In the latest of a series of conflicts between Israel and Lebanon over Israeli conduct in the Syrian war, Lebanese officials have filed a complaint with the UN in response to repeated violation of airspace by Israeli warplanes. Israeli sources indicate the strike which caused the complaint was targeting a position in Homs, Syria. Yesterday, Lebanese diplomats speaking with journalists from Asharq Al-Awsat reveled that the petition for international assistance, filed last month, was met with opposition from Israel.
Officials from Tel Aviv communicated to the diplomats that the strikes were defensive in nature, to prevent weapons from being shipped into Lebanese territory and on to Israel. This is a point of contention in Lebanon because the strikes conducted in Syria are typically against allies of Lebanon: Iranian proxy militias, and even sometimes Hezbollah fighters. Obviously, the overflights are a violation of international law and sovereignty, but Israel has thus far successfully pressured its allies on the UN Security Council out of taking any action. There is a reasonable strategic interest, on the part of the Israelis, to avoid Syrian radars during their increasingly daring raids into Syria, as well as to signal to Beirut that Israel is capable of striking any Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon.
This situation threatens to escalate, because Lebanon will eventually shift its commitments from diplomacy in the UN to proxy battles in Syria, and to terrorism. From the Lebanese point of view, Israeli irredentism is the single greatest threat to the continued survival of the state, so the overflights are definitely a major source of anxiety. To Israel, the establishment of Iranian military infrastructure in Syria is an existential concern as well. Israel knows it will be on the front line of any future war between NATO or western allies and Iran, and stands to suffer significantly in the event of a severe rocket artillery barrage. Allowing Iranian equipment closer to Israeli borders would surely raise anxiety in a similar way.
Underscoring these anxieties are legal concerns over land ownership. In my assessment, much of the confusion in the area is due to Israeli irredentism, but Israel is also a young country and may still be in the initial stages of establishing good relations with its neighbors. In either case, every time a neighboring country is invaded and occupied, like the Palestinian territories or Lebanon, and every time a neighboring country falls into chaos, like in Syria, everyone in the region is put on high alert.
The solution for these series of crises is to establish clear borders for Israel that the international community recognizes and will not amend. As long as members of the security council look the other way while Israel pursues a settler-colonial political doctrine, everyone in the region will be incentivized to try to make military gains. An alternative to an international legal agreement would be some healthy distance between Israel and some of its powerful Western allies. If Israel were given less military support, it might feel less comfortable about escalating proxy battles abroad, and it might even begin to see the value of legal protections for its own sovereignty. Iran remains an obstacle in this process.
Right now, many analysts in Washington, D.C. continue to justify military aid under the presumption that a weak Israel will be attacked by Iran. It’s true that Israeli-Arab conflict runs deep and presents no clear path to resolution, so perhaps a militarized détente is the best outcome. I, however, think the only way to prevent future conflicts is to build trust between these two civilizations. Without an alignment of interests around sovereignty between Israel and Arab nations, trust will be difficult to build.