Media is often biased towards events that can be unerringly set in time and space. “A bomb exploded in Jerusalem on Sunday at 10:00 AM,” makes a perfect headline; it is so straightforward that even Google can’t make mistakes while translating it. Yet, occasionally dramatic events span long periods of time and extensive areas. When that happens, they are diluted in the hefty rain of trivial news and are often forgotten until a bomb explodes right on them. Step by step, in 2012, we are witnessing a consolidation of a land border between Iran and Israel. The first is making long-term social investments on the northern side of the border, while the latter is burying itself under yet another wall. Right now, everything is quiet along the Iranian-Israeli border; yet, dramatic changes are taking place.
UNIFIL Exercise Southern Lebanon
Yesterday, May 25, 2012, over a hundred people were killed in Syria’s Homs province. Shocking videos showing bodies of children don’t leave doubts about the nature of the ongoing horror. The 250 UN observers monitoring the cease-fire recently brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan have been proven useless; Syria is being sliced by a West-brokered civil war. Despite the massive and unusual help he is getting, Assad is failing to restore order. Today, two ships loaded with weapons—the ODAI from North Korea and Professer Katsman from Russia—are scheduled to reach Syria with fresh supplies. This is not an unusual event, weapons also arrive continuously by air. According to Syrian opposition figures, the goods are paid for in cash by Iran. On the other side of the conflict, the Western-backed rebels are getting weapons from Turkey; this trade is financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two allies of the West. Regardless of the outcome of this conflict, Syria is a receding force in the area; it will take Syria years to recover its previous position as a leading country in the Arab world.
Until recently, Syria was Iran’s main ally in the Arab world, but Iran cannot rely on the crumbling Assad regime; Lebanon was the natural replacement.
New Wall Being Built by Israel Between Israeli Misgav Am and Lebanese Kfar Kila
The other receding force in the area is less obvious because it didn’t fall prey to a civil war. Yet, ongoing protests—for almost one year now—on its harsh social reality may change this soon. Meanwhile, Israel is weakening. Last month it began replacing the fence on its border with Lebanon with a 5 to 7 meter high cement wall between the Israeli town of Metulla and the Lebanese village of Kila; this is similar to what is happening along Israel’s border with Egypt (see Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty Gassed-Out). The new wall is at the place where a violent clash took place between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces, on August 3, 2010. Israel is in violent conflict with Lebanon since Operation Litani in 1978, when Israel penetrated Lebanese territory up to the Litani River (see map below). This part of the Lebanese territory is overseen by UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), which safeguards the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Following what looked like an invincible Israel in the early 1980s, the situation slowly changed to the extent that the 2006 armed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah ended in a painful way for Israel. Until then, Israelis couldn’t imagine that Haifa could be reached by missiles. The 2010 border clash was no less surprising; the Lebanese army confronted the IDF as an equal. Now, Israel is burying itself under a new wall; Israel doesn’t want such bad publicity to be repeated.
UN’s UNIFIL Deployment Map | August 2011
Lebanon has been unstable for a long period of time, with a civil war that took place between 1975 and 1990. The Syrian army occupied large parts of Lebanon between 1975 and 2005. Israel violently occupied much of its south from 1982 to 2000. Overall, it seemed that prosperity and political prominence could not be created under these conditions. Yet, Lebanon is gaining them by the day. In Greece’s Fadeaway: Iran and Israel Battle over Cyprus, I analyzed the new regional alliances fighting over the large reservoirs of gas (and more, see Gas, Oil … Uranium) on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. In November 2011, Cyprus announced that it would explore its undersea natural gas wells in cooperation with Israel; this was the trigger for Netanyahu’s visit to the island in February. The agreements announced between the countries—including military ones—indicate that Israel has shifted its main ally in the area from Turkey to Cyprus. Turkey has announced that it would not allow underwater drills in Cypriot waters, clearly citing military preventative actions. The Turkish intervention is the result of Cyprus being divided between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Thus, two clear bands have been created around the gas field issue: Turkey-Lebanon-Northern Cyprus-Iran, and Israel-Cyprus. On September 5, 2011, Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansor, sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, rejecting Israeli claims on the maritime border between the two countries. Lebanon has warned that it will go to war to defend its claim to the gas fields; all of the sudden, Lebanon is not shy of Israel anymore. Iran listened carefully.
Iran is often portrayed by Western media as a militaristic regime, despite having never declared a war against any other nation. The continuously improving relations between Iran and the West on nuclear issues (see West and Iran Step Closer to Agreement; Israel Worried and wait for the results of the Geneva talks scheduled for June), also prove the opposite. Instead of building walls, they are investing in civilian infrastructure. In 2006, Israel hit Beirut hard. Afterwards, the city’s flattened neighborhoods were rebuilt with Iranian funding and help. Hebrew media reported recently that talks are being held on the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Christian-Lebanese village of Tannourine by Iran. In sharp contrast, Israel discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens while claiming it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Earlier this month, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, Iran’s first vice president, visited Lebanon and offered to finance at least a dozen major projects. Adding to all these long-term Iranian links with the Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon—as well as the civilian infrastructure rebuilt with Iranian help—it is clear that Iran and Israel now have an informal land border between them, which may be seen as the Iranian answer to Israel’s second strike capabilities (see Six Million Submarines). Yet, in this complex picture of balances and counter-balances, Israel’s weight is obviously diminishing.
Israel’s answer to the civilian development in the surrounding nations was to request—and get—more military help from the USA (see USA to Announce Additional Funding to Israeli Missiles). This symbolizes more than anything else, where the answer for a peaceful, prosper future is. No news today, everything is quiet along the Iranian-Israeli border. However, the only constant truth in the Middle East is that everything keeps changing.