Perspectives - November 13, 2020

Israel Downs Hezbollah Drone in Its Airspace

On Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released a statement indicating that its troops had shot down a Hezbollah drone that entered Israeli airspace. The IDF said Israeli forces had been monitoring the drone’s movements for the duration of the incident and that at no point was there a threat posed either to Israeli troops or residents of northern Israel.

Hassan Nasrallah Gives Speech to Mark Hezbollah’s “Martyr Day”

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on Wednesday to mark Hezbollah’s “Martyr Day” – the anniversary of the 1982 suicide bombing carried out by the group’s 17-yr-old operative Ahmad Qassir against Israeli military barracks in Tyre, Lebanon.

During his speech, Nasrallah denied that ongoing Lebanese-Israeli maritime border demarcation talks would lead to peace or normalization and that his party rejected peace with the Jewish state on ideological grounds, calling it a “cancerous” and “demonic” entity. Nasrallah also claimed that a recent Israel Defense Forces (IDF) military exercise in northern Israel indicated that Hezbollah had succeeded in deterring Israel because the exercise contained defensive elements.

Nasrallah also remarked on the outcome of recent U.S. elections. While he stressed that the outcome was immaterial to Hezbollah, because the United States would remain an enemy country, he added that he expected a Biden administration to be tamer than Donald Trump. He also stressed that Trump was actually “good” because – unlike his predecessors – he didn’t try to mask the United States’ true sinister nature behind diplomatic niceties, and that he thus showed the “true face of the United States.”

French Envoy in Lebanon to Revive Government Formation Initiative

President Michel Aoun held a meeting at Baabda Palace on Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron’s advisor for North Africa and the Middle East Patrick Durel, the Presidency said in a tweet. The talks were held in the presence of French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo, and focused on the bilateral relations between the two countries, on the French initiative towards Lebanon, and forming a cabinet.

Durel also met in Haret Hreik with the head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to Resistance bloc MP Mohammed Raad. “Durel came on an exploratory mission linked to the issue of government’s formation and to emphasize on the French initiative,” Raad told reporters after the meeting. “He stressed the need that the new government commit to the implementation of the initiative’s clauses and the reform paper that was agreed on at the [French Embassy in Beirut],” Raad added. He noted that the French diplomat “hoped for cooperation with the PM-designate [Saad Hariri] to resolve the obstacles” hindering the formation of the new government, albeit without mentioning the type of the obstacles.

Lebanon and Israel Continue Maritime Border Talks

Lebanon and Israel held their third round of indirect talks at the United Nations (UN) Interim Force in Lebanon headquarters in Naqoura to resolve their maritime border disputes on Thursday. Details about the meeting were scant, but the U.S. government and the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon released a statement calling the talks “productive” and that the disputants would continue negotiations in early December.

Reports preceding this round of talks suggested that negotiations have begun to take a difficult turn. Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz recently said he “wasn’t optimistic” about the border demarcation talks, because Lebanon was allegedly imposing “difficult” demands that may lead to a conflict instead of a solution. Steinitz said there is a split in opinions “concerning the borders between the two countries 10 years ago. Lebanon wants a certain line, and Israel wants another line. There is a gap of 5 kilometers between the borders,” according to Steinitz. Moreover, reports said Israel had “leaked” the secret meeting minutes to its media. They spoke of a “widening” gap between Israel and Lebanon, which, according to reports, requests to obtain 1,500 square kilometers in addition to the disputed 850 square kilometers area.

United States Sanctions Gebran Bassil

The United States imposed sanctions on former Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party allied to the powerful Shia movement Hezbollah. The Trump administration accused Bassil of playing a major role in Lebanon’s corruption. Announcing the sanctions, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said: “The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system exemplified by Bassil has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people. This designation further demonstrates that the United States supports the Lebanese people in their continued calls for reform and accountability.”

Bassil reacted defiantly on Twitter. “Sanctions have not frightened me and promises have not tempted me,” he posted in Arabic. “I will not turn against any Lebanese...I will not save myself for Lebanon to perish.” Saad Hariri is trying to form a new government after his predecessor’s efforts to do so failed. Sanctions against Bassil could make it more difficult for him in negotiations over the formation of the next government, analysts say.

In a subsequent statement, Bassil said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked him to “abandon and confront Hezbollah.” “I explained to him that that would lead to isolating Shiites, which would lead to a domestic strife,” Bassil added. He proclaimed, “We do not betray any ally or friend or someone whom we have an understanding with. We did not betray al-Mustaqbal nor the Lebanese Forces, so betraying Hezbollah is out of the question. We do not abandon people without a reason, and certainly not Hezbollah, because we deal with each other with honesty and ethics.”

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea responded shortly after that

Bassil had voiced willingness to sever ties with Hezbollah “on certain conditions.” She added that Bassil had “actually expressed gratitude that the United States had gotten him to see how the [FPM’s] relationship [with Hezbollah] is disadvantageous to [his] party.” Bassil denied Shea’s claims and claimed the American ambassador was attempting to drive a wedge between him and Hezbollah. On Wednesday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah claimed Bassil had informed him of the American attempts to pressure him to break FPM’s alliance with the group and indicated that he would refuse to do so. Nasrallah also advised Hezbollah’s other Lebanese allies to take whatever measures necessary to protect their interests and avoid U.S. sanctions.