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Will the Energy Sector Help Prevent a War Between Israel and Hezbollah?

Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters through a screen during a rally commemorating the annual Hezbollah Martyrs’ Day, in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Photo: Reuters/Aziz Taher

The maritime border agreement signed by Israel and Lebanon in October 2022 constituted a significant development in the relationship between the two countries. The potential for natural gas exploration in Lebanon’s waters, against the background of the economic and political crisis in that country, was seen at the time as a tempting incentive to persuade Hezbollah to agree to the pact. The underlying assumption of the agreement was that it represented a meaningful step that could help ease the strained relations between Israel and Hezbollah, and possibly serve as a basis for future agreements on energy and economic collaboration.

That assumption is now facing a significant test following the events of October 7. While it appears that Hamas’ attack caught Hezbollah by surprise, the organization rallied to assist “its Palestinian brothers” out of a commitment to “the unity of the arenas.” With that said, Hezbollah is conducting itself in the conflict quite deliberately, maintaining a set of “rules of the game” that are accepted by both itself and Israel. In the background, the United States is making clear that it opposes widespread escalation.

As part of Washington’s efforts to prevent escalation on the northern front, intensive clandestine contacts have taken place in recent weeks between Israel and Lebanon/ Hezbollah regarding points of contention related to the land border between the two countries, as well as energy issues. For the purpose of these negotiations, the Americans have deployed Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, who helped mediate the original border deal signed in October 2022.

A January 6 article by Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper Al-Akhbar, noted that Hochstein is implicitly connected to the residents of Beirut in Lebanon regarding the renewal of drilling by the French company Total in Lebanese economic waters and the current negotiations with Israel. According to the report, Hochstein acknowledged that “the suspension of energy activities stems from political motives” and indicated that Total plans to carry out additional drilling in Block 9 (following earlier drilling that was unsuccessful), as well as in Blocks 8 and 10, hinting that drilling will not proceed as long as the conflict continues. Other reports suggest that American assistance for the recovery of the Lebanese energy sector is being presented as a condition for calming the winds of war against Israel.

The American assumption that the Lebanese energy sector can be leveraged to moderate Hezbollah is based on the fact that Lebanon’s energy crisis, which served as the backdrop for the signing of the agreement in 2022, has only worsened since then. Lebanon’s Electricité du Liban (EDL) is now only able to provide an average of about four hours of electricity per day to the residents of Beirut, and there is no capability to improve this any time soon.

General demand for electricity in Lebanon stands at about 3,500 megawatts, but its power plants, which rely entirely on oil, can only reach approximately 1,800 megawatts. In recent years, Lebanon tried to purchase electricity from Turkey using special ships equipped with generators anchored in the port of Beirut. But those efforts were abandoned due to accumulating debts and security issues. Last year, an attempt was made to purchase electricity from Jordan that would use natural gas from Israel, but the agreement faced difficulties due to American sanctions on Syria (through which the electricity grid passes from Jordan to Lebanon). Even if this deal were to materialize, the grid connections would only serve about 10% of Lebanon’s electricity demand. As a result of this state of affairs, most Lebanese residents who can afford it rely on private generators powered by solar energy in their yards and basements. Around 50,000 households have solar panels on their roofs (approximately 4% of the 1.3 million households in Lebanon).

Despite the high hopes the Lebanese government is pinning on gas exploration in its waters, the security of Lebanon’s energy supply is not expected to improve over the next few years. That is because Lebanon’s energy sector relies entirely on oil imports, including for electricity generation, transportation, heating, and industry. Even if Lebanon were to discover gas in its waters this year, the country has neither gas infrastructure nor power stations capable of using gas.

Furthermore, while the first drilling by Total in October 2023 did not yield positive results, a gas find on the next drilling would not help Lebanon’s energy crisis in the short term. It would take five to seven years from a gas discovery for Lebanon to begin to benefit from export revenues or the local use of the gas, because infrastructure would have to be built from scratch.

