Lauri: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to Emmett’s annual excuse me, weekly webinar today featuring the brilliant Tony Badran speaking about Biden’s policy on Lebanon, which is risking war on Israel’s northern border.
We have quite a discussion this afternoon. I’m really looking forward to hearing Tony’s insights. I want to also thank before we start, Deborah and Denny Berman, who have graciously sponsored today’s webinar in loving memory of Deborah’s father, Mark J. Sands. His Hebrew name is Manha Mendel Ben Eliah. He passed away 48 years ago, this Rosh Hashanah, may his memory be a blessing. Deborah is a treasured board member of Emmett, and we thank her for all of her support while we share in her recognizing her father’s York site. If anyone else would like to sponsor one of our webinars, please do reach out and again, we appreciate all of you as we wouldn’t be able to do this without you.
I also, before we get started, wanted to just mention that Emmett is sponsoring a pro-Israel rally in New York tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. in front of the Loews Regency Hotel, which is at 540 Park Avenue in 61st Street. It is a pro-Israel rally in support of Israel’s democratically elected government and we hope that anybody in the New York area can come out and populate this. We need as many people as we can, so we thank you for that as well. Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Lebanon, Hezbollah, Syria, and the geopolitics of the Levant. Born and raised in Lebanon, Tony has testified to the health representatives on several occasions regarding US policy toward Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. His research currently focuses on the relationship between Iran’s Hezbollah model and regional states, as well as the history of and future scenarios for Israel Hezbollah Wars. His writings have appeared in many publications including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Post, the Atlantic Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and The Weekly Standard. He is a columnist and Levant analyst for Tablet Magazine. Welcome, Tony, and thank you for being here.
Tony: Thank you, Lauri. It’s great to be with you.
Lauri: It’s impossible to discuss US foreign policy, not just in the Middle East, but globally, without mentioning Iran, which has been at the center of both the Obama and Biden administrations’ obsessive desire to withdraw America from the Mid East and reorder the region. In this regard, Tony, you’ve written a lot about Biden’s stealth agenda centering on Obama and Biden’s empowerment of the world’s largest state-sponsored terrorism. One of the arenas in which this is playing out is Lebanon, and you stated in a recent column that, ”The focus of the split in US policy and of gaslighting our allies is the Lebanese pseudo-state run by Hezbollah, the Terror Army controlled by Iran. By dealing with Lebanon, the US can help forward the objectives of its Iranian partner without ever dealing directly with Iran and thereby can continue gaslighting its allies to the extent that they would prefer to believe that the US is still their partner.” Before getting into specifics, Tony, can you elaborate on that gaslighting concept and what it really means in terms of what Biden hopes to gain by empowering Hezbollah at the expense of our regional allies, most especially Israel, in effect, what I’m also asking is why the US and Israel’s policies aren’t aligned when it comes to Lebanon, and why does the Biden administration continue to involve itself in these Israeli Lebanese tensions?
Tony: Right. So first of all, it’s great to be with you and so let’s just dive in quickly and explain what I mean. When I look at Lebanon, I’m not looking at that specific place on its own merits or why we’d be interested in Lebanon, per se, regardless of Hezbollah and so on. What I’m talking about in this context that you quoted, what I’m talking about here is how we should understand the Obama worldview as it manifests itself in the Middle East and just to be clear for your audience I’m talking here about a policy that is Barack Obama’s, a policy that remains Barack Obama’s that that’s the agenda that’s being pursued. There is no alternative policy.
There is no Joe Biden policy. There is no Jake Sullivan, Anthony Blinken policy separate from a Rob Malley, Brett McGirk policy, none of these things. There is Barack Obama’s policy that started in Barack Obama’s first term, materialized in his second term, and now is continuing in the Biden administration with the same team that Obama had when he was in office directly. So what we’re looking at here is Barack Obama’s policy in the Middle East. In Barack Obama’s worldview, Iran is central. Iran, in fact, becomes the center of gravity for America’s interaction and position in the Middle East. It becomes the preferred interlocutor. The vision is to ”integrate it into the region, and in fact, to integrate the region around it” and it’s not a coincidence that, by the way, today Biden’s administration refers to its signature Middle East policy as regional integration.
