The violent nonstate actor forced Israel to back down from its plan to unilaterally extract gas in the eastern Mediterranean.
In late 2022, Israel and Lebanon signed a US-brokered maritime agreement establishing their permanent maritime boundary and exclusive economic zones, and regulating their rights to gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Preceding the agreement was a sustained coercive-diplomacy campaign by Hezbollah. Between June and October, the organization conveyed overt and covert threats, and it pursued actions that were unprecedented in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict: openly threatening to target Israel's entire gas production and risk all-out war if Israel proceeded with its plan to unilaterally extract gas from the contested Karish gas field. A textbook case of coercive diplomacy, Hezbollah's maneuver was calculated and deliberate, which reflects the group's strategic expertise. Drawing on open-source materials and public statements in Arabic and Hebrew, this article analyzes Hezbollah's coercive-diplomacy campaign and examines its implications for escalation scenarios between Israel and its central military opponent.
In October 2022, Israel and Lebanon signed a US-brokered maritime agreement, establishing their permanent maritime boundary and exclusive economic zones, and regulating their rights to gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Preceding the deal was intensive back-and-forth mediation by Amos Hochstein, the US special envoy for international energy affairs. Hovering over Hochstein's shuttle diplomacy, however, was a coercive-diplomacy campaign by Hezbollah. Between June and October, the group conveyed overt and covert threats and signals, and took steps that, although calibrated, were unprecedented in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Sixteen years after the last major confrontation between them—the 2006 Lebanon War—Hezbollah openly threatened to target Israel's entire gas production and risk all-out war if Israel proceeded with its plan to unilaterally extract gas from the contested Karish gas field.
Hezbollah's maneuver met the conceptual requisites of coercive diplomacy as defined in international relations theory. The ultimate agreement, signed on October 27, 2022, in which Israel backed down from its long-held position and relinquished the entire contested area, rather than receiving 45 percent as earlier proposed, cannot be understood in isolation from Hezbollah's actions. This article analyzes Hezbollah's campaign, argues that it constituted a compelling factor in Israel's acquiescence to Lebanon's demands, and discusses its implications for potential escalation scenarios between the two sides.
This case, in which a violent nonstate actor pursued a deliberate and calculated coercive-diplomacy campaign against a far stronger state, merits in-depth scholarly and policy attention for two main reasons. First, notwithstanding the vast military disparity between Israel and Hezbollah, another war would be mutually destructive. Moreover, it could have a destabilizing impact far beyond the Lebanese arena. Indeed, violent conflict could draw in some of Hezbollah's regional allies from within the Iranian-led “axis of resistance,” in which Hezbollah is a key component alongside Syria, Yemen's Houthi rebels, Iraqi Shiite armed groups, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Second, this case makes an important empirical contribution to the scant literature on asymmetric coercion, thereby helping to shed light on the conditions under which actors may be able to coerce immensely more powerful states. In this respect, relatively weak actors may be able to exploit their stronger opponents’ escalation aversion and force them to choose between escalation, low-level friction, and political acquiescence.
DETERRENCE, COMPELLENCE, AND COERCIVE DIPLOMACY
Coercion pertains to the manner in which actors employ threats and promises to make others act against their preferences, largely by exploiting their actual or perceived vulnerabilities and by influencing their cost-benefit calculations. Coercion is the process by which actors manipulate others’ anticipation of violence to attain diplomatic objectives and shape strategic outcomes below the threshold of war.1 The two main forms of coercion are deterrence and compellence. Deterrence refers to one's purposeful efforts to dissuade one's adversaries from pursuing unwanted action, typically by conveying a credible threat that would lead a would-be challenger to conclude that defiance would be costlier than compliance. The converse of deterrence is compellence: Whereas deterrence seeks to prevent undesirable action, compellence is about inducing desirable action. Put differently, compellence revolves around actors’ abilities to make their targets act against their preferences.
First conceptualized by Thomas Schelling, the strategy of compellence was further developed and refined by Alexander George in his writings on coercive diplomacy. According to George, “The general idea of coercive diplomacy” is “to back one's demands on an adversary with a threat of punishment for noncompliance that he will consider credible and potent enough to persuade him to comply with the demand.”2 To succeed, coercive diplomacy requires an explicit or tacit ultimatum, a demand, and a threat of punishment for noncompliance. Most important, perhaps, the compeller must introduce a time limit for compliance—an act that, in the words of Lawrence Freedman, conjures up “the image of the ticking clock, which will lead to an explosion unless stopped.”3 Such a deadline is perhaps the key feature of coercive diplomacy.
To be effective, coercive threats must be perceived as credible. For that, the threatener must visibly limit its own flexibility and escape routes, thereby leading its target to infer that the coercer cannot back down on its threat without suffering reputational costs.4 Ironically, while the ultimate purpose of coercion is to attain one's interests without major violence, for a threat to seem credible the coercer must take steps that could potentially bring it closer to war.5 Among other moves, the coercer can publicly and explicitly commit to a particular course of action, raise its military alert, mobilize forces, or conduct military exercises. These measures are designed to pressure the target, create the impression that time is running out, and signal that unless the dispute is quickly resolved, both sides could soon clash.6
Such calculated measures are designed to create an appearance of credibility and resolve. Such a perception is in the interest of the coercer, as it bolsters its bargaining position and therefore increases the likelihood of target compliance, enabling the coercer to get its way without a military confrontation. The appearance of credibility, however, is not synonymous with genuine preparedness or intent to stand behind one's threats. For their part, to avoid paying political or reputational other costs, targets of coercion often seek to prevent even the semblance of having been coerced; they will often disguise and otherwise explain away irresolute behavior.7 From an analytical perspective, these factors often obscure the true dynamics of coercion.
While the core idea of coercion is to obtain compliance without violence, the coercer may engage in the symbolic use of force to signal that it is reaching the cusp of armed conflict. To further motivate acquiescence, the coercer must also provide reassurance to its target that compliance would avert military conflict.8 Using the threat of pain to make others pursue a certain course of action is considered more difficult than deterring undesirable action, which is why even powerful actors, including the United States, often fail at it.9 While the coercion literature is expansive, scant research exists on the manner in which actors coerce immensely more powerful opponents.10
CONFLICT AND DETERRENCE IN ISRAEL-HEZBOLLAH RELATIONS
In June 2022, Hezbollah marked four decades since its creation following Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Over the course of those “40 springs,” as Hezbollah refers to this landmark, the group has engaged in different types of strategic interactions with Israel. From its inception until Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah waged a war of attrition designed to force Israel to unilaterally evacuate southern Lebanon. Following its introduction of short-range rockets in 1992, Hezbollah harnessed its ability to hit Israel's northern communities in the service of subjecting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to the constraints of its “rules of the game” and deterring Israel from readily drawing on its advantages.11 In the summer of 2006, the parties fought a 34-day war, which neither side desired nor saw coming, and both regretted. In its wake, Hezbollah pursued a strategy of deterrence to prevent another war and to limit Israel's attempts to impede Hezbollah's military buildup. Following the 2006 war, Israel-Hezbollah relations were regulated by what both sides deemed mutual deterrence.12 In this context, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah took center stage in employing Hezbollah's deterrence communications and in publicly shaping Hezbollah's strategic posture vis-à-vis Israel.