Until that time, Lebanon will remain dependent on the importation of crude oil from Syria and Iraq. Due to its massive debts, Lebanon is almost incapable of paying for the oil. Instead, it provides various services to Iraqi citizens, such as medical services. The crude oil Lebanon receives is sent to refineries in Greece, Turkey, and Russia, and in return, Lebanon receives solar and gasoline for the operation of power stations and transportation at reduced costs and fees. Attempts to obtain cheaper fuel from Iran through the sea have been blocked by the United States.

The serious state of Lebanon’s energy sector requires the country to pursue dramatic initiatives in terms of infrastructure and connectivity. However, such initiatives cannot be advanced without major external assistance, and the United States plays a pivotal role in this regard. For example, the time it will take to establish an export infrastructure for gas from Lebanon could be significantly shortened if Lebanon were to collaborate with Israel and transfer the gas through shared export facilities, possibly to be established by the American company Chevron. Simultaneously, Lebanon could try to make additional electricity connections to Syria and Jordan, but this would only be possible with the consent of the United States (due to sanctions on Syria) and Israel’s agreement to supply additional gas to power stations in Jordan for electricity production.

Last year, the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water published a plan to install significant renewable energy capacity in the next five years, including 680 megawatts of solar energy, 742 megawatts of wind energy, and 394 megawatts of hydroelectric energy. However, these ambitious plans cannot be implemented without direct assistance from countries like the United States and France, because Lebanese companies lack the expertise to undertake projects of such magnitude.

An interesting perspective was provided last month in Doha at a quadrilateral meeting of energy ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The meeting focused on the possibility of activating the Arab Gas Pipeline to supply gas from Egypt to Lebanon. Since Israel also passes gas through this pipeline to Jordan and Egypt, the implication is that Israeli gas could reach Lebanon. As mentioned, this idea was raised about a year ago to assist Lebanon in coping with the severe crisis in its electricity market and to prevent Iranian involvement.

While the move garnered support from the most relevant players, including Egypt and Israel, it ultimately did not materialize due to American sanctions on the Assad regime. The gas pipeline passes through Syria on its way to Lebanon, as do the power lines from Jordan, and the United States was not willing to be flexible in its policy towards the Syrian regime despite having offered assistance to the Lebanese. During the meeting, the Syrians claimed to have fixed pipeline issues to enable the transportation of gas, though it was clear that Damascus was seeking to convey a political message rather than express a genuine commitment to implement this solution. Regardless, this development highlights the severity of the crisis in Lebanon’s energy sector, which is manifested in prolonged and consistent power outages severe enough to promote a willingness by the country to explore unconventional solutions.

Despite the importance of energy potential for Lebanon, it is not considered a game-changer for Hezbollah in the current negotiation process. However, it provides a framework for negotiations as they are currently unfolding, with successful American mediation that has gained the trust of all parties, including Hezbollah. The latter seeks, within its overall considerations, and with due deference to its patron Tehran’s considerations regarding the Gaza conflict, to clarify to the Lebanese public that it is adopting a responsible position. It is, in fact, the player most capable of improving the economic situation in Lebanon.

In this regard, the maritime agreement, which allows exploration in the field of energy for Lebanon, is perceived (though it has not yet had any tangible success) as a positive step in the overall attempt to salvage the Lebanese economy. One should not overlook the regional context of gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean over the past decade. Lebanon might eventually integrate into this regional framework for the export of gas to Turkey and Europe.

Ambassador (ret.) Michael Harari joined the Israeli Foreign Ministry and served more than 30 years in a range of diplomatic roles in Israel and abroad, including (among others) in Cairo, London and Nicosia. His final position abroad was as Israeli Ambassador to Cyprus (2010-2015). Today he serves as a consultant in the fields of strategy, policy and energy and lectures in the Political Science Department at the Jezreel Valley College.

Dr. Elai Rettig is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Studies and a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He specializes in energy geopolitics and national security. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Israel is at a crucial juncture after Iran fired more than 350 ballistic and cruise missiles at the Jewish state overnight on April 13, according to Israel’s ambassador to Canada. “We are facing one of the most critical moments in the history of the State of Israel when a country like Iran starts an attack […]

The post Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgThe solemnly named International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has become an arena for the world’s despots and authoritarians to strut and grandstand, projecting their own abuses—torture, censorship, genocide—onto the world’s democracies.

