By Alex Nachumson
“Ending wars is very simple if you surrender,” said American political satirist P.J. O’Rourke.
It is a very true statement but lost on far too many today.
The Israeli government recently announced that it has reached a historic agreement settling its maritime border dispute with Lebanon. Prime Minister Yair Lapid and other members of the ruling coalition have tried to claim that the agreement is a victory for Israel.
“This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy and ensure the stability of our northern border,” Lapid said.
But we have to look at what led to the agreement in order to understand whether it is truly a victory or a surrender.
In 2013, the Karish oil field was discovered off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located in waters claimed by Israel but also partially by Lebanon, though the Lebanese claim is largely without merit.
In June 2022, the company that licensed the field, Energean, brought a production vessel into the field. The Lebanese government protested that no action to develop the field should be undertaken until U.S.-mediated negotiations — which began in 2020 — on the exact location of the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon had been concluded.
The Lebanese government’s statements were swiftly followed by action from the terror group Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon. It launched drones toward Karish at the beginning of July. The drones were shot down by the IDF, but Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had made his point. “Our eyes and missiles are locked on Karish,” he said.
The truth is, the dispute was less about Karish and more about a nearby gas field called Qana, which extends into the disputed maritime territory and has been claimed by Lebanon. According to numerous reports, in late June, Lebanese President Michel Aoun had already agreed that the field straddles a recognized maritime border and the proceeds from its development should be split between Israel and Lebanon.
This fair compromise came to an abrupt halt with the Hezbollah drones and Nasrallah’s threats. Even though these were not major actions and did not harm a single person, they appear to have thrown the Israeli government into a panic. Israel promptly gave up any claims disputed by Lebanon, even though these claims had already been recognized as legitimate.
In other words, the Israeli government is claiming that the maritime agreement is a victory because Israel gained what was never in dispute and gave up everything that was.
It is true that tensions between Israel and Hezbollah appear to have been lowered due to the agreement, but this means nothing more than that a potential war has been averted because Israel surrendered.
This provides a major boost to Hezbollah, which will be seen as strong-arming Israel to the finish line without making much of an effort. It will also boost the Iranian proxy’s popularity at a time when it was on the wane due to the economic situation in Lebanon, for which Hezbollah has been partially blamed.
Israel’s concessions also make it look weak, given that it seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. If the president of Lebanon agreed to divide Qana only a few days before the drone incident, and the final agreement gives Qana entirely to Lebanon, how can that possibly be seen as anything other than a massive concession?
As former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted in reaction to the proposed agreement: “We spent years trying to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. Got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for Israel. No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to Israel.”
One can certainly argue over the merits of the deal, but there is no doubt that Israel had a strong hand and folded anyway. In other words, Israel capitulated to terrorist threats. It surrendered and lost.
This goes well beyond a simple maritime border dispute. It will be understood by Hezbollah as proof that it can get its way in any dispute with Israel, and there are many, including the terror group’s persistent territorial claims on the Golan Heights, which are inside Israel’s sovereign borders.
Moreover, Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran will conclude that it is easy to force Israel to give up on its interests. All it took was some unarmed drones and Israel retreated. Iran will reinterpret Israeli political and security leaders’ persistent threats against its nuclear weapons program.
Let there be no mistake, Israel’s concession will embolden Hezbollah, Iran, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and numerous other terrorist entities that are constantly probing for Israel’s weaknesses. They will see the agreement as an Israeli defeat.
Israel must seek ways to reverse this outcome, or it could soon be facing far more serious threats.
IDF Maj. (Res.) Alex Nachumson is CEO of Mivtachi Israel, an organization of former IDF officers, and an adviser to the Israel Victory Project.