I’d like to see peace as much as the next person, I’d like to see a just peace. This means one that is not at the expense to the weakest group with absolutely no say in any of the talks: the millions of Palestinian refugees rotting away in camps or trying to better themselves in Europe or North America.

    I just visited my future father in-law who is very sick and only wants one thing, to be allowed to die or at the very least be buried in his home, Haifa. He and his family were forced out when he was 13, and no one seems to care about his and his family’s right to their home, which was stolen by the Israeli state. What do you say to him, Lirun? He’s not interested in a volleyball tournament between Lebanon and Israel or letting European tourists with Israeli stamps come vacation in Beirut. And until there is a settlement that takes his rights into consideration in a just way, neither am I.

    • The point you raise Sean is a very interesting one, but I’m not sure that it contradicts Lirun’s. I think each one of us is talking about a different thing, probably because of our diverging perspectives.
      – Lirun is talking about a “down-up” approach (or microlevel) to peace that fits in the Obama proposition (and that joins the Israeli official demands).
      – I’m arguing about a change in the approach on the macrolevel.
      – You are pointing at a microlevel problem and advancing a question of priority.
      I’m not sure that there is necessarily a priority in such matters, unless one proposition obstructs the other. But is it really the case?

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