The anti-democratic crusade waged in the name of human rights has impacted Israel more than any other state. The Jewish state is subjected to insulting and, frankly, frivolous lawsuits every time it tries to discharge its basic duty of protecting its citizens—whether that was the security fence constructed along the West Bank border more than a decade ago or the war against Hamas in Gaza right now.

Since the onset of the latest war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the monstrous Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Israel has been the focus of a baseless charge of genocide brought about by South Africa, which largely failed in its bid to make the accusation stick. Many observers pointed out that South Africa’s worsening domestic record—marked by corruption, horrific xenophobia towards migrants from other countries in southern Africa and an inability to deliver basic services like electricity and clean water to those who need them most—hardly qualifies its African National Congress (ANC)-led government to sit in judgment over Israel. Yet Pretoria has continued undeterred, at the same time that it welcomes Hamas leaders for state visits and treats its Jewish community—and anyone else who dares utter understanding for Israel—with unvarnished antisemitism.

Now the baton has passed to Nicaragua, which last week sent its lawyers to the ICJ to charge Germany with aiding and abetting Israel’s supposed “genocide.” The bitter irony is that it is Nicaragua’s far-left leadership, aligned with the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, that should be in the dock.

Daniel Ortega has been in power in Nicaragua since 2007, and he’s not going anywhere—at least, not voluntarily. Some readers will remember Ortega’s name from the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the Iran-Contra scandal that followed during the subsequent decade. But you don’t have to dig deep into that history to get a sense of the kind of regime that he runs. As Freedom House—an NGO that monitors the state of liberty around the world—explains it, the latest period of Ortega’s rule has been “a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms and unchecked corruption in government.”

In the last year alone, the Nicaraguan regime has expelled more than 200 opposition leaders into exile in the United States. It has passed new legislation to strip those deemed “traitors to the homeland” of their citizenship. It has turned the police into an arm of the executive, trampling over the separation of powers that democracies hold so dear. In many ways, this new wave of repression is an outgrowth of the regime’s brutal clampdown on anti-government protests in 2018. Abroad, meanwhile, its authoritarian domestic policy is matched by unflinching support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and a close bond with the Iranian regime, North Korea and other rogue states.

This, in short, is the character of the regime that has brought charges of “genocide” against Israel by targeting Germany’s supply of arms to the Jewish state—as if a serial sex offender was to opportunistically cry out, “rape!”

Why is Nicaragua embarking on this path at the ICJ? Some insight was provided by a German journalist who specializes in Latin American affairs, Toni Keppeler, during an interview last week with Swiss radio. Noting that Nicaragua is quite isolated among the world’s states, Keppeler suggested that the ICJ lawsuit was seen by Ortega as a means of boosting his international image. And Germany, he added, was a much safer bet than the United States, which supplies far more weapons to Israel, because America can punish Nicaragua in ways that Germany couldn’t or wouldn’t. He also noted that Ortega wants to be embraced by left-wing groups around the world. And so the Nicaraguan caudillo figures, not unreasonably, that bandwagoning on the Palestinian cause they are obsessed with is the way he will achieve that.

But there is another, more sinister reason behind Nicaragua’s action. Ultimately, these cases against Israel at the ICJ are aimed at shifting public perceptions of Israel and its history, and in particular, the influence of the Holocaust upon support for Israel in the democratic world. One of the reasons why Germany supports Israel is simply because it was the country that initiated the mass slaughter of Jews during World War II. Since 1945, democratic Germany has been guided by entirely different principles, elevating its backing for Israel into a staatsrason—“reason of state.” Indeed, as I noted recently, one of the several questions about Jews and Israel on the newly reformulated naturalization test for prospective immigrants to Germany asks, “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” with the correct answer being “The crimes of national socialism.”

