Barak Ravid has just published a series of tweets in Hebrew and English that raise serious questions about just what the US has agreed in terms of the Israel-Lebanon maritime deal. The English version offers standard language about the US commitment to Israel’s interests in the event Hezbollah challenges it:
2 \ The letter clarifies that the United States is committed to the security and economic rights of Israel in a scenario in which Hezbollah or another element decides to challenge the signed agreement, the officials said
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) October 11, 2022
But the Hebrew version is more detailed and offers stronger language regarding what the US has agreed to:
1 / גורמים המעורים במו״מ אמרו כי במקביל להגעה להסכם עם לבנון תקבל ישראל מממשל ביידן מכתב ערבויות המבהיר כי ארה”ב מחויבת לזכויותיה הביטחוניות והכלכליות של ישראל בתרחיש בו חיזבאללה או גורם אחר יחליט לאתגר את ההסכם שנחתם
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) October 11, 2022
The key language (as translated) is: “accompanying the agreement, Israel will receive a letter of guarantees which clarify its [i.e. U.S.]commitment to the security and economic rights of Israel, in the event Hezbollah or any other party decides to challenge the signed agreement.
There are two words in that tweet that are similar in meaning but very different in impact: “commitment” and “guarantee.” Is the US “guaranteeing” Israel’s rights? Or ‘committing’ to them? If the latter, then why does it describe the letter as a guarantor of Israeli rights? How does the US define a Hezbollah ‘challenge’ to the agreement? Especially given that Hassan Nasrallah has already warned Israel that it dislikes the agreement. If the latter attacks an Israeli oil rig, what would the US do under the terms of the letter?
Of course, it’s possible that the letter is so vague that it means virtually anything to anyone reading it. But on the other hand, Israel could read this (and I guarantee you it will) as a US commitment to defend Israel diplomatically and militarily in the event of a Hezbollah attack. After all, Hezbollah is not about to file a lawsuit against the deal. It’s not going to file a protest with the UN. That’s not how it works. If it doesn’t like something, it lobs rockets to express its displeasure. And it has plenty of them to fire at the oil rigs, for which Israel has already spent billions to ensure their security.
Another term of the agreement declares that the revenues earned by Lebanon will not go to Hezbollah. How will they enforce this given that the latter controls a large swath of the country and its economy? This paragraph appears more a wish than a concrete directive. And you know what they say about wishes and horses…
Don’t believe the hype
Finally, don’t believe the media or politicians’ hype about the impact of this agreement. One account said it would ‘benefit Lebanon.’ This editorial from the Christian Science Monitor is an espically egregious example of the genre, full of neoconservative presumption. Similar to the assumptions Bush and Rumsfeld made, that Iraq was ripe for a secular democratic revolution if we only gave it a push in he right direction.. What follows is a critique of the editorial’s assumptions and presumptions:
The deal makes history in many ways, not least in Hezbollah’s indirect recognition of Israel but even more in the blow to its violent attempts to impose Iran-style rule by clerics.
Actually no, Hezbollah has not recognized Israeli in any way, shape or form. In fact, the deal specifically excludes the Islamist moement from any benefit from the oil revenues. Anyone who can say this simply doesn’t understand Lebanon or the region itself.
The real victors in the agreement are Lebanese youths who, during mass protests in 2019, demanded an end to the use of religion in politics and a focus on secular democracy that treats citizens as individuals, not as mere members of a demographic group. Their demands also included a reform of Lebanon’s shattered economy – including the tapping of offshore petroleum.
No again. Whatever Lebanese youths did or think they did, the country is on life support. Nor is it a “secular democracy” and little hope of becoming one in the near future. They can demand the tapping of the revenues from the oil all they want. That doesn’t mean it will happen for reasons outlined below.
…Young Lebanese no longer see Israel as a threat but instead oppose Hezbollah’s attempts to create a theocracy.
Nonsense. Israel has offered Lebanon decades of interference in its politics and invasion of its sovereignty, including two decades of occupation of a broad swath of its territory. This editorial offers no proof of its claim. That’s because there isn’t any. There may a few Lebanese in favor of normalization, but it is a very small number.
This is yet another example of the pipe dream of the normalizers both in the region and outside who see the Abraham Accords as a revolutionary develop in the history of the region. Well, I have news for them: Condi Rice once infamously said that Israel’s butchery of Leanon amounted to the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Tellingly, Rice has never had a child and has no understanding of what’s involved in giving birth either physicallly or metaphorically. The Accords are the birth pangs of the same old kleptocracy (except on a broader scale) and strong man rule which has afflicted the region for over a century.
Lebanon had many reasons to settle its territorial dispute with Israel – for petroleum wealth and economic stability. Yet its ability to even cut the deal required a push for good governance from the Lebanese. That push began with their claim to liberty, not limited liberties granted from on high.
This deal will not offer Lebanon economic stability (again for the reasons outlined below). Nor did the signing of the agreement indicate there would be any change in the rampany corrution and rapacious ruling class.
A more realistic, skeptical perspective
This perspective offered by political analysts offers a more sanguine opinion:
As millions of Lebanese scramble to meet their basic needs and keep the lights on, Lebanon urgently needs a new, more realistic vision of what fossil fuels can do for the country. For years, politicians in Beirut swore that “entering the club of oil producers” would transform Lebanon’s failing economy and crumbling power sector. But that narrative has gone quiet…
…Lebanon should not stake its economic or energy future on oil and gas. For the last decade, politicians have made vastly differing claims about the size of Lebanon’s natural resource wealth, all based on limited information. The actual size of the country’s reserves remains in doubt…
No, it will not benefit Lebanon, where 40% of its people live in poverty. It will benefit the various factions, politicians and financial elite who are milking the country dry. For them, this is a huge payday. They will sidle up to the trough and take more-than-their-fair share.
Both Israel and Lebanon have huge gaps between rich and poor. The former has, so far, seen little benefit from the oil discoveries. No working-class Israeli will see any benefit from the agreement. Despite the 2012 massive social justice protests, the government has not, and will not set aside any of the billions it will earn for social programs. It will not build a single community center or health clinic. It will not offer electrical connections for Bedouin or add new police officers for Palestinian-Israeli communities.
In fact, there has been no call for the revenues to be dedicated to social programs for the working class. No demand from any political party or journalist that they be set aside in a special fund for such purposes. The demands of the J14 social justice movement have wafted away on the winds. Forgotten, as many feared they would be.
Rather, it will finance newer and more powerful weapons and spy tools permitting it to maintain the garrison state. Not to mention, the generals and oligarchs lining up for their share. This will be a bonanza for the security and energy consultants who are already salivating at the millions in fees coming their way
In both countries, corruption will be rampant. The rich will get far richer. The poor will get nothing. This has been the result in every African country in which vast amounts of natural resources are being mined and drilled. The case of Benny Steinmetz is instructive. He cultivated the son of the Guinean dictator and they made billions, while raping the country’s natural resources.
No one has benefited in these countries except those with economic and political power. Social tension and economic conflict have been exacerbated. These riches have never brought happiness or benefits to the average citizen. They are much more a curse than a blessing.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.