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With Maritime Agreement Between Israel and Lebanon Now In View, Nasrallah Changes His Tone

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Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has for many weeks been threatening to attack Israel if the Israelis begin to produce gas from the Karish field. That is a natural gas field that lies completely within Israel’s exclusive economic zone. Not only has Israel consistently made that claim, but the U.N. has recognized Israel’s right. Furthermore, the Lebanese government some months ago agreed that the Karish field belonged entirely to Israel. Beirut then changed its mind, and claimed that the Karish field lay partly in Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone. This was designed to put pressure on Jerusalem to relinquish its own claim to part of another, recently discovered field, Qan’a, in exchange for the Lebanese yielding what they now claimed was their right to part of the Karish field. They would, in other words, be giving up something to which they had no legitimate claim in the first place. 

Israel and Lebanon have been negotiating for months over the demarcation of their exclusive economic zones. Meanwhile, Hassan Nasrallah, wanting to claim credit for any Israeli concessions that might ensue, has kept issuing his threats to attack the Karish field. The Israelis have remained unfazed. Prime Minister Lapid said that Israel would begin lifting gas from the Kalish field with or without an agreement. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned in mid-September that “if Hezbollah wants to try and harm the Karish rig, he’s welcome to do so, but the price will be Lebanon.”

Now Nasrallah has been much more subdued In tone, as an agreement over the economic zones appears imminent. A report on his comments is here: “Hezbollah’s Nasrallah: US border demarcation offer ‘very important step,’” by Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, October 1, 2022:

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on Saturday in which he responded to the Lebanese government negotiating a maritime demarcation line with Israel.

He refrained from making threats toward Israel in his speech, a departure from previous addresses the Hezbollah leader has made. This means that Hezbollah appears to be toning down the rhetoric. Hezbollah’s allies in Iran are currently facing an unprecedented wave of protest.

Nasrallah has not been unmindful of how easily the IDF intercepted and destroyed three drones he sent toward the Karish field at the beginning of July. The ease with which, in its 66-hour conflict in Gaza – Breaking Dawn — at the beginning of August, the IDF crushed Palestinian Islamic Jihad and killed every one of its top leaders, made a deep impression on Nasrallah. He already lives in fear of Israeli attack, moving around so often that, as he once said, “even I don’t know where I will be tonight.” So he’s toned down the threats which, in any case, are hollow; there’s not the slightest doubt that any more drones he sends toward the Karish field will be shot down. Quite sensibly, he doesn’t want to risk being humiliated again.

Nasrallah said that the “maritime border demarcation file has reached a decisive stage in light of the mediator’s letter.” He said that “Hezbollah supports the Lebanese state regarding the talks with the US mediator….Maritime victory is the fruit of the national solidarity and will help Lebanon cope with an economic crisis.”

The US mediator to Lebanon on Saturday sent a maritime border demarcation proposal to President Michel Aoun and the caretaker government. The US has been trying to help with a maritime demarcation deal for more than a year.

Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser for energy security at the US State Department, has been working on this issue and has made trips to Lebanon and met with Lebanese officials.

However, Hezbollah has accused Hochstein of being biased and Hezbollah has threatened gas rigs and energy fields off the coast of Israel.

There will be no further threats from Nasrallah. The three drones Israel shot down in early July, and the warning from Gantz that if there any further attacks, “Lebanon will pay the price,” have been discouragement enough.

During his speech, Nasrallah took a more judicious view of the maritime border talks than he had in the past, saying that they appear to be reaching a “positive outcome thanks to dialogue” between the US and Lebanon, although he did not make any mention of Israel’s role in the negotiations.

Nasrallah indicates that the full picture will become clear in the coming days. He also mentioned Lebanon’s continued failure to form a government.

The failure of Lebanon to form a government is largely due to Hezbollah’s insistence on vetoing any candidates for President or Prime Minister who might, as Lebanese patriots, distance the government from the terror group. The current President, Michel Aoun, has rightly been regarded as a willing tool of Nasrallah; in exchange, Nasrallah turned a blind eye to the President’s notorious corruption; Aoun has amassed a fortune of $80 million that cannot otherwise be explained.

Lebanon, like Iraq, has a strong pro-Iranian element and neither country now has a functioning government. Iran is also facing protests; meaning that several states where Iran has a role are all on the verge of chaos.

Nasrallah said that “the last parliament session proved that whoever wants to elect a president of the republic must move away from the logic of defiance in favor of consultation,” adding that “time is running out with regard to forming a government.”

By “logic of defiance,” Nasrallah means those Lebanese politicians who wish to defy Hezbollah itself, and to reclaim Lebanon from the Iran-backed terror group that now dominates the country. Instead, he wants “consultation” – that is, “consultation with Hezbollah” in the formation of a new government.

Nasrallah also condemned people migrating from Lebanon to Cyprus, referring to a recent case where migrants died. “Migrating in death boats is like a crime,” he said, calling for “a serious judicial investigation into death boats.”