Every time you hear anything about their vision for the region, it’s integrated Middle East, something, something, something integrated, Middle East, integrated region. That is not just a haphazard choice of terminology. This is a term of art and it means something very specific and I am not divining its meaning by reading tea leaves. I’m doing so by reading what the Biden administration has said explicitly about what that means. It’s available, I’m not privy to secret information or backdoor meetings or whatever. No, it’s all there and it’s very clear that it is about strong-arming regional allies of the past, Saudi Arabia, Israel in particular, the Gulf in general. With Iranian, what the team Biden-Obama, or Obama-Biden believes to be Iranian holdings or equities in the region that includes Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen. Lebanon becomes very central in this particular case because of all the others, it’s the one that borders Israel and so it has a very specific function to play. But like all of the others, Lebanon is simply a back door to Iran. It doesn’t have any value in and of itself, save as an Iranian holding. That’s how the Obama administration and the Biden administration view Lebanon and so whatever it is that they’re doing there, they’re doing as a means of communication with the Iranians. Whatever investment they make there, it’s a deposit to the Iranians. It’s an investment in an Iranian holding. It’s a furthering of a broader project that centers around Iran, of which the Lebanese parcel, is part as an Iranian holding. So if you are looking to integrate your former allies with Iran and its holding, its regional holdings, you start tethering them on the one hand to each other through agreement.
Like, for instance, the maritime agreement, the maritime border delineation agreement that was concluded last year, in the summer of last year. Sorry, in the fall of last year, and which was explicitly by the White House described as a manifestation of the administration’s regional integration, right? That’s how they described it. I didn’t make that up. So how does that work as a regional integration because you have Israel on the one hand, and you have Hezbollah on the other hand, i.e. Iran? So you’re integrating Iran and the old alliance system. Same thing, Saudi Arabia and let’s say Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, now in its direct interactions with Iran, so on and so forth. The other aspect of that, and this is to your question after this kind of long-winded background is to also provide, is to inject the United States in the middle between Israel and Hezbollah as the representative of Iran in Lebanon.
What that means is that now the United States is extending, and that is again, how they describe the maritime deal and other kind of policy initiatives that they’re doing in Lebanon, but very specifically with the Maritime deal. They’re extending a security umbrella to preserve the security and stability of Lebanon. So that means you are working towards preventing any clash or anything that could lead to a clash, of course, that only works on one side. So then you’re effectively deterring Israel or amplifying an existing reluctance on the Israeli side, not to intervene in Lebanon, not to take action in Lebanon, which in turn amplifies Hezbollah’s agenda and its own position, because it is not necessarily bound by any of these things. It looks to you, the United States, to intervene, to make sure to protect your investments in Lebanon, which is what the United States is explicitly describing as its own policy.
We want more investments in Lebanon. We want that stability and anything that could upset that stability is to be opposed. So it doesn’t mean that now we’re working, let’s say, to disarm and remove the terrorist group that rules Lebanon nor would we be willing to or necessarily even able to, but the point is therefore, to leave that there, and then to tell the Israelis just don’t upset the status quo in order not to escalate the situation. We want de-escalation. Anything that can further de-escalation, we support. Maritime border concessions? Sure. Land, border concession? Sure. Basically even as Hezbollah arms itself to the teeth with systems that can target Israeli cities and infrastructure, don’t take action in Lebanon against that, because that could lead to war and we don’t want to upset. So basically the United States injects itself in the middle between Israel and Hezbollah and extends a de facto protective umbrella onto Lebanon, nominally, right? They’re not saying, obviously, they’re not saying, ”Oh, we are here to protect Hezbollah.” They say we’re here to protect Lebanon. But what that actually means in reality is you’re doing it, is you’re protecting Hezbollah, which lives and controls and runs things in Lebanon anyway. So to your second part of your question, all of these things, you notice how they’re using certain terminology that implies something, but actually leads in another direction. Even how they describe Lebanon is part of that misdirection and stealth, the word that I used or kind of backdoor. Something looks this way, but you’re actually entering it from behind and so on in like an indirect route and so on.
So that’s Lebanon. To talk about Lebanon is one of those, right? You can say, ”Oh, we are here to help the people of Lebanon. We are here to build state institutions in Lebanon.” We’re not. We’re actually here to weaken Hezbollah. We’re not here to strengthen Hezbollah, but at the same time, this is why we want investment in Lebanon as it currently is ruled by Hezbollah. We don’t want anything that destabilizes Lebanon as it currently is as a Hezbollah military base, and so on and so forth. So there is inherent in this policy sort of a type of double-speak if you like. It’s bifurcated. It’s split. On the one hand, you present something that encourages certain assumptions on your part.
Oh, of course, this is pro-Israel, this is anti-Hezbollah et cetera. Whereas in fact, and again, it’s not because we’re divining it, because that’s what they actually end up saying. I mean, so there’s stuff that you can deduce from reality, but there is stuff that they actually say explicitly is what it is. Regional integration as a category, being one of them. So that’s how you end up in the end with a split. You’re saying one thing and doing another thing, if you like, or saying something that encourages you to attribute a certain meaning to it while actually flipping through the back door a completely different meaning that may not necessarily be palpable to, palatable rather, sorry, palatable to an American audience or even US allies just more broadly.
