US envoy Hochstein envisions Israel-Lebanon border deal in bid to cool conflict

Senior Biden adviser says he doesn’t expect peace with Hezbollah, but argues that boosting Lebanon’s economy and armed forces would decrease Iranian influence in country

US special envoy Amos Hochstein delivers a statement following his meeting with Lebanon's parliament speaker in Beirut on March 4, 2024. (AFP)
US special envoy Amos Hochstein delivers a statement following his meeting with Lebanon's parliament speaker in Beirut on March 4, 2024. (AFP)

WASHINGTON — A land border agreement between Israel and Lebanon implemented in phases could dampen the simmering and deadly conflict between the Jewish state and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

Clashes between Israel and Hezbollah across the Israel-Lebanon border have led to worries of a deeper war across the Middle East. Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there against the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

“I’m not expecting peace, everlasting peace, between Hezbollah and Israel,” Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to Biden for energy and investment, said in an interview with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“But if we can reach a set of understandings and… take away some of the impetus for conflict and establish for the first time ever a recognized border between the two, I think that will go a long way.”

Hochstein brokered an Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary agreement in late 2022, after two years of talks, which opened the way for both countries to develop natural gas and other resources in the region. Hochstein has been working on a demarcation of the land border between the two countries that could have a number of phases.

The first would be to allow for tens of thousands of displaced residents of northern communities in Israel to return to their homes, along with those living in southern communities in Lebanon, Hochstein said.

Soldiers inspecting the damage to a building in the northern community of Dovev, after it was hit by rockets fired from Lebanon, during an IDF tour, on May 27, 2024. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Part of that would require a strengthening of the Lebanese armed forces, including recruiting, training and equipping forces, Hochstein said, without detailing how that would happen. As it stands, Hezbollah’s military might far outweighs the army’s.

The second phase would involve an economic package for Lebanon, “making sure that the international community demonstrates to the Lebanese people that we’re invested in them.”

Lebanon’s power grid, for example, only operates a few hours per day, at an enormous detriment to its economy. “We have a solution for that, we’ve put together a package that could create a solution that would take them to 12 hours of electricity in a… short amount of time,” Hochstein said.

The last phase would be a land boundary agreement between Lebanon and Israel, he said.

If politics and the economy are stabilized in Lebanon, it could help reduce Iran’s influence there, he argued.

“The ability of outside forces of any consequence to influence Lebanon will diminish dramatically,” Hochstein said.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 322 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 62 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Israel has expressed openness to a diplomatic solution to the conflict but has said it would launch an all-out war against Hezbollah to restore security to the north if an agreement isn’t reached.

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