Opinion: Hezbollah leader takes pride in his ability to instill fear in Israel, but must now bask in the infamous glow of its political downfall in Lebanon; if, however, Nasrallah is lucky, he may yet thwart the maritime deal – with the help of ex-Israeli premier

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah can cross off sparking panic in Israel from his summer 2022 to-do list. In Israel, we can never get past the Jewish High Holidays without the threat of an intifada, or a war in either Lebanon or Gaza, breaking out.

Every speech Nasrallah deliverers always receives widespread resonance in Israel. The Defense Ministry immediately warns us it has began preparing for an attack, only to eventually discover the threats were void. And this cycle has continued since 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks during a rally to mark Jerusalem day, or Al-Quds day, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks during a rally to mark Jerusalem day, or Al-Quds day, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon (Photo: AFP)


Up until 2006, Nasrallah was considered a reliable man – sometimes even more than Israeli ministers. Sixteen years have gone by – which is quite a bit for the Middle East, which is evolving by the minute – and Nasrallah has transformed from a leader of a terrorist organization into a full-fledged Lebanese politician, unclear if by choice or because of the circumstances.

His rule over Hezbollah’s militants, many of whom are stationed along the border with Israel, is partial. The fighters are often involved in private, or somewhat private, matters of weapon or drug smuggling, sometimes through the northern Alawite village of Rajar. Still, Hezbollah did not react when Israel annexed the village that was under Syrian sovereignty until 1967.

Until now, Rajar was divided between Lebanon and Israel and could only be entered with a special IDF permission. As of September 7, 2022, any Israeli national can enter Rajar following the completion of the construction of the wall separating the Israeli part of the village from the Lebanese one.

All of this happened under Nasrallah’s watch, as he turned a blind eye.

ביקור בכפר רג'ר
Village of Rajar (Photo: Asi Haim)


Although Nasrallah often directs his threatening remarks towards Israel, he is secretly appealing to Beirut. Now, it’s his turn to bask in the Lebanese infamous glow having lost the majority in the parliament and contributed greatly to the country’s political turmoil.

Nasrallah’s threats of harming the Israeli Karish gas field were an attempt to play political games, not a military tactic. He wanted to send a message that he, alone, deterred the “Zionists”.
And, indeed, Israel compromised and Lebanon got a new and improved deal.

The Hezbollah leader has several allies here in Israel. One of them is our collective post trauma. The Yom Kippur War syndrome, which is prevalent both in the IDF, and in the word of military commentators, not allowing Israel’s security echelon to overlook any hint of a threat.

However, both Israel and Lebanon need to learn to differentiate between performative rhetoric and an actual threat of violence.

Nasrallah’s other ally in Israel is Benjamin Netanyahu, whose ability to instill fear and instigate is almost as good as his own. On Sunday, claimed Prime Minister Yair Lapid “surrendered” to Hezbollah’s demands on the maritime border deal with Lebanon.

 Yair Lapid, Hassan Nasrallah, Benjamin Netanyau
Yair Lapid, Hassan Nasrallah, Benjamin Netanyau (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch, Reuters)


In one of his recent campaign speeches, Netanyahu boasted about the four peace treaties he signed in a matter of several weeks as part of the Abraham Accords, without paying any price. What the former prime minster failed to clarify was that he was referring to the normalization agreements – not peace treaties, and that they certainly did not come without a cost. Under the pressure of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Netanyahu was urged to break the promise he made to annex a large chunk of the West Bank as a condition to reach the agreements. These deals, which are great for Israel, were worth it, despite them not necessarily being Netanyahu’s original intention.

Similarly, the U.S.-brokered negotiation process with Lebanon has also yielded a deal that both sides can live with. The outline on the maritime border has not been finalized, but we know Israel will receive some financial compensation from oil companies in France and Italy, in exchange for some of the territory from which the gas will be extracted – which will be controlled by Lebanon. While this condition is a bit disappointing, the compensation is a bit more comforting.

And most importantly, the agreement means both sides will have mutual deterrence capabilities, thus avoiding harming each other’s fracking projects. Although this isn’t exactly a good basis for a sturdy friendship, it’s a start.

If this agreement would have been drafted under Netanyahu’s watch, it would certainly have been added to his election campaign list of diplomatic achievements.

ספינה של חברת אנרג'יאן ב מאגר גז כריש
Karish gas field (Photo: AFP / ENERGEAN)


In regards to finalizing the agreement, there is a judicial catch – territorial adjustments require a referendum. Is an economic border within maritime territory considered a territorial change? This question is waiting for an official legal feedback.

Given that the Israeli judicial system gives authority to the government to intervene in this matter, Netanyahu will have the ability to file a petition to the High Court of Justice to appeal the decision on territorial changes. This also depends on the results of the upcoming elections: will he continue to fight the battle against the agreement from the opposition benches? Or, if he is crowned prime minister again, will he scrap the deal altogether because of an argument he made as part of his election campaign?

What the Israeli government can learn from all this is that Nasrallah’s threatening and instigating remarks are not much different from those of Netanyahu. Therefore, Israel shall continue to move forth with the deal.

As reported by Ynetnews