Lauri: So thank you for that insightful explanation of US policy, and at least the Obama-Biden teams have been thinking and I love that you have coined the term Obama-Biden team because you’ve described why that’s the real thing taking place here. So we’ve talked about the US sort of forcing Israel to alter its maritime borders, and I want to switch to land now because there have been numerous provocations by Hezbollah, including scores of rockets and in particular border violations and outposts being set up inside Israel, all of which Israel has basically ignored. In your August 1st column entitled Lebanon, Israel, and America are on opposite sides, you stated, ”Israel’s weak response to Hezbollah’s symbolic invasion of sovereign Israeli territory suggests a failure to recognize that Hezbollah’s cross border encampment is, as Nasrallah explained, part of a systematic campaign.
In turn, this failure appears to be embedded in an even larger refusal to comprehend America’s new position in Lebanon. As a result, Israel is responding piecemeal to a coherent Hezbollah strategy aimed at forcing Israel to make additional concessions this time on land, while using the new constraints forced on Israel by the New American posture to establish new operational dynamics at the border.” Can you elaborate on that and also discuss Hezbollah’s end game, which Nasrallah made clear when he stated that Hezbollah is a group with a goal, and can you also share why you believe that Israel hasn’t responded in kind? Is it just Biden’s pressure to prevent them from doing anything?
Tony: Right. So the maritime deal, there is no distinction between the maritime deal and the land deal, right? So that was a fallacy that both the State Department in the last year of the Trump Administration, which attempted to revive these talks in one of the most ill-advised decisions that that State Department took and which was then embedded in the actual framework agreement and then in the actual agreement itself. There is no distinction. The agreement itself, the framework agreement, which was a condition of the Lebanese, which the Pompeo State Department incredibly agreed to because it was staffed by Lebanon files and former Obama held up anyway and it had its own ridiculous views about Lebanon, which completely misunderstand its nature as I just explained it, as just an Iranian asset.
So they were dealing with dumb ideas. The Obama team, on the other hand, was dealing with a strategy, pro-Iran strategy, which they ended up amplifying and helping. So they picked it up. They agreed to two tracks, albeit separately. Now, a land border delineation process that will be handled by UNIFIL and a maritime border track which will be handled by the United States, but just by the fact that you’ve opened up the door to land border delineation, you’ve already opened up and anyway, you were completely irrelevant because you lost the election and you were out of power. So now it’s someone else’s prerogative to define what that actually means and guess who it is? It’s the team that is pro-Iran.
So then in the agreement that team Obama-Biden ended up concluding, it states that there are still points on land that are unresolved, that are relevant to this maritime agreement that should be pursued. So that’s in there, that’s in the agreement itself. So there is no separation and immediately after they concluded their maritime deal, Amos Hochstein, President Biden’s Envoy for Global Energy, Infrastructure, or something like that I forget his exact title, but he’s the special presidential envoy who handled the maritime deal, immediately moved with the American ambassador in Lebanon, is a truly awful character as well to try to push as the start of a land delineation process or demarcation, whatever you want to call it, process.
So Hezbollah knows this. This is already about a year in the making, right? Hezbollah understands all this. Hezbollah understands what the posture of Team Obama is in this case, and they were very explicit about it. Nasrallah whom you cited from what I quoted him in my piece was very open that basically, we are replicating what we did between us and the Americans and the Israelis. With the maritime deal, we’re now going to replicate it. So there was a very conscious and gain and an understanding of what role the Americans are expected to play, which they played back with the maritime deal and now, again, because when Hezbollah ends up going into the Golan Heights in an area called the Shab’a, that the Lebanese call the Shab’a Farms, which in Israel is called Har Dov or Mount Dov. So the Lebanese claim that that section belongs to them.
Nobody on planet Earth agrees with that claim, not the United States, not the United Nations. Nobody. Everyone believes that to be part of the Golan Heights and in 2019, the United States’ official position became that the Golan Heights is legally Israeli sovereign territory. We recognize it as such. So the issue as far as the United States is concerned was, oh now these guys, of course, don’t want it to be over and they understand that team Obama-Biden never agreed with Trump’s decision about the Golan Heights. So they know that there’s an opening, and they have the precedent of the maritime process to see how the American team Obama-Biden is going to position itself vis-a-vis them and Israelis, which is, again, to go back to what I said about the United States injecting or inserting itself in between Israel and Hezbollah, which basically ends up being 100% in Hezbollah’s favor, obviously.
