Alwaght- Propagation of normalization in the Arab countries is a project the Israelis have been working on for decades. After establishing covert and overt relations with the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies, they are focusing on Lebanon now. Failing to weaken Lebanon through war, they waged against Hezbollah, the US and Israeli regime are picking another way to this end. The recent gas agreement between Tel Aviv and Beirut is part of an Israeli-Western project to incorporate Lebanon in the normalization project. This issue is now a debate in the Lebanese political and media circles, raising a question: Will the recent gas deal influence the fate of the long-time Lebanese enmity to the Israeli regime as an occupying entity?
To answer this question and more, Alwaght arranged an interview with Hassan Hanizadeh, an Iranian expert of West Asia affairs.
Alwaght: The Israelis and Americans seek to make a bridge to normalization via the recent deal. What capacities do you think this deal has that allows them to use it to push for Israeli-Lebanese normalization?
Hanizadeh: Actually, Karish is a joint gas field between the Israeli regime and Lebanon in which the Israelis started drilling operations eight years ago. It has over 180 trillion cubic foot gas reserves. Also, it has millions of oil barrels and, indeed, has one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean. It was discovered years ago and about to reach production, but the warnings of Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, the chief of Lebanese Hezbollah, that if the Israelis want to use this gas field unilaterally, the movement will not allow them forced the Israelis to retreat. Israel's gas production was supposed to start last month, but Nasrallah's warnings worked, and the United States sent a delegation to Beirut to mediate to reach an agreement between the two sides, and after several months of negotiations, an agreement was finally reached. An important part of these energy reserves are located within Lebanon's maritime borders; therefore, the Israeli regime had to accept this agreement, though it provides the least Lebanese gas rights.
Currently, the situation is in a way that if Tel Aviv scraps the deal, Hezbollah would put aside considerations and strike the gas facilities it took years for Israelis to construct with the Western help. A large part of the gas field is located within the Lebanese maritime borders and this can meet the Lebanese needs. So, this agreement will not in any way mean establishing a relationship with the Israeli regime, and it is only an agreement to use the common gas resources, and United States and Israel cannot use it to realize their normalization goal.
Alwaght: How do Lebanon's public opinion look at border deal with Israel? Do they deem it a prelude to normalization? What is their view of the deal in general?
Hanizadeh: The people of Lebanon seek protection of their interests. These reserves are within their maritime borders and Israel by starting the drilling operations ignored the international laws. The Lebanese are against the normalization process, but they expect this agreement to solve the country's internal problems and get them out of the crises they have been facing for several years.
Alwaght: How would this agreement influence the election of a new Lebanese president? Sayed Hassan Nasrallah said that the deal was an outcome of President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah unity. But the opposition groups seek to bring to power a president against Hezbollah.
Hanizadeh: The issue of maritime border agreement has nothing to do with the election of president. Now some of the Lebanese political factions are seeking to elect a president who will be against Hezbollah and they insist that Michel Moawad be elected, but in the last five sessions in which voting was held in the parliament, Moawad failed to secure sufficient votes for election. The election of the president will, thus, be lengthy due to the differences. Hezbollah should look for a president who can protect the interests of Lebanon in general. Some factions that felt that Moawad is in opposition to Hezbollah did not vote for him, and this issue has prolonged the process of electing the president, and in any case, any president who comes to office cannot be indifferent to this agreement.
Alwaght: What plans does Hezbollah have in opposition to the American and Israeli program to propagate the normalization discourse in Lebanon?
Hanizadeh: What is certain is that no government in Lebanon can engage in relations with Israel without reference to the parliament. Lebanon is part of the Axis of Resistance and any president wishing to stay in the post has to align with the parliament majority which is held by Hezbollah and its allies. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri failed to normalize with Israel despite large-scale support he enjoyed from political forces and foreign powers. So, the normalization case is not a case of the president or the prime minister, and the final decision maker is the parliament which is strongly against the idea.
Alwaght: Does the deal determine where the two sides should refer if a dispute happens between them?
Hanizadeh: The Americans themselves are the guarantors of this agreement, and in the event of a dispute between the parties, they will arbitrate. If Israel refuses to implement the terms of the agreement, the Lebanese can directly negotiate with the United States to secure their interests. Now, the situation is such that if Israel unilaterally cancels the agreements, Hezbollah will act on the warnings it has already issued to Tel Aviv and will target all Israeli gas facilities in the common gas field without wasting time, and this action is within Hezbollah's power. Although the deal was signed under Prime Minister Yair Lapid, and recently, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party who is going to form a cabinet after winning the parliamentary elections, said that he will withdraw from the agreement, Karish gas field conditions are in a way that if Israel withdraws from the agreement, the Lebanese hands would not be tied for action.
Alwaght: As a final question, can the American guarantees about saving the deal be trusted?
Hanizadeh: If in case of dispute between the two sides over the deal the US takes the Israeli side, Lebanon would be left with no choice and the only action it can take is destruction of Karish gas facilities for which Israel worked for years to construct. Therefore, Karish gas field is the Israel’s Achilles heel. It knows very well that if it ditches the deal, all Lebanese public opinion would unite against it. After all, the agreement is American-mediated and if the Israelis decide to withdraw from it, nobody would blame Hezbollah as it has already picked military option to hold Israelis accountable. These facilities are both within Hezbollah's missile fire range and can be destroyed in a short time. This serves as a trump card in the hands of the resistance and applicable if the Israelis renege on their commitments.