Perspectives - October 30, 2020

Several Countries Designate Hezbollah as a Terror Group

Over the past week, several countries have designated Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terrorist group, continuing an ongoing trend encouraged by the Trump administration and Israel. Last Thursday, Estonia announced it would impose sanctions on the Lebanon-based group. Tallinn’s decision was followed a week later with an identical designation by the Czech Republic, becoming the sixth European Union (EU) Member State to do so, after Germany and Lithuania banned the group earlier this year. Official EU policy distinguishes between Hezbollah’s so-called “political wing” and its “military wing,” proscribing only the latter. Other European states proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety include the United Kingdom, Serbia, and Kosovo. Guatemala also banned Hezbollah last Friday, while Sudan also agreed to do so as part of its deal to normalize ties with Israel.

Relatedly, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted two senior officials of Iran-backed Hezbollah, Sheikh Nabil Qaouk and Hasan al-Baghdadi. The new sanctions come on the 37th anniversary of Hezbollah’s bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 American service members on October 23, 1983.

Hezbollah mobilizes reserves following large-scale Israeli military drill

Hezbollah drafted in extra-reservists to the southern border Sunday after the Israeli Army launched a large-scale military exercise simulating war with the group, a Lebanese security source told The Daily Star. Hezbollah reportedly made the move as a precaution that the Israeli maneuver was not a ploy to launch a limited attack on Hezbollah targets over the border, according to the source.

The multifront drill Sunday, dubbed “Lethal Arrow,” will see thousands of Israeli troops from various branches of the military, including the Ground Forces, the Air Force, and Navy. Israel has been bracing for attack for 95 days now, ever since a Hezbollah fighter was killed in an airstrike on Damascus International Airport that was widely attributed to Israel.

Hezbollah Condemns Cartoon of Mohammad in French school

Hezbollah released a statement Sunday condemning the use of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in a French classroom, just over a week after a teacher in Paris was beheaded for doing so in a terrorist attack outside his school. Hezbollah asserted in its statement that “false claims of freedom of expression” cannot justify “unacceptable disrespect” to the Islamic prophet, calling on the French authorities “to return to prudence, wisdom and open respect for religions and religious values.” Hezbollah expressed no condolences to the murdered teacher, Samuel Paty, adding only that it hoped France would prevent further causes of tension at the international level.

Israel and Lebanon Hold Second Round of Maritime Border Talks

Lebanon and Israel concluded the second round of indirect talks over border demarcations Thursday at a United Nations (UN) Interim Force in Lebanon base in south Lebanon. The next round of negotiations is set to be held on November 11.

The two sides held talks that delved into the technicalities of the maritime border delineation Wednesday, during which Lebanon presented a new maximalist stance adding 1,430 square kilometers to its claim as part of Lebanese territory, on top of the already disputed 860 square kilometer area that both sides say is in their respective Exclusive Economic Zone, and brings what is now an Israeli gas field into disputed territory.

Sources familiar with Lebanon’s position at the negotiations with Israel toldThe Daily Star Tuesday that the Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Joseph Aoun had ordered the country’s team of four negotiators to push for the additional 1,430 square kilometers to be included in Lebanese territory.

Per this new position, Lebanon no longer adjusts the boundary around the Israeli island of Tekhelet and several other small rocky outposts. It also considers the 1923 boundary between what was the British Mandate over Palestine and the French Mandate over Lebanon as the demarcation line, rather than the border that was set in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

Despite this obstructionist Lebanese position, the U.S. government and the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon released a statement calling the latest round of indirect Lebanese-Israeli talks “productive” and stated that they “remain hopeful that these negotiations will lead to a long-awaited resolution.”

Relatedly, comments by Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s daughter, Claudine, led to hopes that the maritime border talks could lead to Israeli-Lebanese peace. Aoun, echoing comments her father made in August, said that she would support peace with Israel on the condition that the two countries solved all of their disputes, including over the maritime and land borders, and the repatriation of Palestinian refugees – which would depend on Israelis and Palestinians inking their own peace deal.

Though she conditioned her desire for peace with Israel on the resolution of these issues – which are not likely to be solved anytime in the near future – her comments drew ire in Lebanon, with many calling her a traitor, while Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz praised them as “positive voices from Lebanon…talking about the possibility of peace and relations with Israel.”

Several Lebanese officials, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who announced earlier this month that Lebanon had finally reached an agreement to hold the talks, reiterated that current negotiations did not mean normalization of relations with Israel would follow.

Lebanon Government Formation Updates

Last week, Saad Hariri was once again tapped to form a new Lebanese government, with only 64 of Lebanon’s 128 parliamentarians backing his fourth return to the premiership. Reports on Thursday claimed Hariri was putting, along with President Michel Aoun, the final touches on a draft Cabinet lineup with the hope of announcing the government formation over the weekend or early next week, a political source familiar with the process said. Despite this seeming optimism, the source said the final stage before announcing the Cabinet formation was to add potential ministers' names to their apportioned ministries.

Coronavirus Cases

Lebanon has been witnessing record numbers of coronavirus infections over the past week, with Thursday’s tally reaching 1,933 cases. Lebanon had already surpassed 70,000 infections by last Sunday as the Interior Ministry ordered 63 towns and villages to go under further lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.