Analysis from Israel

As Omri noted yesterday, Washington is backing Beirut against Jerusalem in their dispute over the Israel-Lebanon maritime border. But by doing so, it isn’t merely cozying up to Hezbollah. It’s actively rewarding aggression – and encouraging war.

Israel and Lebanon never had an agreed upon maritime border. But Lebanon did reach an as-yet unratified agreement with Cyprus in 2007, and Jerusalem and Nicosia later negotiated their own maritime border based on this Lebanon-Cyprus agreement. Last year, however, after Israel announced lucrative gas finds in the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon gave the UN a new map asserting a border well south of the line demarcated in its agreement with Cyprus. By moving the border south, Lebanon also intruded into territory that Israel claims as its Exclusive Economic Zone.

This sequence of events makes it clear Lebanon is trying to grab territory it never previously considered its own solely to horn in on Israel’s newly discovered gas reserves. As such, the U.S. should have rejected it out of hand. Instead, it reportedly endorsed the new Lebanese map without  even seeking Israel’s response, then told Israel it should either accept the fait accompli or agree to mediation by the notoriously anti-Israel UN, in order to avoid creating an “underwater Shaba Farms.”

Shaba Farms is the territory Hezbollah claimed as Lebanese following Israel’s pullout from Lebanon in order to create a pretext for its continued attacks on Israel. The UN Security Council certified that withdrawal as complete to the last inch in 2000, as UN mapping experts concluded Shaba wasn’t Lebanese.

But after Hezbollah proved in 2006 it was willing to go to war to back its claim, the Security Council rewarded its aggression: Instead of upholding its previous decision, it adopted Resolution 1701, which ordered the UN to demarcate Lebanon’s border wherever it is “disputed or uncertain,” including in Shaba, and created a new mapping commission to do so. The Bush administration subsequently pressured Israel (unsuccessfully) to cede Shaba, bizarrely arguing that rewarding Hezbollah’s aggression would weaken the organization rather than strengthen it.

Beirut clearly learned the lesson: Aggression pays. So now, it’s repeating the tactic. And the Obama administration has adopted its predecessor’s bizarre theory that appeasement will end Lebanon’s aggression rather than encouraging it.

This is particularly irresponsible given the flammable regional context. Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon, has already threatened to go to war with Israel to relieve Western pressure on the Assad regime; Washington has now given it the ideal pretext by assuring it of America’s  backing on this issue.

Moreover, terrorists have just blown up the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline for the fourth time in six months. With only 20 percent to 30 percent of the contracted gas from Egypt actually arriving, Israel has had to purchase much more expensive substitutes and now faces an economically brutal 20 percent hike in electricity rates to cover these costs. Israel’s own maritime gas reserves have therefore become critical to its economy, meaning it will presumably fight to defend them.

Thus, by rewarding Lebanon’s aggression, Washington has made war more likely. Can anyone say “smart diplomacy”?

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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