Last month, Special Presidential Coordinator for Global Infrastructure and Energy Security Amos Hochstein travelled to Beirut to look into the possibility of starting negotiations to delineate the disputed land frontier between Lebanon and Israel.
The visit occurred nearly a year after he mediated an improbable agreement on the maritime border between the two states.
When that deal was signed in October 2022, it was accompanied by a lot of hype from the Biden administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken predicted it would “usher in a new era of prosperity and stability” in the region; Hochstein said the agreement would provide Israel with “total security.”
I welcome the historic breakthrough by Lebanon and Israel on establishing a permanent maritime boundary mediated by the U.S. This breakthrough represents a new source of prosperity, stability, and regional coordination that will deliver vital energy resources for the world.— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) October 12, 2022
It’s too soon to assess the economic benefits of the maritime agreement. A TotalEnergies drilling rig arrived just weeks ago in previously contested Lebanese territorial waters to commence exploration for natural gas.
A year on, though, it is clear that the promised security advantages have not materialised. Indeed, Lebanon-Israel tensions are currently spiking, raising concerns of another war.
The last conflagration between Israel and the Iran-backed Shiite Lebanese terrorist organisation Hezbollah in 2006 lasted 34 days.
Over the course of the conflict, Hezbollah launched over 100 rockets a day into Israel, but the damage done to Lebanon was severe — especially in areas populated by the militia’s constituents. Estimates of postwar reconstruction costs for Lebanon ranged from $3bn to $7bn.
Years of relative quiet followed the hostilities. Israeli officials claimed the calm was attributable to the fact that Hezbollah had perhaps been sufficiently deterred, but the militia was also busy with other business.
Initially, Hezbollah was focused on its efforts to quietly replenish and upgrade its depleted arsenal. Then, for the better part of the last decade, the organisation was preoccupied with deploying forces abroad in the service of Iran, to conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and reportedly Iraq.
Aggression against Israel resumes
Lately, however, Hezbollah has resumed its more aggressive approach to Israel. Several factors may have led to this shift.
First, after so many years serving as Iran’s mercenaries in regional wars killing those that stood in its way, Hezbollah felt compelled — for reputational reasons — to once again engage in so-called “resistance.” It also appears that, over time, Israeli deterrence vis-à-vis the militia has eroded.
For example, Israel described Hezbollah’s Precision Guided Munitions, or PGM rocket upgrade project, five years ago as a “red line.” Yet, the IDF has taken no sustained kinetic military action to limit its progress.
Likewise, in recent years, Israeli responses to Hezbollah provocations have been carefully calibrated to avoid escalation, suggesting that Israel, too, is concerned, if not deterred by the prospect of another round of fighting.