To achieve the desired impact, Nasrallah, who holds a monopoly over the communication of Hezbollah's strategic posture, has carefully considered not only his words but also his tone and body language. While he has been the dominant face and voice of Hezbollah, the party has also employed other methods to communicate its deterrent signals to Israel, including commentary by Lebanese analysts considered especially well connected to Hezbollah. In addition, the two sides have long used third parties, especially the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and France, to exchange indirect messages. Perhaps the most intriguing instrument of communication between the two sides has been Hezbollah's employment of private intelligence signals: secret activities and communications intended to be intercepted by Israeli intelligence and to resonate with Israel's decision makers. Hezbollah has acknowledged its deliberate use of unsecured communication systems, including cell phones, knowing that Israel would have visibility into its activity.13 While Hezbollah has long engaged in deterrence to limit or prevent Israel's use of force, never did it actively and overtly pursue compellence of Israel—until the episode discussed in this article.
MARITIME NEGOTIATIONS, FROM DISCOVERY TO IMPASSE
Israel's maritime dispute with Lebanon, which in the summer of 2022 came to the verge of a military crisis with Hezbollah—to the point that Israel's security establishment and intelligence community were unanimous in the assessment that failure to reach an agreement would result in “battle days”—was more than a decade in the making. In 2010 and 2011, Lebanon and Israel, which remain in a state of war, unilaterally delineated their maritime borders. Whereas Lebanon's line, known as Line 23, ran southwest from the border, Israel's line, known as Line 1, ran northwest, resulting in conflicting claims to their exclusive economic zones. The two countries’ diverging claims, which were officially filed with the United Nations, left approximately 882 square kilometers of disputed water, thereby hindering their abilities to explore and extract hydrocarbons from the contested Mediterranean seabed.
Between 2010 and 2012, indirect negotiations took place under the auspices of the United States. In April 2012, the US negotiating team, led by Frederic C. Hof, proposed a compromise that allocated 55 percent of the disputed zone to Lebanon and the remaining 45 percent to Israel. Although Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in a private letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, conditionally accepted the compromise, political and security turmoil in Lebanon prevented its government from presenting a formal response.14 Only in October 2020, toward the end of the Trump administration, did the United States resume its mediation.15 In the meantime, two significant developments occurred. First, Lebanon sank into an economic crisis that ranked, according to the World Bank, among the top economic collapses worldwide since the 1850s.16 Some 80 percent of the Lebanese population lived in poverty, with an average of two hours of electricity a day.17 Second, while Israel adhered to the line it had filed with the United Nations in 2011, Lebanon now presented a new interpretation of its maritime boundary, adding 1,430 square kilometers to the scope included in its previous demand.18 Within this new line, referred to as Line 29, which Israel and the United States rejected as a basis for negotiations, lay approximately half of Israel's Karish gas field and the entirety of another potential gas field, Qana, which straddled Israel's and Lebanon's boundaries.19
Negotiations gained new momentum with the election of President Joe Biden, who appointed Hochstein to lead the mediation effort. Hochstein first arrived in Beirut in February 2022, a time of heightened global tensions over the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine—a crisis that accentuated the significance of the eastern Mediterranean gas riches as an alternative energy supplier to Europe.20 That June, Lebanon proposed a new, more realistic compromise, whereby it would return to Line 23, which it had enshrined in a presidential decree and filed with the United Nations in 2011. This updated proposal included a localized adjustment to allow for the entirety of Qana gas field to remain within Lebanon's economic waters.21 This proposal, however, excluded a small part of the unexplored field from Israel's economic waters.
HEZBOLLAH'S COERCIVE DIPLOMACY CAMPAIGN
The prospect for a military confrontation emerged after a floating gas-production rig, belonging to the British-Greek oil and gas exploration company Energean Power, docked in Israeli waters on June 5, 2022.22 This elicited strong statements of condemnation from Lebanon's leaders. President Michel Aoun stated that any “activity in the disputed area represents a provocation and an aggressive action,” and Prime Minister Najib Mikati warned that Israel was “encroaching on Lebanon's maritime wealth, and imposing a fait accompli in a disputed area.”23 Israel's ministers of defense, foreign affairs, and energy responded with a joint statement in which they stressed, “The rig is located in Israeli territory, several kilometers south of the area over which negotiations are being conducted.” They further explained that the “rig will not pump gas from the disputed territory,” and that Israel was prepared to defend its “strategic assets.”24 Israel's behavior over the next four months stood in sharp contrast to this initial, uncompromising verbal signal of resolve.
Four days after the Energean rig docked, Nasrallah delivered a special public address, in which he launched a coercive-diplomacy campaign. Characterizing Israel's declared plans to unilaterally begin gas extraction as an “aggression,” Nasrallah claimed that “the issue is not a local border dispute” but rather “the country's fate.” Given Lebanon's economic crisis, he added, the prospect of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of natural gas constituted “Lebanon's only hope.”25 According to Nasrallah, and in sharp contrast to Israel's initial stance, given the nature of the disputed natural-gas asset, it made little difference if extraction was conducted from within Israel's exclusive economic zone, as it would inevitably come at Lebanon's expense.
Nasrallah went on to stress that, similar to the way in which Lebanon needed to wait for negotiations to end before it could commission international companies to extract gas from the disputed waters, so did Israel need to await the outcome of the talks. Nasrallah claimed that the 2019 US Caesar Act, which imposed sanctions on the Syrian government for human-rights violations, was being de facto applied to Lebanon, preventing international companies from conducting business in the country. “America and Israel,” he said, “through their current policies and strategy toward Lebanon, wish to take it toward hunger and collapse.” This led to Hezbollah's demands. “First, the enemy must stop this activity,” Nasrallah said, claiming that Karish was “a joint gas field. Any activity designed to pump oil or gas from Karish must stop!” Nasrallah's second demand was for guarantees to be provided to international companies—which “are threatened with sanctions” and could not operate even in uncontested Lebanese waters—permitting them to explore Lebanon's seabed for natural gas.26
As explained earlier, the conceptual element that distinctly separates coercive diplomacy from deterrence is the introduction of a deadline, the coercer's deliberate attempt to instill a sense of urgency in the target. Nasrallah indicated that, given Israel's plans to initiate production in September, the parties had until then to resolve the dispute. Stressing that “the time factor is extremely important,” he noted that it “is not in Lebanon's favor.” By explicitly emphasizing the September deadline, Nasrallah had flipped a metaphorical hourglass and signaled that time was running out for a solution.
