Lebanon should be held accountable 

Source: Lebanon should be held accountable – Israel HayomMaj.

Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen

The Lebanese government’s responsibility for ‎Hezbollah’s offensive activities on its soil against ‎Israel is a central and unavoidable issue, which ‎was at the heart of a dispute between Prime Minister ‎Ehud Olmert and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz during ‎the 2006 Second Lebanon War.‎

Seeing Beirut as responsible for Hezbollah’s ‎offensive actions from Lebanese territory, Halutz ‎demanded that the IDF be allowed to target strategic ‎assets in Lebanon, but Olmert prevented him from ‎doing so, in part, over pressure exerted on Israel by ‎the European Union.‎

The war ended with U.N. Security Council Resolution ‎‎1701, which expressed an expectation that the ‎Lebanese government would regain sovereignty over ‎its side of the border with Israel. To facilitate ‎that, the resolution imposed restrictions on ‎Hezbollah activity in southern Lebanon, and the ‎Lebanese army was to redeploy in the region. ‎

But this was only partially realized. Since 2016, ‎not only has Hezbollah’s gain political power in ‎Lebanon, the Lebanese army has largely become part ‎of the Shiite terrorist group’s efforts to bolster its ‎presence on the ground, including near the border ‎with Israel.‎

Hezbollah, it seems, used the very restrictions ‎imposed on it in Resolution 1701 to develop more ‎sophisticated collaboration mechanisms with the ‎Lebanese army. ‎

The legitimacy of working with the Lebanese Armed ‎Forces affords Hezbollah advantages that allow for ‎its interests to be represented in the international ‎arena, as is the case in the monthly meetings ‎between Lebanese, Israeli and UNIFIL officials. ‎

This means a new reality has developed in the sphere ‎between the Lebanese state and ‎Hezbollah, where the two’s useful symbiosis and ‎strategic division of labor manifests, as ‎illustrated in the fact that Lebanese forces fought ‎shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah operatives ‎against Islamic State terrorists on the Lebanon-Syria ‎border. ‎

Under these circumstances, it is impossible to rule ‎out the possibility that, in the next war between ‎the IDF and Hezbollah, the Lebanese army may ‎actively assist the Shiite terrorist group. This is ‎doubly concerning given that in recent years, the ‎Lebanese army has received American support, ‎including training and weapons. ‎

Lebanon, as a hybrid state, has maximized the ‎inherent advantages of being able to conduct itself ‎between two opposing poles: It maintains close ties ‎with the West, mainly with France and the United ‎States, with respect to military and economic ‎cooperation in the search for political stability, ‎while also maintaining close ties with Iran and ‎Syria – through Hezbollah – despite their nefarious ‎attempts to destabilize the region. ‎

To a great extent, this is where the secret to ‎Lebanon’s success in preserving its existence as an ‎island of stability in the turbulent Middle ‎East lies. This pattern of behavior has also allowed ‎Lebanon to avoid being identified as a willing ‎accomplice to Hezbollah, something that would result ‎in its international isolation. ‎

Given Hezbollah’s growing strength and its ‎aggressive deployment against Israel in Lebanon, ‎Jerusalem must devise a new approach to Beirut.‎

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to ‎declare that Lebanon shoulders responsibility for ‎Hezbollah’s attempts to breach Israeli sovereignty, ‎but it is not enough. The Israeli government must ‎embark on a diplomatic effort to clarify what is at ‎stake for Lebanon if it sides with Hezbollah in its ‎next war with Israel.‎

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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