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Has the Trend of Normalization Reached Lebanon?

Enab Baladi, Syria, October 4

It seems as if the trend of normalization of ties with Israel has reached Lebanon as well. In recent weeks, the Lebanese government began changing its approach toward Israel in a subtle yet significant way. Instead of the usual rhetoric of the “Zionist entity” or the “Zionist enemy,” the Lebanese speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, referred to his country’s neighbor in the south simply as “Israel” when he announced the government’s plan to launch direct negotiations with Israel that would demarcate the land and maritime borders between the two countries. In his press conference, Berri indicated that the negotiations would take place under the auspices of the United Nations, indicating that the Lebanese army would lead the negotiations and that the United States of America would work to create a positive atmosphere for the success of the talks. On the Israeli side, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz affirmed that the talks with Lebanon would be mediated by the United States, “to end the long dispute over the maritime borders between the two countries.” This announcement can only be interpreted in a single manner: a clear concession by Beirut on its stance toward Tel Aviv. Lebanese writer and journalist Munir Rabee claims that what is happening is the result of Israeli and American pressure on Lebanon, amid the deteriorating economic crisis it is experiencing, to normalize its ties with Israel. He stressed that there is great pressure on the political forces in Lebanon to curb Iran’s influence over the country while opening up to the United States and Israel. Similarly, Nawar Shaaban, the notable military expert, argues that the French efforts led by President Macron to push for these talks will serve as a major blow to Hizbullah and will severely tarnish the movement’s reputation among the Lebanese public. Perhaps the most important impact of these talks is the promotion of the message that calm and stability in the region can be reached through negotiations rather than fighting. The demarcation of borders will inevitably lead to other agreements and security arrangements between the two countries, which means that Lebanon will de facto recognize Israel, its sovereignty, and its borders. This view aligns with predictions of other experts that Syria, too, will consider normalizing its relations with Israel, in an effort to gain international support and legitimacy. –Luay Rahibani (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)