So Hezbollah enters into the Golan Heights, pitches a couple of tents, sets up a military outpost there and mans it with people and sits and waits and now, the Israelis, you asked why they didn’t take it out. The Israelis don’t want a war in Lebanon. The IDF does not want a war in Lebanon. The IDF will do anything to prevent a war in Lebanon at the expense of the growing capabilities by Hezbollah and increasing provocations by Hezbollah, how ever you want to describe that decision, self-deterrence, extreme caution, different priorities, focusing on something else, doesn’t matter. The fact is they don’t want it which works great as far as Team Obama-Biden is concerned. So its job is to amplify it, take advantage of it, and push initiatives that consolidate it. They call it de-escalation or depressurizing, whatever, just garbage lingo.
Lauri: Orwellian newspeak, we can call it.
Tony: Whatever. The point is, don’t attack. That’s the bottom line. Do not attack this protected area. So they don’t attack it, and they reach out to the Americans to say can you figure out a way to tell your clients in Lebanon that they should dismantle this? So Amos Hochstein says, ”Cool, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to start a land border delineation process. We’re going to explore whether we can settle these points of contention along the border once and for all, and that will be great for security and Lebanon’s stability and its ability to draw investments.” Those are not my words. I’m not making them up. Go ahead and check. Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon, and he made those statements himself. So that is exactly how Hezbollah designed the play, explicitly. They said what we’re going to do is this. We’re going to make a move.
The Americans are going to come, the Americans are going to start putting pressure on the Israelis and that’s why he said, ”We are a group with a goal. We’re not doing things haphazardly. We’re doing things because we want to achieve deliverables and very specific objectives” and that is what they want. So they want the Americans to force the Israelis to make concessions on the land border on several points. One, on the coast pertaining to the maritime deal at the Rosh HaNikra where there’s a little what do you call it? Sort of a rock formation and a tunnel that used to be the underground rail tunnel in the past that linked Lebanon and Israel but that is a military point because it overlooks the Israeli coast, and the Israelis don’t want any Hezbollah’s presence there and that was what the Lapid government hailed as a massive victory at the time, the maritime deal, that they retained it. In fact, they didn’t retain anything because the deal itself says this is to be resolved in merit in land border discussions.
So they didn’t give them at all any, they just preserved the status quo of the fact that Israelis controlled it. Then the United States didn’t endorse the American position. So they want that, and they want certain points along the Blue Line, which is the UN line that verified Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon and all the way to what they call the Shab’a Farms, right and also in the Golan, a small town called Ghajar, which is split, unfortunately, one of the problems of the Blue Line is that it split this town in half. All of its residents have Israeli citizenship but there’s a part of it that straddles north of the Blue Line in Lebanese territory and the Israelis have conceded that, but they’re not quite sure how to resolve it. So they’ve left it as is. So they want that and they want the Shab’a Farms, and they set it up so, so that the Americans deliver it for them which they ended up doing. But we can, I guess, talk about that in a follow-up question.
Lauri: Yeah, we’re going to get to the UN resolution in a moment but I just want to focus on whether you believe that there’s a real possibility of a major escalation between Israel and Hezbollah, Tony. You co-wrote an article with your FDD colleague, Jonathan Schanzer in early August, which was entitled US Emboldens Hezbollah at Israel’s Expense and it addressed senior Israeli military officials warning that the risk of war with Hezbollah is at the greatest it’s ever been in years. We all know that there are 150,000 missiles, many of which are precision-guided, capable of evading Israel’s defenses, aimed at it. So you had stated in the column that American policy is damaging Israel’s security, and Hezbollah is openly gloating about it. But do you believe that war Tony is imminent and that Israel’s passivity at the behest of the US is exacerbating the dangers that are building on the northern border?
Tony: Right. So since 2006, which was the last major war between Israel and Hezbollah on Lebanese soil, there has been a period of basically the Israelis view it as a deterrence of Hezbollah. Hezbollah gradually came to view it as a mutual deterrence that also includes an Israeli reluctance and that happened at a very specific moment after the Syrian war erupted in 2011. So between 2011 and 2013, that’s kind of the period where you still saw very low-key Israeli hits inside Lebanon, the assassination of senior Hezbollah cadres, certain targeting, but all along the border in ambiguous areas on the Syria-Lebanon border because they too had understood that if we hit in Lebanon, Hezbollah hits back, the possibility of war increases. So let’s avoid that as much as we can. Syria gave them another opportunity to just start hitting Hezbollah targets in Syria for two reasons.
One, to prevent the creation of another Hezbollah area of operations in Syria, including on the Golan, which was a plan of the Iranians and Hezbollah, and on the other hand, to prevent the delivery of weapon systems through Syria to Hezbollah. So you start hitting in Syria, and that was cost-free because there’s nothing left in Syria. Nobody’s going to attack you. There’s nobody to defend the Assad regime on an international level, like for instance, the United States is doing with the Lebanese regime, for instance. The Iranians don’t have the capability yet in Syria to challenge you from Syria. So everyone agreed that Syria becomes a kill zone but you don’t go to Lebanon. You leave Lebanon out and the IDF agreed to this arrangement, de facto, you hit in Syria, you show Israeli power in Syria, show Israeli precision in Syria, prowess, intelligence, everything, and you kind of leave Lebanon aside and whatever manages to get through to Lebanon, well, that’s part of the cost.
