Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News: Israeli opposition indulges in gaslighting over maritime agreement with Lebanon/تحليل سياسي للكاتب يوسي ميكلبيرغ من عرب نيوز يلقي الأضواء على سبل استعمال المعارضة الإسرائيلية في حملتها الإنتخابية أضرار الإتفاقية البحرية مع لبنان وعلى اتهاماتها الحكومة بالرضوخ لإيران ولتهديدات حزبها الإرهابي في لبنان


تحليل سياسي للكاتب يوسي ميكلبيرغ من عرب نيوز يلقي الأضواء على سبل استعمال المعارضة الإسرائيلية في حملتها الإنتخابية أضرار الإتفاقية البحرية مع لبنان وعلى اتهاماتها الحكومة بالرضوخ لإيران ولتهديدات حزبها الإرهابي في لبنان

Israeli opposition indulges in gaslighting over maritime agreement with Lebanon
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/October 22, 2022

Israeli politics is adversarial at the best of times. However, in the weeks leading up to a general election it becomes contaminated with extreme partisanship and bigotry, where collecting a few more votes takes precedence over civilized and constructive debate — not to mention sound judgment.

The decision by Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, to agree a deal with the Lebanese government over their maritime border dispute, with the help of US mediation, has been heralded in many quarters in Israel, Lebanon and the international community as a notable success for brinkmanship negotiations and statesmanship.

However, the Israeli opposition, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is accusing the government of anything from incompetence to selling out the country’s interests very cheaply.

These two diametrically opposed narratives of the Israeli-Lebanese maritime agreement owe more to the nature of political discourse in Israel than the reality of the situation. But it begs the question of whether criticizing the deal with little evidence to support such criticism is going to make any difference to the result of the election on Nov. 1.

The answer, most probably, is no, due to the extreme rigidity of the Israeli electorate’s voting patterns, especially so close to polling day. Most voters will have already made up their minds and the maritime dispute with Lebanon is hardly a big vote-winner or loser.

However, a considered examination of the deal should reward the parties that form the current coalition government for having the courage and wisdom to sign it. Even this will sway only a small number of voters but since the person who will form the next coalition government, and those who might be part of it, will be decided by the finest of margins, every single vote counts.

Lapid and his defense minister, Benny Gantz, have asserted, with much justification, that the deal with Lebanon strengthens Israel’s security, will inject billions into the Israeli economy, and helps ensure the stability of the country’s northern border.

It would be naive to assume that in the volatile political and social environment in Lebanon, and to a large extent in Israel as well, in which things change quickly that any deal can be an ultimate guarantee of avoiding future friction and conflict.

Yet, the strength of this agreement is that it serves everyone’s interests in both the short and long terms and is guaranteed by a major international power. For Israel, a deal that bolsters the central government in Lebanon over Hezbollah by ensuring a stream of revenue to its struggling economy, not to mention the same benefit to Israeli coffers, should be a welcome development.

It also demonstrates that there is a room for cooperation even in a context that is conflictual. And despite general skepticism about the value of guarantees by the US, Washington is now invested in this agreement it has brokered.
But none of these arguments stand any chance of convincing the Israeli opposition, especially Netanyahu, who in his pursuit of power will not give his political rivals any credit, even where credit is obviously due.

Ironically, Netanyahu is someone who throughout his many years of premiership proved to be a rather mediocre negotiator. He was once described by Yitzhak Shamir, his predecessor as leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud party and prime minister, as “shallow, vain, self-destructive and prone to pressure.”

There is plenty of evidence to support Shamir’s claim, and Netanyahu’s response to the maritime agreement, which is certainly not without risks, is a combination of his usual incitements against political rivals, a pack of misrepresentations about what the agreement consists of and, above all, warmongering.

To claim, as he did, that “this is not a historic deal, this is a historic surrender,” and “a liquidation sale by Lapid” smacks of his desperation to win the election. His threat to cancel the deal should he return to the prime minister’s office is irresponsible and should make the Israeli electorate question his fitness for office.In the winter of his political life, and facing possible conviction for corruption and the prospect of years behind bars, he is suffering from a complete lapse of judgment. Legitimate reservations about a deal that is less than perfect have become a campaign of hysteria.

As one might expect from an international agreement, this one required Israel to make a number of concessions that the domestic opposition has pounced on. This is the privilege of being in opposition, in this case an opposition that is irresponsible and led by someone who has a “special relationship” with the truth.
Ultimately, this maritime agreement, which was carefully crafted but with a sense of urgency as tensions between Israel and Hezbollah were mounting and the global energy markets are precarious, did not meet all Israel’s demands but it will be judged by the success of its implementation and its ability to avert future confrontation between these two sworn enemies.

As always, Iran is the joker in Netanyahu’s pack of warmongering cards. He argued that Lapid and Gantz have not only handed Hezbollah “our territorial waters, our sovereign territory, our gas” but also that “in the end they succumbed to another Hezbollah demand to allow Iran to drill gas off the coast of Israel,” bringing Iran closer to Israel’s northern border. It all sounds ominous but there is not a shred of evidence for this in the agreement.

Furthermore, Netanyahu rejected Lapid’s invitation to a security briefing about the maritime border deal, dismissing it as “futile,” mainly because instead of having a grown-up conversation between two senior politicians, he would rather score some cheap political points on the eve of yet another election.

This gaslighting by Israel’s right-wing opposition over the agreement smacks of populist nationalism and a cynical manipulation of the electorate’s security fears, particularly when Iran and Hezbollah are involved.
Netanyahu and his allies know that in the absence of fully normalized relations with Lebanon this is a positive development which they would not dare to change should they return to power. Moreover, should the unstable conditions in which both countries operate lead to future disagreement, Israel can rely on its military might if necessary. But for now the benefits of the deal by far outweigh the risks for both sides and, hopefully, will help defuse future tensions rather than exacerbate them.

*Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg