Eyal Ozen was a 54-year-old farmer from Kibbutz Gesher Haziv in the Upper Galilee. He was killed by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon last Thursday while tending to his apple orchard.
Ozen was the fifth Israeli civilian killed along the border with Lebanon since Oct. 7. His death is further proof that Israelis evacuated from their communities along the border with Lebanon cannot return home until the balance of forces between Israel and Hezbollah is radically transformed in Israel’s favor.
Early last week, Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper reported that Amos Hochstein, President Joe Biden’s senior adviser and point man for dealing with Hezbollah, presented the Lebanese government with a proposal to avoid such a war. Hochstein’s proposal entails Israel surrendering sovereign territory from Nahariya in the west to the Syrian border in the east in exchange for symbolic concessions from Hezbollah.
Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah has gradually escalated its missile and drone assaults against Israeli civilian and military targets in northern Israel. So far, Iran’s Lebanese legion has opted not to launch either a major ground offensive into the Galilee or to expand its missile and drone offensive to areas of Israel further removed from the border.
From the outset, the Biden administration has worked energetically to prevent the expansion of the war in Gaza to the northern front. Biden’s decision to send the USS Eisenhower carrier group to the eastern Mediterranean was informed by this determination.
Israel was initially deeply appreciative of the deployment. In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion, Biden’s announcement that he was sending the aircraft carrier group was a life saver. It took Israel several days to mobilize its reserves and remove its civilians from the border with Lebanon. If Hezbollah had attacked before Israel was mobilized and its civilians a safe distance from the border, the holocaust Israel suffered in the south on Oct. 7, would have looked like a walk in the park by comparison.
Hezbollah’s terror army comprises a combination of 150,000 missiles of all ranges and a terror army consisting of fanatical, armed-to-the-teeth veterans of the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. This combined force is capable of invading and occupying large swaths of the Western and Upper Galilee and destroying strategic installations throughout Israel while causing tens of thousands of civilian and military casualties. A Hezbollah assault against an unprepared Israel has the potential to effectively destroy the Jewish state. Which is why the U.S. deployment was a godsend.
Now, however, Israel is in position to block a Hezbollah invasion. And the question of U.S. aims is cause for concern. It is one thing to prevent a war Israel would lose, and perhaps be destroyed fighting. It is another to prevent a war that Israel needs to fight and win to prevent Hezbollah from attacking it in the future. No war means no return of civilians to their homes. It means Israeli farmers permanently unable to return to their orchards and fields, and IDF forces being sitting ducks at the border for as long as they remain deployed. No war, in short, means Israel loses.
This would be true under all conditions, but Hochstein’s offer makes clear that the United States is willing to empower Hezbollah still more and give it an Israeli defeat. In other words, the U.S. policy of avoiding war is actually a policy of standing with Hezbollah against Israel.
The current U.S. position—standing with Hezbollah against Israel in time of war—is a long time in coming. It’s important to understand its origins.
Since at least 2006, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the United States’ consistent policy has been to ignore the most essential fact about Lebanon: It is not a state. It is Iran’s forward terror base in its war to annihilate Israel, with people living on it.
One of the most important components of the United States’ Lebanon delusion is that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Lebanon’s intelligence service, the Internal Security Force (ISF), are independent institutions, when in fact they are controlled by Hezbollah. Other aspects of the U.S. delusion involve insisting that the Lebanese government, parliament and Supreme Court are independent state institutions that control the country, rather than straw organizations whose members live at Hassan Nasrallah’s pleasure, and as a matter of course, do what he tells them to. The final, and arguably most essential component of the U.S. delusion of Lebanon is that the LAF, the ISF, the government, parliament and the courts are able and willing to restrain Hezbollah, or even dismantle it, when they feel that they must, to protect the country.
The first U.S. leader to make this fairytale the basis for U.S. policy was then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. During the 2006 Hezbollah war with Israel, Rice opposed an Israeli victory over Hezbollah. She insisted that the best way to push Hezbollah forces away from the border with Israel was by empowering the LAF to stand up to Hezbollah.
The position was absurd on its face. As Rice was singing its praises at the Security Council, the LAF was acting as Hezbollah’s Signals Corps on the battlefield. Its units provided targeting information for the terror army’s missile crews. But reality was no match for Rice’s delusion.
Rice’s brainchild, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which set the conditions for a ceasefire, called for the LAF—with the assistance of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon)—to prevent Hezbollah from operating in south Lebanon. It was a joke from the very beginning. Hezbollah never left south Lebanon. Under the cover of the LAF, which it controls, and UNIFIL, which Hezbollah has intimidated into silence, Hezbollah rebuilt the war-damaged south as one big missile base.
