Sunday, July 19, 2009

Israeli policy toward Lebanon and Syria, A Primer

By Barry Rubin

How do Israeli policymakers view Lebanon and Syria? Here’s a brief explanation.


While there is definitely a school of thought in Israel that says: let Syria control Lebanon as this will give Damascus the incentive to maintain quiet there and stop cross-border attacks against Israel, this approach does not control policy.

Why? Because it is too obviously stupid to think the Syrians would gobble up Lebanon and then be nice to Israel. There is also the Iranian aspect, using Lebanon as a base for attacking Israel, as well as the ideology and ambitions of Hizballah itself.

A more common view is that a larger degree of Syrian control and Hizballah power over Lebanon is inevitable, though definitely not preferable. Demographic trends favor Hizballah. This is an analysis, however, without any particular policy recommended.

The dominant policymaking view, however, is simply that Israel has no real ability to affect what goes on inside Lebanon. Of course, Israel would love to see the Syrians kicked out of Lebanon completely and Hizballah destroyed. But this isn't about to happen so we have to deal with the existing situation.

At the same time the March 14 forces are courageous and preferable as the country’s rulers but they are also disorganized, cannot deliver on any promises and are unable to restrain Hizballah any way. The lack of vigorous Western support for the March 14 coalition is a fatal flaw. UNIFIL is pretty hopeless though at least its large-scale presence restrains an actual attack on Israel though not the build-up of Hizballah forces in the south or Syrian arms smuggling to Hizballah.

Israel’s main goal, then, is to keep the border quiet. If there are renewed hostilities, Israel has learned from the mistakes of 2006. But short of retaliation for an Israeli strike at Iranian nuclear facilities the prospects of renewed war in the near- to medium-term future are low.


Almost no one in Israel believes there is any chance of peace with Syria.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak favors renewed talks with Syria for the following reasons:

--Provides an alternative to the Palestinian track putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority by showing that it isn’t the only game in town.

--Belief that ongoing talks will reduce Syria’s incentive to support Hizballah attacks on Israel since continued talks are to Syria’s advantage in its attempt to escape isolation and gain gifts from the West.

--Giving Syria some incentive to do less in terms of indirect terrorist operations and backing for Hamas and Hizballah attacks if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear installations.

--Shows Israel's interest and flexibility in pursuing peace.

--Coincides with the U.S. policy of seeking engagement with Syria so increases U.S.-Israel cooperation and reduces differences.
Again though, all these reasons apply despite a belief that the talks will lead nowhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.