Proceeding to present Israel with a threat, Nasrallah stressed that Hezbollah “would not be able to stand idly by and indeed shall not stand idly by” as Israel “pillages the Lebanese people's only asset and last hope.” Therefore, “all options are on the table, without hesitation.” Not only was Hezbollah “militarily and materially capable of preventing the enemy from producing oil and gas from the contested Karish gas field,” but, Nasrallah stressed, Israel should know that while “we are not interested in war, we are not afraid of war either.” If the dispute reached the stage of war, Israel's losses “would be considerably higher than anything that Lebanon could possibly lose.” Warning that the implications of war would be “existential” for Israel, Nasrallah hinted that violence between Israel and Hezbollah would ignite a wider conflagration in the Middle East: “It is not clear that the problem would remain restricted only to Lebanon.”27
Finally, signaling that the parties had now entered a continuing interaction, Nasrallah explained that “it is our right to do what it takes to collect the necessary information to support any decision we may take or resort to….We shall follow the situation by the hour and by the day.”28
Hezbollah's Symbolic Use of Force
Nasrallah's statements received little attention in the Israeli media and failed to significantly push diplomacy forward. As he later explained, while “positive progress” was made following his June 9 address, negotiations were not advancing. Then, on June 29, Israel intercepted, using electronic means, a Hezbollah drone launched from Lebanon and headed toward Karish. To prevent tension, and to ensure that preparations for gas extraction continued without disturbance, Israel refrained from publicizing the interception. Israel was nonetheless forced to acknowledge the incident after the pro-Hezbollah daily Al-Akhbar reported it the following week.29
Around that time, Nasrallah later said, the United States informed Beirut that negotiations would only resume in September.30 It was against this backdrop that on July 2, shortly after receiving a US reply—which, according to Nasrallah, “revealed the American deception” and constituted an attempt to buy time31—Hezbollah resorted to another limited, exemplary use of force. It launched three unarmed drones. Launched midday, the drones were intercepted by fighter jets and by a missile fired from an Israeli vessel.32 According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah had intended for Israel to open fire so that the Energean “ship, engineers and employees all realize that they are all in an unsafe zone and that the threat is real and serious.”33 Explaining the move, Ibrahim al-Amin, a Lebanese writer well connected to Hezbollah, noted that the group concluded that Israel was “manipulating American support to force Lebanon to give up its rights.” This, he added, required a “formative act.”34
Shortly following the operation, Hezbollah issued a formal claim of responsibility, stating that the drones “succeeded in their intended mission, and the message has been delivered.”35 Indeed, Israeli security sources soon described the operation as a signal, saying that if Hezbollah had intended to hit the rig, it would have fired a missile. The sources added that Karish was on track to become operational in September, as “any delay would constitute a very severe problem and harm Israel's national interests.”36 While ultimately a calculated signal, Hezbollah's drone operation thrust the dispute into Israel's strategic and national attention.37 In addition, the IDF Northern Command went into high alert, although this fact was publicized only weeks later.38
UPPING THE ANTE: HEZBOLLAH EXPANDS ITS COERCIVE THREAT
Nasrallah delivered his next speech on July 13, in which he re-emphasized the various conceptual elements of Hezbollah's coercive-diplomacy campaign and strengthened its commitment to military action. Nasrallah openly raised the stakes not simply for Israel but for the United States and Europe, as well. According to Nasrallah, working in Lebanon's favor was the fact that Biden's “current priority is to confront Russia in Ukraine, and he is not interested in another war…which could lead to a great explosion in the region.” This, Nasrallah said, was “something we should exploit.”39
To further accentuate the notion that the metaphorical clock was ticking, Nasrallah stressed that time was running out for Israel to comply. Turning to Israel and the United States, he declared: “Playing with time—this is not beneficial.”40 But Nasrallah also said that time was running out for Lebanon as well, implying that Hezbollah would ultimately be pressured to act before it lost its leverage. Lebanon's bargaining leverage stemmed, in large part, from the war in Ukraine and the impending energy crisis in Europe, which was approaching winter without Russian gas. Because the United States and Europe were in a hurry to secure alternative energy resources, Nasrallah said, the Israelis were rushing to begin gas extraction from Karish—a fact that Lebanon could exploit. Lebanon's “source of strength” was that it was “capable of creating a problem for the Israeli enemy and for the entire region,” thereby “obstructing the production of oil and gas and obstructing the sale of oil and gas to Europe.” Lebanon, Nasrallah continued, “has a historic golden opportunity to obtain what it wants, now—now, not tomorrow. That's it. If this opportunity passes, then who knows.”41 Because Lebanon's bargaining leverage would diminish with the passage of time, especially if Karish became operational, Nasrallah stressed that “the golden opportunity is right now—right now—and for the next two months. Some even say, less than two months. That is, what is left of July, and then August, reaching September.”42
Whereas in his previous speech, on June 9, Nasrallah explained that while Hezbollah was not interested in war, it was not intimidated by Israel's threats, he now upped the ante by describing war as a potentially desirable policy instrument and as preferable to the status quo. “Someone wants to destroy Lebanon, and I say no….War is far more honorable. The threat of war, and even war itself, are far more noble.” Whereas domestic collapse promised “no horizon, war does have some horizon,” Nasrallah said. “If we decide to go to war, there will be some horizon: the enemy could concede, perhaps before the war, or in its beginning. Perhaps it could acquiesce in the middle of the war or at its end, and you could impose your conditions, bring hundreds of billions of dollars and rescue your country.”43 Also much different from his June 9 address, in which Nasrallah made do with stating that “all options are on the table,” he now adopted a more assertive line, explicitly stating that Hezbollah intended to take military action. Describing the drone operation as a “modest beginning,” Nasrallah declared that “we will prevent Israel from producing gas as long as Lebanon is prohibited from producing gas.” He added, “If this requires that we go to war, we shall go to war,” at the end of which Hezbollah “will be able to impose Lebanon's will.”44
By operating its drones, Nasrallah said, Hezbollah signaled “where we may be headed. If things ultimately reach a negative outcome, we will not confront only Karish.”45 The secretary-general, in other words, was now openly threatening vital, undisputed Israeli assets. He proceeded to expand the threat beyond the local dispute over Karish and the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border and each country's exclusive economic zone: “Write down the new equation: Karish, what lies beyond Karish, and what lies beyond what is beyond Karish….We are tracking all activity opposite the Palestinian shores”—that is, all the Israeli gas fields and rigs.46
Nasrallah's formulation of “the new equation” carried important symbolic meaning. It unmistakably paraphrased his warning in the early stages of the 2006 war, when, turning to the Israeli public, he said that Hezbollah's rockets “will reach Haifa, and believe me, also what lies beyond Haifa, and what lies beyond what is beyond Haifa.”47 This was designed to lend credibility to his threats and resonate with Israeli decision makers, while simultaneously delineating an escalation ladder consisting of various thresholds. Similar to his deterrent threats and to Hezbollah's gradual-escalation strategy in the 2006 war, Nasrallah was signaling that in the event of a new confrontation, Israeli actions beyond a certain threshold would trigger a response beyond Karish, higher up on the escalation ladder.
In other words, Hezbollah was now explicitly threatening not only Karish but Israel's entire gas production operations, conditioning Israel's ability to produce gas from any its fields on a formal agreement that satisfied Lebanon's demands. Hezbollah's expansion of its threat to encompass the entirety of Israel's offshore gas production was designed to avert a scenario where Israel, instead of reaching an agreement with Lebanon, decided to simply “freeze the extraction of oil and gas from Karish.”48 Indeed, Hezbollah was not merely seeking to deter Israel and preserve the status quo but to compel Israel, through coercive diplomacy, to make a deal with Lebanon—under duress, on the latter's terms.
HEZBOLLAH SIGNALS PREPAREDNESS FOR ALL-OUT WAR
Bolstering the credibility of Hezbollah's threats, on July 14, Ibrahim al-Amin of Al-Akhbar revealed that the group “has entered a state of practical preparedness to enter into a large-scale war, not simply to execute localized operations.” Hezbollah had “placed all its relevant units in a state of preparedness for a large-scale war.” The organization, he noted, had “placed itself in a state of confrontation, eliminating its maneuvering room.”49 Al-Amin went on to warn that Hezbollah would soon reach “the point of no return” unless “someone rational quickly intervened.” Nasrallah was leaving the door open to any “rational person in the world” to “save the situation and exert pressure on Israel” to accept Lebanon's demands “within six weeks, the latest.”50 It was around that time that Israel, according to multiple reports, asked the United States to accelerate its mediation, stressing that an agreement must be reached as soon as possible.51
On July 20, Nasrallah addressed a closed meeting with religious scholars, but his statements were leaked to Al-Akhbar. He told the audience that war was “not a done deal” and that “we are not certain we are going to war.” Nasrallah continued that “we may see a localized targeting” by Hezbollah “and a proportionate retaliation” by Israel. “Things will depend on Israel's response, which may deteriorate things into a war. Conversely, Israel may acquiesce without war.” Hezbollah, he said, “may or may not be going to war.” In a statement that reflected the underlying logic of coercion, whereby the coercer leverages the threat of force in the hope of obtaining acquiescence below the threshold of war, Nasrallah said: “We hope we do not fire even one bullet or missile, and that the enemy yields.”52 The secretary-general was essentially signaling that Hezbollah would strive for any exchange of blows to remain limited and controlled, rather than escalate “beyond Karish.”