That is how it should be, but for the international left, such a stance is intolerable. In their jaundiced eyes, Germany has atoned for the Holocaust by backing the nakba—the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by many Palestinians to describe the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948. Germany’s position irritatingly reminds the world that Jews were once victims of nightmarish genocide themselves—hardly the sort of fact you’d want to highlight if your purpose is to turn them into victims once again. And so, Nicaragua’s lawyers (including, disgracefully, a German citizen named Daniel Muller) have trooped into the ICJ to argue that supporting the Jewish state is the wrong way to express solidarity with Jews.

The goal here, make no mistake, is to separate the Holocaust from Israel and to argue that the one entity in the world capable of preventing another Holocaust is actually sowing its seeds! It’s topsy-turvy logic, but if it works effectively as propaganda, generating meme after meme on social media, why worry about that?

Hence we arrive at a situation where the 15 ICJ judges debate a phantom genocide while turning a blind eye to genuine examples of this phenomenon, along with other related crimes. “The government of Nicaragua is perpetrating widespread violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity,” the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect Project noted in a briefing back in February, but you won’t hear a peep about that in the ICJ’s corridors. Ditto for Turkey’s racist treatment of its Kurdish minority, and indeed, for the myriad other examples of government-sponsored cruelty on every continent.

This is yet another demonstration of antisemitism, insofar as antisemitism applies to standards for Jews that no other nation has to contend with. That is the ugly reality behind these fanciful appeals to “international law” that plague Israel. Germany is now receiving a glimpse of what that feels like but only because of its relationship with Israel—otherwise, this case would never have been brought to court.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history. … Steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.” — John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies, West Point, Feb. 17, 2024

“[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children.” — Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2016

In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes … in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured … with little accountability.” — Amnesty International at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022

The recent accidental deaths of seven foreign aid workers with World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip have sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol that highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all and any tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in recent history in which the gulf between good and evil, wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage has been a lamentable aspect of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system and perhaps even before that.

Rarely if ever has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians as Israel. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces … does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscores, “Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting ‘gold standard’ for avoiding civilian casualties

The chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral damage as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions in Gaza above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1:1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare in general is 1:9—six times higher.

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison to non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. In World War II, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities that were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen in March 1945, when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city. It inadvertently hit a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians, including 87 schoolchildren.

Then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100,000 to 200,000 were incinerated and irradiated by the U.S. atomic bombings in early August 1945.

“There is always a cost to defeat an evil.”

Half a century later, after hundreds of thousands were killed by American bombing in the Vietnam War, NATO launched a war against Serbia. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far from accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets. These targets included residential neighborhoods, old-age homes, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, trains on bridges and even a foreign embassy.

When then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, he responded, “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” This is exactly how Israelis feel about the war against Hamas.

These were not the only post-World War II instances of pervasive human suffering caused by large-scale U.S.-led military operations.

More babies died in Iraq than in Hiroshima

After Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Iraq and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. Even after Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, sanctions and military operations continued. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering for the civilian population. The scale of it can be gauged by a 1996 60 Minutes interview with the late Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer Leslie Stahl about the ravages the U.S.-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked,We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-Oct. 7 response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the U.S. homeland nor any U.S. resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime.

‘A tremendous human toll … ’

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in which almost 3,000 people died, a U.S.-led military coalition (in which the U.K. played a prominent role) invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot Al-Qaeda. The Oct. 7 massacre was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the toll of the 9/11 atrocity; the equivalent of almost 50,000 U.S. fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars … have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries.” It presents a 2021 assessment that almost 47,000 Afghani civilians were killed, but adds a proviso that “several times … more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars,” including through “water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease.”

Thousands of civilians hit ‘with little accountability’

U.S. strikes in which indisputably civilian targets were hit are a matter of record. During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, several weddings, parties and processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the U.S. strikes, Amnesty International USA stated: “In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft) with little accountability.”

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition—launched on the dubious or at least unsubstantiated allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction—wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and a death toll upwards of 300,000 non-combatants.

Closing caveat

The current vogue of berating Israel is both unfounded and unfair. Lending this abuse support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering embers of hatred that will eventually engulf those who propagate it.

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