It’s fine as long as we don’t escalate this to a bigger war. So there’s a cost to having a free hand in Syria and Hezbollah understood this and started to exploit it and so it exploits it both by exploiting Israel’s reluctance to hit Lebanon and by the American protective umbrella that encourages Israel not to hit in Lebanon because this is now an American protectorate jointly with the Iranians, right, as an Iranian holding and we acknowledge that. So that is the problem. Now, it’s unclear to me how much the Israelis understand that this is the role the Americans are playing in Lebanon. That’s why I said they’re not on the same side. The Israelis are reaching out to the Americans as mediators and as friends and allies. But what the Americans want in Lebanon is the protection of the Hezbollah law and order, right? Now the problem becomes that that intersects with the IDF’s reluctance to go to war and so the end result is that it furthers Team Obama’s agenda of protecting the Iranian equity in Lebanon and that’s where we are.
Lauri: Thanks for that, Tony. So taking this a step further Israel’s defense minister Gallant announced earlier this month that Iran was building an airfield in Lebanon just 12 miles from the Israeli border. He stated, and I love the way he stated this, it’s simple. The land is Lebanese, the control is Iranian, and the target is Israel. While it seems clear that the airport’s going to be used to enable transfers of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah bypassing Syria, now, I mean, do you believe it’s also going to be used as a base for future war against Israel by Iran? And why hasn’t, again, I guess it’s the same story with the US but my question was going to be why hasn’t Israel destroyed the airfield as it does when it’s destroying infrastructure in Syria? I mean, Gallant did state a few days ago before the announcement about the airfield that Israel will ”send Lebanon back to the stone age if provoked into a war.” And a nice threat, but I don’t think any of us really sees that happening anytime soon as you’ve just shared. So what do you think is going to happen with this airfield and is this just more of Biden’s strong-arming Israel into allowing that to stand as well?
Tony: So the airfield started right after the maritime deal was concluded, and that’s not a coincidence again. So once the maritime deal solidified the reality of Lebanon as benefiting from an American protective umbrella, that’s what you do. You take advantage of it, you press that advantage, and that’s what they did and now the function of the airstrip, I don’t know. I don’t claim to know. I mean, you can speculate in a million ways about what it might be used for, weapons delivery maybe, drones maybe. I don’t know. I don’t care to speculate because it doesn’t matter because the function of it is understood. It’s a Hezbollah airstrip. So the real question is, do you tolerate it or do you wait for a war to erupt for whatever reason, and then you destroy it?
Because one of the things about an airstrip is that it’s actually easy to destroy. So the issue isn’t what happens once a war starts. The issue is what it means when you’re leaving it now, and what else are you leaving? So that’s the thing. So the airstrip was just one initiative that took place. After they moved onto the Golan area and built those tents, the military outposts there, they did another thing. They went to the fence, which previously was a sort of no man’s land. Nobody was able to go there, you’re not supposed to go all the way up to the fence, to the border fence. So they disregarded that with the help of the Lebanese armed forces and they went to the fence, and they didn’t just go there for the cameras.
They went there and they started building a road right along the fence that connects certain parts of Lebanon eventually to reach the Shab’a Farms, okay? And then they’re starting to build other types of infrastructure and activity that has to do with agriculture and livestock and soon enough, you’ll get forestation. That means we take us to green without borders and the Construction Jihad, the arm of Hezbollah, which means you have basically a military presence masquerading as a civilian presence and then you start also looking at potential tunneling activity which most likely is still happening, even if it’s not crossing the border into Israel and you start building towers and the funny thing about it is, in that speech that I cited in my article that you mentioned, Nasrallah was open about it, he says, ”Well, it’s Lebanese land”, talking about Shab’a, the Shab’a Farms, the Golan Heights.
”We can build whatever we want if we want to build an airport, we’ll build an airport” which was probably him winking at that airfield that Gallant ended up referencing. If we want to build towers, and that’s probably a wink to the several watch towers, Green Without Borders, the so-called environmental organization that Hezbollah runs that is now all over the Blue Line. In this year alone, there were like 27 of them that were erected. Again, these are not hard targets when a war erupts, right? I mean, those things that can be destroyed in a split second. That’s not the issue. The issue is what it means for Hezbollah’s tactics now, and what it aims to create in terms of a new set of rules of engagement, of provocation without crossing a certain line and benefiting from the protection of the United States, which then allows also the idea which rather puts the IDF in a dilemma.