Nasrallah spoke next on July 25, in an interview with pro-Hezbollah Al-Mayadin TV. Noting that “time is not open-ended,” he emphasized that “the timeframe is September….If the production of oil and gas from Karish begins in September without Lebanon having received its rights, the meaning is that we are headed into a problem.” All of Israel's gas fields, he said, “are within the realm of the threat.” Hezbollah, he said, had categorized Israel's gas fields: “We have their coordinates, we know exactly where they are located….There does not exist any Israeli target in the sea or on land that the resistance's precision-guided missiles cannot reach.” Nasrallah once again alluded to the possibility that if war broke out, it would deteriorate into a regional conflagration, adding that Israel could not posit that “war would remain confined” to the Israeli-Lebanese sphere. “Is it possible that it would develop into a war on the regional level? Will other forces intervene in this war? This option is likely and extremely possible.”53
The next threatening signal came on July 31, when Hezbollah released a propaganda video featuring drone footage of the Energean rig and two Israeli vessels deployed to protect it. With a ticking clock sounding in the background, the clip warned against “playing with time” and displayed the coordinates of the rig and the vessels. Offering a glimpse of a Hezbollah shore-to-sea missile, the video concluded with two words: “within range.”54 Later that day, dismissing the notion that Hezbollah was merely “playing games,” Nasrallah said that “if the deadline passes without Lebanon having received its rights, we either do what we pledged and committed ourselves to, or we lose the credibility that Hezbollah established over 40 years.”55 By openly stating that Hezbollah's credibility was at stake, Nasrallah re-emphasized Hezbollah's commitment to military action.
These signals were followed up with harsher messages, albeit from lower-ranking Hezbollah officials. Nabil Qawuq, a veteran Hezbollah leader serving as a member of its Central Council, described the video as “a clear message” to Israel that Hezbollah had prepared and deployed “missiles that can reach Karish and beyond Karish.”56 He then warned that if Israel attempted to buy time or began gas extraction from Karish, “the resistance is prepared, ready and all set to execute its threats. It has prepared surprises for the enemy, which would knock its gas and oil platforms decades back.”57 On August 9, al-Amin wrote that Lebanon awaited Hochstein's return to Beirut—a visit that al-Amin dubbed “the last opportunity” before a potential war. He added that the group had entered “a stage of practical preparedness to hit all the facilities that have to do with the extraction of oil and gas” in Israel. Hezbollah, he added, “is prepared to go far, including to the point of the outbreak of a wide-scale war with the enemy.”58
Later that day, Nasrallah delivered a speech marking the Shiite religious holiday of Ashura. Raising his voice, he asserted, “We seek a strong Lebanon…capable of extracting its natural resources,” a country in which “the hand that might extend to any of Lebanon's natural resources is chopped off!” He added: “In the next few days we shall wait and see what answers are received to the demands of the Lebanese state.” Turning to the Lebanese people, “but especially to the resistance people and most specifically to the jihadist fighters,” Nasrallah said: “We must be prepared and ready for any scenario. In this battle and challenge, we are serious to the utmost level.” Turning to the United States and Israel, Nasrallah added: “We have reached the end of the line, and shall proceed all the way. Let nobody try us and let nobody test us, and let nobody threaten us. Let nobody bank on intimidating us!”59 Whereas Nasrallah's previous statements were delivered in a calm tone, these messages were uttered vociferously, implicitly attaching an escalatory meaning to them.
Shortly after the speech, Hezbollah's top commanders responded by releasing a public letter to Nasrallah, in which they pledged allegiance and emphasized that they were deployed along Lebanon's land and maritime borders “with all the force that we have prepared” and “with our fingers on the trigger.”60 The publicization of the letter constituted a signal of resolve, not merely because of its content but because the last time a similar letter had been published in the name of Hezbollah's fighters was at the height of the 2006 war.
On August 19, Nasrallah stepped up his deterrent communications. Whereas he previously said that if Lebanon's demands were not met, the parties would be headed to a “problem,” he now forecast an “escalation.” If Lebanon received its demands, he said, the parties would be “headed toward quiet,” but if it were denied its rights, “the meaning is that we are headed toward an escalation.” Therefore, he said, “eyes should be on Karish, on the Lebanese border, on southern Lebanon,” and on northern Israel. “Eyes should be on the American mediator, who has been wasting time and whose time is running out.”61
On August 3, Israel's military, intelligence, and security chiefs presented the cabinet with a unanimous assessment that if an agreement were not reached by September, there was a “strong likelihood” that escalation would ensue, leading to “several battle days in the north”62—a term that connotes a severe but limited escalation—and exchanges of blows below the threshold of war. On August 21, Amos Yadlin, a former IDF intelligence chief, noted a “strong likelihood” that Nasrallah would “repeat the same mistake” that had sparked the 2006 war and advised that Israel prepare for an all-out war with Hezbollah.63 On September 6, a senior Israeli security source said that the IDF was prepared for the possibility of several “battle days” with Hezbollah.64 Around that time, the United States was reportedly informed by Israel, Lebanon, and European countries that Hezbollah was in “combat position” and prepared to carry out its threats in the immediate future.65
BIDEN PUSHES DIPLOMACY; ISRAEL HOLDS OFF GAS EXTRACTION
As September neared, the parties approached their moment of truth. Israel needed to decide whether to proceed with the gas extraction even in the absence of an agreement—and almost certainly face a military escalation. It was against this backdrop that on August 31 Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Tellingly, while the indirect negotiations between Israel and Lebanon were excluded from the Israeli readout following the conversation, the White House noted that Biden “emphasized the importance of concluding the maritime boundary negotiations between Israel and Lebanon in the coming weeks.”66 This constituted Biden's first public statement about the negotiations. The president's emphasis that an agreement needed to be achieved in a matter of “weeks” likely reflected a heightened US determination to bring diplomacy to the finish line. One Israeli report claimed that the United States “exerted heavy pressure on Israel” to reach an agreement quickly and to relinquish the contested area.67 It was reportedly in this context that Lapid convened a critical consultation, in which Israel decided, amid pressure from the security chiefs, to grant Lebanon the entire contested area.68
The first indications emerged in early September that gas production from Karish would be postponed, as demanded by Hezbollah. On September 8, Israeli security and political sources said that gas production from Karish would not be possible until the end of October. The sources—likely attempting to avoid creating the perception that Israel was giving in to Hezbollah threats—attributed the postponement to Energean's own considerations.69 Energean, however, promptly disavowed the report, re-emphasizing that gas production would commence as planned, on September 20. It was also reported that Energean, which was officially committed to launching operations according to a timetable that had been communicated to its shareholders, had rebuffed US and Israeli pressure to postpone extraction until an Israeli-Lebanese agreement was reached.70
On the 11th of that month, a senior Israeli official said that on September 20, Energean would conduct a preliminary, experimental pumping of gas from Karish to the Israeli shores. The official warned Hezbollah that any attempt to respond to the gas extraction would constitute “a very severe miscalculation,” adding: “Our eyes and ears are on Hezbollah's threats to Karish and the other rigs….Our policy has not changed: we will operate Karish the minute preparations there are done. Any targeting of the rig would be retaliated against.”71 Despite Israel's signal of resolve, days later, Israel's Ministry of Energy issued a statement in which it clarified that while Karish would be connected to Israel's onshore facilities and tested “in the next few days,” the procedure was part of a reverse flow testing procedure. Thus, the statement explained, gas would be pumped from the shore to the floating rig rather than the other way around. The statement was issued at the demand of the IDF and approved by Israel's National Security Council to reassure Hezbollah that extraction would not commence before an agreement was reached.72 Moreover, it was issued on a Friday at noon, “unusual timing for such statements.”73 The clarification indicated that Israel was paying heed to Hezbollah's “red line.”