Why do people risk their lives to leave Lebanon? It’s because the country is bankrupt. The Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value in the last two years. The Government Debt-to-GDP ratio is 165%, the highest in the world. And among the actors most responsible for this wretched state of affairs, Hezbollah leads the list. It is Hezbollah that has, in the past, dragged Lebanon into a war with Israel the other Lebanese did not want, and that resulted in tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure damage. It was Hezbollah’s carelessness In storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrates at the Port of Beirut that led to the gigantic blast on August 4, 2021 that caused the death of 220 people, wounded 6500, and resulted in $15 billion in property damage. It is the dominance of Hezbollah in Lebanon that has led the Sunni Arabs of the Gulf to stop sending the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Lebanon as they once did, and to cease investing in the country. Nasrallah can’t admit to any of that, but the Lebanese know perfectly well who is most responsible for their economic degringolade.

He then went on to accuse the US of creating ISIS. “ISIS was made by America, and the one who is still protecting it and facilitating its financing and the transfer of additional numbers to it is the American intelligence services.”

He weaved together a conspiracy in which he mentioned ISIS and other elements that have sought to undermine Iran’s regime.

When it comes to America, and Israel, no charge is too absurd for Hassan Nasrallah. Why would the Americans have created ISIS, a group that they have been fighting, in both Iraq and Syria, ever since its inception? What conceivable reason would the Americans have in “still protecting it and facilitating its financing”? There’s no point in trying to rebut Nasrallah’s vivid oriental imagination and sheer preposterousness. Why should he care about reality? Always a good idea to blame America.

He also referenced recent “rumors” about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It was not clear if he was referring to rumors that the leader is in ill health or that some clergy in Iran are displeased with the leadership. Hezbollah needs support from Iran and he is concerned about the protests.

I suspect he was alluding to all the rumors about Khamenei’s health – mental as well as physical. He must be worried that Iran may not be able to contain the current wave of nation-wide protests, and he’s alarmed especially at the protesters who are now shouting “Death to the Islamic Republic!” and “Death to the Dictator!” Without Iran’s weapons and money, Hezbollah would shrink in power and size. It has no other backers, and plenty of enemies, including the deep-pocketed Sunni Arabs of the Gulf who rightly see it as a tool of hated Iran and, of course, Israel, that has the unnerving habit of always being many steps ahead, militarily, of Nasrallah’s terror group.

He claims that people in the region are “inciting” against Iran, blaming the US and Gulf states for stirring up protests in Iran.

The protests in Iran are entirely homegrown. The women who ripped off their hijabs and set them alight did not need “incitement” from anywhere else; the murder of Mahsa Amini was incitement enough. The protesters in Teheran, in the Kurdish lands, in Shiraz and Mashhad and Isfahan and even in the center of Shi’ism, the city of Qom, in 90 cities all across Iran, were “incited” by the police and military who fired on them, by early October killing some 400 people. America had nothing to do with it. 

Nasrallah explained that “the Islamic Republic does not want anything from the countries of the region and does not have any ambitions in Iraq’s oil,” wondering “how can the Iraqis forget Iran’s stance and open its weapons and money stores to defend Iraq against ISIS?”

Iran wants its proxy, the Houthis, to take over Yemen. It wants members of its ally, the Shi’a militia Kata’ib Hezbollah, to dominate Iraq. It wants to make sure that Bashar Assad finishes mopping up the last areas still holding out against him in the Syrian civil war. And of course the Islamic Republic wants to turn Lebanon into a Shi’a satrapy, with Hezbollah itself as the ruthless enforcer of Iran’s long-distance rule.

This was an apparent reference to current tensions in Baghdad where people are angry at pro-Iran parties stealing Iraq’s wealth. “If there was no Islamic Republic, where would Iraq and Lebanon be today; and what dark and bleak era would we have entered in our region,” he said.

If there were no Islamic Republic, Iraq and Lebanon would be far better off today, freer and more prosperous, without Iranian proxies, allies, stooges like Hezbollah, or Kata’ib Hezbollah, preventing the patriotic and the incorruptible from gaining power.

Nasrallah must surely be worried. If the regime in Tehran falls, or even merely teeters, that will affect the support, including the delivery of money and weapons, that he has always counted on. And if the Bidenites refuse to make more concessions to Iran, and walk away from rejoining the 2015 Iraq deal, that will condemn Iran to many more years of sanctions and impoverishment, which means less will be given to Hezbollah. Already, because of the budget cuts the terror group had to implement during the last two years of diminished aid from Iran, members of Hezbollah have resigned; it no longer pays its fighters a living wage.

Meanwhile, everyone awaits the final agreement between Israel and Lebanon on their exclusive maritime zones. Here’s my prediction: Israel’s sole ownership of the Karish gas field will be recognized by Lebanon. And Lebanon will be allowed the sole right to produce gas from the Qana field. However, the Qana field will still be owned jointly by Lebanon and Israel; it will straddle the demarcation line between the two “exclusive economic zones.” Lebanon will enjoy the usufruct, while it will pay Israel some agreed-upon amount for the gas it produces and sells from the Qana field. A Solomonic decision.

And Hassan Nasrallah, wishing to remain intact, and with his goose-stepping bezonians still standing, will declare himself satisfied.

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