Is this reason enough for us to go to war now, or do we just tolerate it and then settle into a new dynamic whereby we pick up the phone and ask the Americans now to intercede and to intervene to kind of keep Hezbollah in place? So you end up with a kind of a situation that’s somewhat reminiscent of the Palestinians, but basically, now the United States positions itself between you and your enemies and encourages you to now go to the United States to resolve your issues with your enemies and so on and so forth. So 100% to the benefit of Hezbollah and that’s how both the administration and Hezbollah understand it.
Lauri: So now let’s tie in your recent column, and you started to raise this a little earlier with the discussion of the Golan. Your column was entitled Biden Backdoors Israel in the UN, Rescinding Trump’s Recognition of Sovereignty over the Golan and you stated, ”The administration is reaffirming the Obama framework of UN Security Council resolution 2334, and putting the Palestinians back at the center of US regional policy.” And then you added, ”Using the Palestinians as an instrument to sabotage any movement towards peace with Israel is a historically established practice of radical regimes in the region. Now, team Obama-Biden has claimed the mantle of Rejectionist leadership by de-legitimizing Israel’s borders and submarining the country’s attempts to draw closer to the Gulf.” Can you explain first of all, what’s happening with regards now to Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan and how the US has inserted the Palestinians in a way that basically, excuse my French, is screwing Israel. Yeah.
Tony: Right. So these are two parallel things, right? So for those who don’t know, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which is what I referenced in the article, is what Barack Obama orchestrated in the final days of his second term. He basically pulled together and strong-armed multiple nations to orchestrate the passage of a resolution without vetoing it. So the United States abstained and made it seem that, oh, we had no choice but to let it pass, right? But in fact, they orchestrated it behind the scenes. They were very actively leading it and it adopted the proposition that everything beyond the 1967 withdrawal lines or ceasefire lines was illegitimate. They’re not legally Israeli and therefore, that has implications for Judea and Samaria.
It has implications for Jerusalem, and it has implications for the Golan Heights. Now, in as much as I mentioned earlier, as much as the United States in 2019 said, actually, no the Golan Heights is legal Israeli sovereign territory as far as the United States is concerned. What they ended up doing with this resolution, actually, sorry, I skipped ahead one step. So what President Trump did with the Golan recognition and obviously moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, both things that Team Obama objected to, especially the Golan part. He had kind of undone the legacy of 2334 at the UN, right, that Obama did. So now these guys pathologically, because the very decision itself in your last days in office when you expend such diplomatic capital in your final days in office, just to endorse this thing, which is designed very specifically to use your very eloquent word to screw Israel, that is an indication of pathology. That is not rational, that’s not normal, that’s pathological, right? That’s an indication of a deep-seated personal animus and pathology and likewise, to strive after the Trump interval, and now two and a half years into the Biden term, to work ceaselessly, to reaffirm that pathological decision is itself an indication of pathology and so you have, in the summer, prior to the end of August, in June, they already started moving to do so in the Palestinian context.
So they issued guidance that they were stopping scientific and technological research cooperation with Israel with anything that’s beyond the 1967 lines, right? So they’re reaffirming the ’67 lines. They have been from the beginning saying that they want to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which would then deal with the Palestinians, and very specifically, although the consulate was in West Jerusalem, Jake Sullivan very specifically says, we very much want that to be in East Jerusalem, right? So these guys are affirming, again, that Obama legacy of 2334. Then there was the Golan, which they always rejected, the Trump decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty and early on in the term, in 2021, Blinken and the UN Ambassador were both asked about it, and they issued a very lawyerly language about it, statements with very lawyerly language, which is to say that we recognize the de facto control of Israel.
But the issue of legality is something else that we’re still working on. That somehow they’re really engaging in a study and the consideration of what they’re going to do. It meant that they didn’t want it, and they were looking for ways to rescind it. But of course, it’s very difficult. What are you going to say? I’m rescinding on whose behalf? On Assad’s behalf? On the Iranian’s behalf, Why am I doing so? Right? So it was costly. So they needed a back door going back to that concept of Lebanon as a deposit box that you can do these things with and they had an opportunity, so it was a dance with Hezbollah. Hezbollah understood exactly what the United States would do, and he saw that they gave him a wink, that that’s exactly what they’re going to do, they’re interested in re-litigating the border situation.