On September 17, Nasrallah provided context to Israel's clarification:
For us, the red line is the commencement of oil and gas extraction from Karish. Over the past two days there have been reports that gas extraction would begin, albeit experimentally. We conveyed a message, not through the media. A very harsh message. We said that if gas extraction begins, that means trouble. That means trouble. Then, the Israelis clarified publicly that this was not extraction, and that this was not about gas and oil being pumped from Karish to the shore, but rather the other way around, in order to prepare the pipelines for when extraction begins.74
Alluding to private signals that Hezbollah had communicated in this regard, Nasrallah said: “I believe that the Israelis, the Americans and the Europeans possess sufficient data pointing to the seriousness of the resistance's position and to the fact that this is not psychological warfare, we are not kidding.”75 As Nasrallah retrospectively claimed, Israel's plan to commence experimental extraction brought Hezbollah “to the cusp of war….But in the last minute the Israelis backtracked.”76 As he further noted, while Hezbollah's overt signals were limited to unarmed drones, “there were many things that the resistance did and which the Israelis saw, realized, felt and heard—without the general public ever hearing about them. This is because the goal was for the Israelis to understand that we were serious without our causing worry among people through the activities employed to communicate our message.”77
UNITED STATES SUBMITS ITS PROPOSAL TO THE PARTIES
On October 1, the United States submitted its proposal, in which Lebanon, instead of receiving 55 percent of its initial position, would get virtually 100 percent of the contested waters. Israel would receive 17 percent of future profits from the Qana gas field through a bilateral agreement with the French drilling firm TotalEnergies, the field's operator, should hydrocarbons ever be discovered in it.78 Over the next several days, Lapid presented the US proposal to the cabinet and began to promote its approval.
The US proposal received the backing of Israel's entire defense and intelligence establishment. The IDF submitted a professional document to Israel's attorney general to the effect that “there exists a security and diplomatic urgency and a necessity to reach an agreement already in the near future and without postponement in order to prevent an escalation, which is highly likely, and to seize on the unique window of opportunity to reach an agreement.”79 Israeli intelligence assessments warned of “severe security consequences” of any failure to reach an agreement, “both with respect to the Lebanese arena, and in a broader strategic perspective.”80 Only on October 9 did Energean announce that it had begun experimental reverse-gas pumping from the shore to its offshore facility81—the gas-flow testing originally scheduled for September 20. Despite the obvious diplomatic progress, the IDF increased its alert ahead of the procedure amid its assessment that escalation remained possible as long as Israel and Lebanon had not signed an agreement.82
Even as the parties were clearly proceeding toward a solution, Hezbollah tellingly refrained from standing down. On October 11, as the Israeli government deliberated the agreement, Nasrallah, addressing his commanders and fighters, said: “You shall remain in a state of preparedness and continue your measures, procedures and alert. Nothing will change until we witness with our own eyes that an understanding has been signed.”83 Nasrallah explained that Hezbollah refrained from launching additional drones because “from the outset, the aim was to explain to the enemy that the resistance is serious” and “the enemy in fact was convinced that we were serious.”84 Indeed, if the aim behind the drone operation was to invigorate diplomacy, it achieved precisely that. On October 25, Israel granted Energean permission to commence gas production from Karish, and extraction began on the following day.85 On October 27, Israel and Lebanon officially signed the agreement.86 That evening, Nasrallah declared that the “the mission has been accomplished,” and that Hezbollah's special procedures and “months-long” military alert had now ended.87
This article has analyzed Hezbollah's coercive-diplomacy campaign against Israel in the months and weeks leading up to the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon. As shown, Hezbollah's actions met the conceptual prerequisites of coercive diplomacy as defined in the literature. It presented Israel with a demand, a threat, a deadline for compliance, and a reassurance. It also took steps designed to accentuate the credibility of—or at least attach the appearance of credibility to—its threats. And when diplomacy did not seem to progress at a satisfactory pace, Hezbollah executed a limited, symbolic military operation to signal its resolve and credibility. Available evidence—including Israeli media reports, Israel's intelligence assessments, and the fact that the IDF Northern Command was put on high alert—indicates that Israel took Hezbollah's threats seriously. In the last stages of the negotiations, Israel's impending November elections and the fact that Aoun, who oversaw the negotiations, approached the end of his term added another dimension of urgency.88
Hezbollah's military threat introduced to the longstanding Israeli-Lebanese maritime dispute a compelling factor that had been absent in all prior stages of the negotiations. This fact helped to push diplomacy forward. Granted, other variables contributed to the dynamics described in this article. Importantly, Hezbollah exploited the international circumstances, which provided it with leverage over Israel, as well as over the United States. Spearheading Hezbollah's coercive campaign, Nasrallah explicitly argued that the war in Ukraine and the looming energy crisis in Europe rendered the United States, Europe, and Israel vulnerable to pressure. He also assessed that US priorities would exert a restraining influence on Israel, as Biden would not be interested in yet another war in the Middle East.
As Nasrallah saw it, the US interest in securing energy resources to its European allies provided Hezbollah with indirect leverage. Thus, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qasim stated that the war in Ukraine and the related crisis in Europe were among the leading factors that “prompted America to become a pressuring intermediary vis-à-vis Israel.”89 This point is yet another reminder that coercion in international relations does not necessarily follow a direct, linear path but often follows an indirect, triangular path.90 This dimension of coercion remains relatively understudied and merits further research, especially as it applies to weaker actors’ abilities to bring pressure to bear on far stronger states.