Rice began a U.S. policy of “strengthening” the LAF and ISF. Billions in U.S. arms began flowing into the arsenals of Hezbollah’s auxiliary forces, which were quick to use them—at Hezbollah’s direction—against Israel. U.S. special forces were deployed to Lebanon to train them.
When Barack Obama came into office, he built on Rice’s delusion with his policy of realigning the U.S. away from Israel and the Sunnis in favor of Iran and its proxies. Obama insisted that the reason the Middle East was unstable was because Israel and the Sunnis were too powerful. The United States would be able to depart the Middle East, Obama argued, if it balanced Israel and the Sunnis by empowering Iran and its proxies against them.
Obama’s policy began with a rebranding effort to present Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies as “rational,” or “pragmatic,” forces that the United States could reach deals with. In the case of Hezbollah, one of the big propagandists for the repackaging campaign was Obama’s senior adviser and later CIA chief John Brennan. In 2010, for instance, Brennan insisted that Hezbollah was “a very interesting organization,” that had moderates and extremists, which had evolved from being “purely a terrorist organization.”
As Lebanon expert Tony Badran has painstakingly chronicled over the years, Obama based his “war against ISIS” on collaboration with both Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria and Hezbollah forces in Syria and Lebanon. In that “war” the LAF fought under Hezbollah command. In at least one battle, U.S. special forces working with the LAF did so under Hezbollah command.
Obama’s support for Iran and Hezbollah provided effective immunity to both from Israeli aggression. Israel, after all, was the source of instability, because it was too powerful. If Israel attacked Hezbollah’s growing missile arsenal, or its battle-hardened terror forces at Israel’s doorstep, then Israel would upset the “balance” even more egregiously. Even worse, it would strengthen the “hardliners” in Hezbollah against the “pragmatists.”
Donald Trump made a few weak attempts to realign Obama’s Lebanon policy with reality, but he was unsuccessful. After a decade, Rice’s and Obama’s fantasies were not a bug in the ointment of U.S. Lebanon policy. They were the ointment. Without abandoning 1701, which was predicated on a fallacious assertion of LAF military superiority to Hezbollah and the existence of an independent Lebanese state not controlled by Hezbollah, there would be no way to align U.S. policy with reality. Unwilling to topple that apple cart, Trump ended up doubling down on the insanity—expanding U.S. financing of the LAF and the ISF while paying lip service to Israel’s right to fight Hezbollah, which controls both.
This brings us to President Joe Biden. Biden reinstated and expanded Obama’s policies. He decided that the best way to “stabilize” Lebanon—that is, empower Hezbollah—is by providing it with steady income. So last year, Hochstein exploited Israel’s political instability to achieve that end. He compelled Israel’s interim government led by Yair Lapid to accept a deal to delineate Israel’s maritime border with Lebanon that was based entirely on Hezbollah’s legally unsupported claims to sovereign Israeli territorial waters and Israeli economic waters.
Which brings us to Hochstein’s plan for demarcating Israel’s land border with Hezbollah. When Israel withdrew from its security zone in south Lebanon in 2000, the United Nations determined that Israel had fully withdrawn to its border. Hezbollah, keen to maintain a casus belli, rejected the U.N. determination and presented claims to 14 points within sovereign Israeli territory. Hochstein’s offer means that the U.S. position is that Israel’s sovereign territory can be negotiated away, and indeed, the U.S. supports Israel being denied its sovereign territory.
As Lebanon’s Al Akhbar reported last week, Hochstein’s offer includes Israel “vacating all contested points in Lebanon’s favor, including withdrawal from the northern part of Ghajar and key posts in the occupied Shebaa Farms, on condition that the matter be implemented in two stages: declaring the Lebanese identity of these territories and agreeing that the UN oversee them militarily and security and social-wise until the emergence of another political situation.”
“Shebaa Farms” are the Lebanese term for Mount Dov, a strategic location along Israel’s border with Syria in the Golan Heights. The United States recognized Israeli sovereignty over Mount Dov in 2020.
In exchange for transferring its sovereign lands to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hochstein’s plan would involve Hezbollah proclaiming that it is abiding by UNSC Resolution 1701, which it of course will never abide by.
Israel is not eager to open a front with Lebanon, at least not until it has largely defeated Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip. Such a war will require the bulk of IDF forces to be moved from the south to the north, reversing the current balance in forces between the two fronts. But it is obvious that Israel cannot end the war without doing so. This places U.S.-Israel relations on a collision course that can only be averted if the United States abandons its delusions about Lebanon.