Now you have the Shab’a Farms, the Golan issue. So how do you approach it? Well, we have UNIFIL. UNIFIL’s mandate, that’s the UN Force in Lebanon. UNIFIL’s mandate is renewed every year by the Security Council at the end of August. So at the end of August the United States, in a manner very reminiscent of how they orchestrated the passage of 2334, with stealth, introduced the French language into that UNIFIL resolution that refers to the Shab’a farms as occupied and this is to be clear, so you understand that this is not just haphazard language. This language has never been used before in the context of UNIFIL resolutions or anything pertaining to Lebanon because the United States never recognized Shab’a Farms as Lebanese. So we don’t even talk about it in the context of Lebanon. It’s not in the purview of Lebanon. So they introduced language about the Golan Heights and referred to it as occupied, which effectively, without having to make an official policy shift domestically, they locked it in at the United Nations that, oh, now the United States agrees that the Golan Heights of which the Shab’a Farms is part, is occupied. So they fulfilled the last bit of Hezbollah’s gambit, which he understood that that’s the role that they will play and they played the role that he expected them to play because he knows that the United States is pursuing that policy.
Lauri: That was a superb answer to a very complicated question because you had to go back to the history of the 2024 resolution also. So thank you for that. There are a number of good questions in the queue, and I want to turn to them, but I’m going to tie one of them, which asked about the Chinese presence on the northern border with my final question, which was turning to Saudi Arabia and its role in possibly propping up Hezbollah. The Chinese mediated the Saudis entering into a détente of sorts with Iran and then Syria’s Assad was welcomed back into the Arab League by the Saudis and the Saudis are now engaged in negotiations over a trilateral deal between Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel that would normalize relationships between the Saudis and Israelis. I don’t think any of us really think that’s going to get done anytime soon. So where is Lebanon in all of this, and what impact would the Saudi-Israeli normalization have if it were to occur on Israeli-Hezbollah escalations? And again, the person that asked, where is the Chinese role in all of this? Why did they mediate the détente?
Tony: Oh well, okay. So let’s keep it on the Lebanese, and I’m going to take this question in a slightly different direction to talk about the issue of the normalization initiative, whatever. The Lebanon is irrelevant to this. The Saudis had kind of pulled away from Lebanon understanding that this is kind of an Iranian-controlled place and there’s just no point in putting money into it. Team Obama-Biden had been pressuring them pathologically to refinance Lebanon, to reopen the financial spigots, to reengage, and so on. That’s part of regional integration, you see. That’s kind of what it’s about and so far, even with their détente with the Iranians, they haven’t really done much in Lebanon yet. Now, they might still, who knows, but so far it hasn’t changed the Saudi posture toward Lebanon all that much.
There’s a little bit more political engagement, humanitarian assistance, so on. But generally speaking, they’re not funding, for instance, the LAF, they’re not funding the security services, which is what the administration wanted them to do very badly. It even sent an unprecedented move, the US Ambassador to Lebanon. They sent her to Saudi Arabia to petition the Saudis to give money to Lebanon. I mean, it was just remarkable but that hasn’t happened yet. It might still, we’ll see. The issue of normalization talks which is the word that the administration uses, which is hilarious to me because it’s the word that all the Arab Rejectionist regimes used to use, right? They don’t want to talk, they don’t refer to them as peace agreements. They’re normalization agreements. Anyway, I’m not going to spend too much time on that, but whether or not a Saudi-Israeli agreement emerges or not, is immaterial to me.
The United States may well end up strong-arming both Israel and Saudi Arabia to agree to its parameters and they might enter it. To me, it’s irrelevant because the whole framework has been inverted. The Trump framework, which was called the Abraham Accords, was about setting in place very clearly the American-led order with Israeli and Arab components under a single roof in a bunch of agreements with the Iranians, clearly on the other side, and the Palestinians out of the picture to be resolved separately as having nothing to do with the American alliance system, right? It’s a problem that can be dealt with in whatever way people decide to deal with it. That was the purpose of the Abraham Accords. It wasn’t peace deals in the sense of the peace process of, oh whatever, people hugging each other and so on.
That’s not it. That’s not what the point of it is. That’s a good benefit of it. But that’s not what the point of it is. The Obama-Biden team came immediately and inverted this on its head once they decided that they were going to take it because at first, they shunned it. They didn’t even use the term Abraham Accords and then they decided there was something to be gained here. Actually, we can further our pro-Iran agenda by hollowing out the shell of this thing and filling it with its exact opposite. So you invert it. So now, instead of it being bilateral agreements intended in opposition to Iran, now it’s the Palestinians are at the center of it, and the Iranians are at the center of it, right? Regional integration. We encourage the Saudis to open up to the Iranians. After the Saudis open up to the Iranians and after we signed the Hezbollah-Israel Maritime deal, if the Saudis and Israel want to join hands by now propping up the Palestinians, right, that’s fine because the regional framework has been flipped on its head. We brought back the Palestinians and now Iran is at the center of everything. So the meaning of the deal is the exact opposite. It’s operating in a diametrically opposed framework to the one that was envisaged by the Trump administration, which had bilateral deals under American aegis. That is completely gone now. So the value of that agreement now changes completely because it’s now operating in an American-Iranian order or an order that is the center of gravity for which as far as Team Obama-Biden is concerned, is Iran.