To what extent did Hezbollah's threat to risk war with Israel influence the United States? Given the impact of the war in Ukraine on international energy markets, one could argue that it would have been in the interest of the United States that Israel and Lebanon conclude a maritime agreement irrespective of Hezbollah's threats. Nonetheless, the prospect of a military conflagration likely injected urgency into US diplomacy that would have otherwise been absent from the strategic interaction. While US pressure likely figured in Israel's calculations and motivated the government to reach a diplomatic solution, Israel—whose intelligence chiefs assessed the likelihood of escalation as “highly likely” if the parties failed to agree—would have had its own compelling reasons to reach an agreement.91
While Israel was ultimately not forced to relinquish vital strategic interests, and although an agreement could have ultimately been struck at some point in the future, irrespective of Hezbollah's coercive campaign, the latter's threats and various overt and covert signals created a genuine sense of urgency that helped catalyze diplomacy and contributed to the final outcome. For instance, in their assessment to the Israeli cabinet on October 6, Israel's military, security, and intelligence chiefs unanimously stressed that the deal “serves the security, diplomatic, economic and energetic interests of Israel.”92 This hardly negates the proposition that, in large part, it was Hezbollah's threat that made it in Israel's interest to resolve the dispute to Lebanon's satisfaction. Similarly, it was, to a considerable degree, Hezbollah's threats that prompted the IDF chief of staff, the Mossad director, and Israel's military intelligence chief to conclude in early October, “There is an urgency in finalizing the agreement at this time.”93 Asked about Nasrallah's threats, Israel's outgoing national security adviser, Eyal Hulata, retrospectively acknowledged that “Nasrallah usually means what he says,” adding: “We took the tension that was created very, very seriously.”94
From an Israeli perspective, the strategic interaction regarding the maritime dispute resulted in what former IDF Intelligence Chief Tamir Hayman described as “the erosion of deterrence.”95 The interaction was further indication that the Israel-Hezbollah conflict has come to be regulated and stabilized by mutual deterrence, meaning that Israel, notwithstanding its vast military superiority, is fully aware of Hezbollah's “red lines.” Nonetheless, although Hezbollah clearly wields leverage over its immensely stronger opponent, its coercive power is limited. Thus, while it has indeed deterred Israel from targeting its activists in Syria or attacking Lebanon per se, it has been unable to deter Israel from systematically destroying Lebanon-bound weapons systems.
Coerced actors exhibit an inherent interest in providing alternative explanations for, and otherwise disguising, irresolute behavior. Throughout the interaction, Israel made a distinct effort to prevent the perception that it was acting under duress or that it was otherwise rushed and pressured into an agreement.96 In an off-the-record briefing conducted on October 11, a senior US official similarly claimed that negotiations were not coerced. Hezbollah's threats, the official said, “were not what drove these negotiations”; instead, it was “the need to secure the entire coast for Israel and to provide economic interests for Lebanon.”97 Hochstein himself commented two days later, “What Israel really needs is the security and knowing that from the Karish field all the way down south there will not be the threat of missiles, there was not going to be the threat of harm that would come in Israeli waters, so Israel gets stability and security.”98 Israeli leaders, too, stressed that a core achievement of the agreement was that, in Lapid's words, it “staves off the possibility of a military conflagration with Hezbollah.”99 Israel, in other words, gained the removal of the very threat that Nasrallah had openly introduced to the entire gas-production operation—a fact that underscores the impact of Hezbollah's threats on the dynamics of diplomacy.
Beyond the fact that Hezbollah's campaign constituted a rare instance in which a relatively weak actor pursued a by-the-book coercive-diplomacy campaign against a far stronger state, this episode merits attention as it demonstrates how deterrence stability can be harnessed in the service of wresting concessions and otherwise influencing the more powerful opponent below the threshold of war. While Nasrallah emphasized Hezbollah's supposed preparedness to risk an all-out military conflict, he simultaneously introduced an escalatory ladder and hinted that escalation would depend on whether Israel made do with a “proportionate retaliation” for a would-be “localized” Hezbollah attack. Nasrallah effectively signaled that if the two sides began to ascend the escalation ladder, Hezbollah preferred a limited exchange of blows below the threshold of major escalation. Hezbollah, it seems, was presenting its much stronger opponent with the suboptimal options of tolerating relatively low-level friction, risking major escalation, or acquiescence to Lebanon's political demands.
Israel's intelligence assessment, which held that escalation would likely result in “battle days”—something that had not taken place since 2006—can be interpreted as an indication that in the so-called moment of truth, it would be prepared to avoid all-out escalation. This does not negate the proposition that, as Nasrallah retrospectively claimed, the parties had reached the “cusp of war,” as neither Hezbollah nor Israel could be certain of their ability to control an escalatory dynamic. Indeed, alluding to the possibility of war with Hezbollah, Brigadier General Amit Saar, head of the IDF's Intelligence Research Division, said that war was more likely to stem from “an escalatory dynamic” rather than one side's deliberate decision to start a war, noting that the dispute over Karish could “have brought us to that place.”100 Given Israel's longstanding and maximalist deterrence posture, such as its threats to inflict “disproportionate” destruction on Lebanon in any future war, these recent signals imply that if the current deterrence stability breaks down in the future, Israel would be prepared to abide by certain limitations and attempt to control a potential escalatory dynamic in the hope of avoiding a major war. Nasrallah claimed in retrospect that Hezbollah's coercive campaign showed that “when the supreme national interests require that the resistance in Lebanon exceed the rules of engagement, it will not hesitate whatever the costs and even if this means going to war.”101 Granted, Nasrallah had an interest in constructing such a narrative. While his retrospective, post-agreement language was somewhat more decisive and accentuated than the statements he issued as the crisis unfolded, his public rhetoric during the campaign still amounted to an explicit commitment to take military action under certain conditions. Such circumstances could have indeed occurred, thereby bringing Hezbollah to the “moment of truth.”
Nasrallah's repeated public commitments, and his acknowledgement that Hezbollah's credibility was on the line, suggest that the group would have indeed employed military force if Israel had unilaterally operationalized Karish. Judging from Nasrallah's comments and from past behavior, Hezbollah would have attempted to tailor its attacks to reshape Israel's strategic calculus, on the one hand, while avoiding triggering a wider escalation. Israel would have been forced to restrain its retaliations, tolerating low-level friction and disturbances to gas extraction operation, or risk major conflict.
Israel's new right-wing government, sworn in on December 28, 2022, is expected to respect the maritime agreement. As opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu sharply criticized the maritime agreement and even indicated that, once back in power, “it will not oblige us.”102 As Israel's prime minister, however, Netanyahu's track record has been one of risk aversion and adherence to Hezbollah's “red lines.” Indeed, the informal framework that has de facto regulated the parties’ relations since the end of the 2006 war was established—and maintained—during Netanyahu's many years in office.
This does not preclude the possibility that further challenges await Israel and Hezbollah—challenges that could bring them to a military clash, and even war. These include Hezbollah's continuing efforts to circumvent Israel's “red lines” regarding its military buildup, primarily its acquisition of precision-guided weapons and air defenses, as well as its potential involvement in a future escalation between Israel and the Gaza Strip. However, the episode analyzed in this article is a reminder that a more risk-accepting Hezbollah could again deviate from previous patterns of behavior and challenge Israel. It is also indicative of Hezbollah's growing confidence, which likely increased further following the strategic interaction discussed in this article. A clear signal to this effect was conveyed by Nasrallah in February 2023, days after the first overseas crude oil shipment was loaded from Energean.103 “Over the past two days,” he said, “I read that the Israelis have begun to export oil and gas from Karish.” The Hezbollah leader went on to claim that international companies were “stalling” on exploring Lebanon's seabed and declared that “if anyone thinks that we will allow them [Israel] to continue to extract oil and gas from Karish,” given these circumstances, “I hereby tell you: no way.” Nasrallah even warned Washington that if it planned to push Lebanon toward “chaos,” then the Americans would “lose in Lebanon and you should expect chaos in the entire region.” If the United States, through its economic policies, deliberately caused pain to Hezbollah's communities, Hezbollah would “direct its weapons” at Israel, he said.104
If the parties are indeed headed to such a stage, they would greatly benefit from investing in informal mechanisms of communication, which could potentially grant them tighter escalation control.105
1 Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966) 64.
2 Alexander L. George, Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War (Washington: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1991), 4.
3 Lawrence Freedman, Strategic Coercion: Concepts and Cases (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 23.
4 One of the vital prerequisites of coercion is credibility, which typically requires a public and explicit commitment of the kind that even sincere coercers might prefer never to live up to. According to Schelling, “to take advantage of the usually superior credibility of the truth over a false assertion,” actors need to “make it true,” make an irrevocable, binding and “unambiguously visible” commitment.Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, chapter 2.
5 Schelling, Arms and Influence, 99-105.
7 On the ways in which coerced targets promote alternative explanations to irresolute behavior see: Danielle L. Lupton, Reputation for Resolve: How Leaders Signal Determination in International Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020).
8 George, Forceful Persuasion, 14.
9 Robert J. Art and Patrick M. Cronin The United States and Coercive Diplomacy (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2003) 3-20; According to Sechser, states typically issue coercive threats against considerably weaker adversaries, yet they often fail. See: Todd Sechser, “Goliath's Curse: Coercive Threats and Asymmetric Power,” International Organization 64, no. 4 (October 2010): 627-660.
10 Some exceptions include: Ivan Arreguín-Toft, “Unconventional Deterrence: How the Weak Deter the Strong,” in Complex Deterrence: Strategy in a Global Age, T.V. Paul, Patrick Morgan, and James Wirtz, eds. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 204-221; Kelly M. Greenhill, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010); Daniel Sobelman, “Learning to Deter: Deterrence Failure and Success in the Israel-Hezbollah Conflict, 2006-16,” International Security 41, no. 4 (Winter 2016/17): 151-196.
11 Daniel Sobelman, New Rules of the Game: Israel and Hizbollah After the Withdrawal from Lebanon (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2004).
12 Sobelman, “Learning to Deter: Deterrence Failure and Success in the Israel-Hezbollah Conflict, 2006-16.”
14 Frederic C. Hof, “Parting the Seas: Maritime Mediation between Lebanon and Israel,” New Lines Magazine, December 4, 2020. According to Hof, “Lebanon never provided a clear and official response; never a yes or no.” Author email correspondence with Frederic Hof, December 1, 2022. See also: Jean Aziz, “What's Delaying Gas Exploration in Lebanon?,” Al-Monitor, July 15, 2015; According to Nasrallah, Lebanon officially rejected Hof's “unfair” compromise. See: Al-Manar, October 29, 2022.
15 David Schenker, “Israel Falls for Lebanon's Treaty Bait-and-Switch,” Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2022.
16 “Lebanon Economic Monitor, Fall 2021: The Great Denial,” Lebanon Economic Monitor, The World Bank, January 24, 2022.
17 “Beirut Marks an Awful Anniversary with More Disaster,” Economist, August 4, 2022.
18 Nicholas Blanford, “Lebanon-Israel Maritime Border Dispute Picks Up Again,” Atlantic Council, June 16, 2022.
19 Dani Zaken, “Ministry of Energy: We Shall Not Negotiate with Lebanon Over Karish and Tanin Gas Fields,” Globes, November 1, 2020.
20 Dov Lieber and Chao Deng, “EU Signs Gas Deal With Israel, Egypt in Bid to Wean Itself off Russian Supplies,” Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2022.
21 “Response to Hochstein's Proposal Does Not Shut Door on the Negotiations,” Al-Akhbar, June 9, 2022.
22 “Energean Floating Gas Production Rig Docks in Israeli Waters,” Jerusalem Post, June 5, 2022.
23 “Lebanon Warns Against Any Israeli ‘Aggression’ in Disputed Waters,” Reuters, June 5, 2022.
24 “Joint Statement by FM Lapid, MOD Gantz, and Minister of Energy Elharar Regarding the ‘Karish’ Rig,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 8, 2022.
25 Al-Manar, June 9, 2022.
28 Al-Manar, June 9, 2022.
29 Mayssam Rizk, “Latest American Message: Committed to Negotiations, Not Interested in Escalation,” Al-Akhbar, July 6, 2022, and Yossi Yehoshua, “IDF Intercepted Another Hezbollah Unmanned Aerial Vehicle,” Yediot Aharonoth, July 7, 2022.
30 Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
31 Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
32 “Hezbollah Sends Drones toward Israeli Gas Rig in Disputed Waters,” Reuters, July 2, 2022.
33 Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
34 Ibrahim al-Amin, “Nasrallah Declares War on the Starvation of Lebanon: Lebanon's Rights in Exchange for all Energy in the Mediterranean,” Al-Akhbar, July 14, 2022.
35 “Hezbollah: the Drones Succeeded in their Mission and Delivered the Message,”Al-Mayadin, July 2, 2022.
36 Amir Bohbot, Walla!, July 3, 2022.
37 In Israel, Hezbollah's drone operation was reported in the banner headlines of the leading newspapers.
38 According to one military affairs correspondent, the IDF went into high alert in June, Yossi Yehoshua, “Negotiations are Stuck, Alert is Heightened,” Yediot Aharonot, October 7, 2022; Roi Sharon, “Following the Agreement: IDF Stands Down from High State of Alert on Northern Border,” Kan 11, October 28, 2022.
39 Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
42 Once again putting pressure on Lebanon and Hezbollah itself, Nasrallah said: “If this period ends without Lebanon receiving its rights, the issue will be extremely difficult. In terms of obtaining our rights, then once production of oil and gas from Karish begins, the cost would be higher…which is why I said in the previous speech that time is short—short—and running out. But I did not set a specific timeframe. The Israelis, however, are saying—everyone is saying—that the production of oil and gas from Karish will take place in September. So, this is the timeframe.” Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
43 Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
44 Al-Manar, July 13, 2006.
45 Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
46 Al-Manar, July 13, 2006.
47 Al-Manar, July 13, 2022.
48 “The Forty Interview,” Al-Mayadin, July 25, 2022.
49 Ibrahim al-Amin, “Nasrallah Declares War on the Starvation of Lebanon: Lebanon's Rights in Exchange for all Energy in the Mediterranean,” Al-Akhbar, July 14, 2022.
51 Lilach Shoval, “The Message to the United States: Prevent Escalation Through Negotiations With Lebanon,” Israel Hayom, July 19, 2022; Nir Dvori, “The Tension Regarding Karish Floating Rig: The Message to Lebanon and the Solution Proposed in Closed Meetings,” N12, July 20, 2022.
52 “Resistance Seizes on Historic Moment to Rescue Lebanon; Nasrallah: No War if Israel Relents,” Al-Akhbar, July 20, 2022.
53 Al-Mayadin, July 25, 2022.
54 Al-Ahd, July 31, 2022.
55 Al-Manar, July 31, 2022.
56 “Al-Shaykh Qawuq: If the Enemy Knew What the Resistance Has Prepared for the Israeli Strategic Infrastructure it Would Not Sleep at Night,” Al-Manar, August 4, 2022.
57 “Sheikh Qawuq: Resistance is Ready, Prepared and Set to Implement its Threats,” Al-Ahd, August 8, 2022.
58 Ibrahim al-Amin, “The Last Opportunity,” Al-Akhbar, August 9, 2022.
59 Al-Manar, August 9, 2022.
60 “The Resistance Fighters to Nasrallah: We are Prepared ‘on the Borders’,” Al-Akhbar, August 9, 2022.
61 Al-Manar, August 19, 2022.
62 Barak Ravid, “Security Establishment Chiefs: Without Agreement with Lebanon Escalation Could Take Place with Hezbollah,” Walla!, August 3, 2022.
63 Amos Yadlin Twitter account, August 21, 2022.
64 Amir Bohbot, “Despite Hezbollah's Threats: IDF Permits Karish Operators to Pump Gas from the Sea,” Walla!, September 6, 2022.