Lauri: So I want to make sure we can run through some of the audience questions because it is getting a little late and somebody asked a great question, can the Netanyahu government counter the attempts of the American government to return to ’67 lines? How can they counter it if possible?
Tony: Well, I mean one of the things is that they have to work on pressuring this administration, first of all, to remove this language from the next to walk back that language and remove it if possible. Other than that, I mean just work with its friends and the United States to assert it and any future administration, also to assert it, to remove any such language, and to work towards deepening this recognition in practical terms. Senator Cruz, for instance, had taken very concrete steps in that regard during the Trump administration and then had even tried to introduce a bill to safeguard the US recognition of the Golan, but unfortunately, it didn’t go anywhere. But these types of initiatives to deepen the cooperation and recognition, to completely erase this fiction are things that the Israeli government certainly should do.
I mean, they dropped the ball on this. They should not have allowed this to pass in the resolution and they, their friends, and the United States should work very hard to ensure that that thing is removed and that all eyes are kept on what this administration does domestically and internationally with regard to the ’67 line. For instance, just now, there was a meeting of the GCC and the United States, and they issued a joint statement affirming the ’67 lines, a just and comprehensive peace agreement based on the 1967 lines. So now it’s becoming like open parlance of this administration, and there’s a reinvent for it. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So all of that has to be combated by Israel’s friends domestically to make sure that no further action to delegitimize Israeli sovereignty there is taken.
Lauri: Someone else asked, what influence will the recent anti-Hezbollah actions by Lebanese Christians have on possible future complex between Lebanon and Israel?
Tony: First of all, there is no such thing, and second of all, zero. There is no such thing. In Lebanon, there is only Hezbollah. There’s no such thing. That’s just nonsense.
Lauri: Okay. Did Israel make a catastrophic mistake by not attacking and finishing the job the moment Hezbollah violated UN Security Council resolution 1701?
Tony: I think we answered that. I mean, look, people make a case that the priority is on Iran, maybe striking Iran. They don’t want to take action that could deflect their focus from that, maybe. I don’t know. I’m not a military analyst. I’m not privy to these decisions. There are people in Israel who are calling for an adjustment of the posture towards the north to put at least clear lines for Hezbollah, again, even if at the cost of a limited broader conflagration. Again, it’s not my place to do that. I’m just analyzing what the cost of the current posture is, and there’s a cost.
Lauri: We have time for one more question. I’m sorry to everyone if I didn’t get to yours, but if Hezbollah launches a drone strike, let’s say into Israel, would that serve as a convenient excuse for Israel to take out the towers, the road, the airport, thus establishing a potential real deterrence?
Tony: Well, that’s not a theoretical question. We’ve seen that actually, because Hezbollah has sent a bomber to the Megiddo junction and detonated an explosive device that came from Lebanon. The Israeli military said it came from Lebanon and the type of the explosion came from Lebanon, from Hezbollah. Hezbollah has orchestrated rocket launches into Israel from Lebanon, albeit without taking credit for them. So they’re establishing a new, like I said, set of rules of engagement where they can poke at Israel from Lebanon without having to suffer consequences, and the IDF’s reaction has been to play along. So when these rockets were fired from Lebanon, the IDF rushed to say that these were Palestinian groups that were firing them, not Hezbollah.
In fact, they started peddling some really hilarious gibberish that somehow Hamas and the Palestinians were trying to drag Hezbollah into a war with Israel that it didn’t really want. So the point of this nonsense was the signal to Hezbollah that we want to hit at the Palestinians, but in so doing, we’re not altering the rules of engagement with you. So there’s no need to escalate this into a broader war. So again, the IDF is stuck in its own little, again, I don’t know. It’s not my place to determine whether it’s the right thing or nothing, but that’s the framework it’s operating in and it’s the framework of basically self-deterrence that they don’t want this to escalate and maybe the right decision may not be the right decision, but the point is it has costs and costs are that now Hezbollah is orchestrating more attacks from Lebanon, even if it doesn’t take direct responsibility for it.
Lauri: Tony, I can’t thank you enough for joining us this afternoon and I encourage everybody to follow Tony’s very important work. You can do it at fdd.org or also in Tablet Magazine where Tony publishes frequently. I wish everybody a wonderful afternoon. Thank you for joining us and for supporting Emmett and again, Tony, thank you a million. It’s good to see you.
Tony: Thank you.
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