65 “Israel Unprepared for Imminent Agreement, Freezes Extraction from Karish: Hochstein Carries ‘Lapid Deposit’,” Ibrahim al-Amin, Al-Akhbar, September 9, 2022.
66 “Readout of President Joe Biden's Call with Prime Minister Yair Lapid of Israel,” The White House, August 31, 2022. The absence of any mention of the topic in the Israeli readout following Biden's conversation with Lapid likely reflected Israel's desire to prevent the perception of having been pressured to reach an agreement.
67 Dani Zaken, “The Gas Agreement with Lebanon: Not All the Security Leadership Supports. What Are Opponents Claiming?,” Globes, October 11, 2022.
68 Dani Zaken, “The Gas Agreement with Lebanon.”
69 Ben Caspit, “Against the Backdrop of U.S. Mediator's Return: Gas Extraction from Karish Will Be Postponed,” Maariv, September 8, 2022.
70 Dani Zaken, “Despite Pressures and Threats: Energean Preparing to Start Gas Extraction from ‘Karish’,” Globes, September 9, 2022.
71 Tamir Morag and Ariel Kahana, “Senior Political Sources in Message to Nasrallah: ‘Karish Rig Shall Be Operated as Planned, Hezbollah Would Be Making Very Big Miscalculation if it Attacked,” Israel Hayom, September 11, 2022.
72 Moriah Asraf Wolberg, “The Battle Over Gas: Mediator Will Submit to Lebanon Last Proposal in Upcoming Days,” Reshet 13, September 16, 2022.
73 Dani Zaken, “Ahead of Gas Flow from Karish Rig: Indirect Messaging Between Israel and Hezbollah,” Globes, September 18, 2022.
74 Al-Manar, September 17, 2022. “September has come, and they announced that they have delayed gas extraction from Karish. Good. Was the reason for the postponement is technical, security, political? It doesn't matter. For us it doesn't matter. What does matter is that gas extraction from the disputed Karish gas field does not take place before the maritime borders are delineated and before Lebanon receives its just demands. Whether this takes place in September or later, no problem. But this is the equation.”
75 Al-Manar, September 17, 2022.
76 Al-Manar, October 29, 2022.
77 Al-Manar, October 11, 2022. Nasrallah further noted in a later address, that the Israelis “also saw the events in the field, namely that the resistance had genuinely begun to prepare for an all-out war. The Israelis followed this, and all the Lebanese intelligence agencies saw this.” See: Al-Manar, October 29, 2022.
78 Aaron Boxerman and Shayndi Raice, “Israel, Lebanon Sign Maritime Border Deal That Will Allow for Gas Extraction,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2022.
79 According to the reporter Guy Peleg, Israel's National Security Council and Foreign Ministry shared a similar view to that of the IDF and the IDF intelligence, Channel 12, October 2, 2022.
80 “Topic: Agreement on Delineation of Northern Maritime Boundary,” Office of the Attorney General, Knesset, October 11, 2022.
81 “Energean Begins Gas Flow Testing at Karish Field,” Reuters, October 9, 2022.
82 Jonathan Lis and Israel Fisher, “Israel Prepares for Escalation in the North Ahead of Gas Test in Karish Tomorrow,” Haaretz, October 9, 2022.
83 Nasrallah noted that in recent months, Hezbollah's commanders and military apparatus “worked night and day so that we are prepared to take action, so that we are prepared for the expected response from the enemy, so that we are prepared for what is more far-reaching and more dangerous.” Al-Manar, October 11, 2022.
84 Al-Manar, October 11, 2022.
85 “Israel Grants Energean Permission to Start Production at Offshore Karish Gas Field,” Reuters, October 25, 2022; Steven Scheer, “Energean Starts Gas Production at Israel's Karish Site,” Reuters, October 26, 2022.
86 “Isabel Kershner, Israeli-Lebanese Maritime Deal Marks a Milestone, with Limitations,” New York Times, October 27, 2022.
87 Al-Manar, October 27, 2022.
88 Importantly, President Aoun was about to reach the end of his six-year tenure without the Lebanese political parties having been able to agree on a successor, thereby leaving the country without a president. See: Maya Gebeily and Laila Bassam, “Aoun's Presidency Ends Leaving Power Vacuum in Crisis-Hit Lebanon,” Reuters, October 30, 2022.
89 “Al-Shaykh Naim Qasim: America Exerted Pressure on the Zionists, Knowing They Were Unable to Wage War, Resistance is Essential, Presidential Void Must Be Filled,” Al-Manar, November 7, 2022.
90 Daniel Sobelman, “Re-Conceptualizing Triangular Coercion in International Relations,” Cooperation and Conflict, August 2022.
91 As noted by retired IDF Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, former Israeli National Security Adviser, it is not clear whether the final agreement “was a result of an American decision to have Israel make concessions” due to Washington's “failure” to influence Lebanon and Hezbollah, or “whether the US position reflected an Israeli decision to completely surrender for the sake of an agreement.” Yaakov Amidror, The Maritime Border Agreement with Lebanon, The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, November 1, 2022.
92 “Re: Agreement on Delineation of Northern Maritime Boundary,” Office of the Attorney General, Knesset, October 11, 2022.
94 Yaron Schneider, interview with former National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, Institute for National Security Studies 16th Annual Conference, YouTube, March 2, 2023.
95 Tamir Heiman Twitter account, December 22, 2022.
96 For instance, Lapid's office claimed, “The production of gas from the Karish rig is not connected to these negotiations, and the production of gas from the rig will commence without delay, as soon as it is possible.” See: “Statement on negotiations with Lebanon,” Prime Minister's Office, September 19, 2022. See also, Nir Dvori, “On the Brink of an Agreement: Israeli and Lebanese Governments Will Convene Next Week to Ratify Maritime Border Outline,” N12, October 1, 2022, and Ariel Kahana, “Who is Responsible for Delay in Gas Production? Karish Rig May Begin Working Already Tomorrow, Battle of Versions Between the State and Energean,” Israel Hayom, October 8, 2022.
97 “Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Israel-Lebanon Maritime Agreement,” The White House, October 11, 2022. The “importance of this agreement,” the senior official added, was that it “prevents conflict and puts in place incentives for each side to develop its interests side by side.”
98 Yonit Levi, “Special Interview with U.S. Mediator Amos Hochstein: ‘This Deal Has Tremendous Importance’,” Channel 12, October 13, 2022.
99 “Prime Minister Lapid's Statements to the Media on the Maritime Agreement with Lebanon,” Israeli Prime Minister's Office, October 12, 2022.
100 Brig. Gen. Amit Saar's presentation at Gazit Institute Winter Conference, IDF website, December 7, 2022.
101 Al-Manar, October 29, 2022.
102 Jonathan Lis and Ben Samuels, “Israel and Lebanon Officially Sign Maritime Border Deal,” Haaretz, October 27. 2022.
103 David Sheppard, Israel's First Crude Oil Exports to Start from Energean Project, Financial Times, February 13, 2022.
104 Nasrallah's Speech on the Annual Commemoration of the Martyred Commanders, Al-Manar, February 16, 2023.
105 Further on this concept, see: Gilad Raik, The Diplomatic Maneuver: A Winning Strategy to Sustain Israel's Cold Wars with Hamas and Hezbollah, Harvard Kenney School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Recanati-Kaplan Fellowship Series, August 2016, 1-20.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Sobelman D. Hezbollah’s Coercion and the Israel-Lebanon Maritime Deal. Middle East Policy XXX, no. 2 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1111/mepo.12689
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