Lebanese Political Crisis: Opportunity for Regional Cooperation

Hizbullah has pledged a new push to topple the Siniora government. The perception that Iranian influence lies behind the actions presents a window of opportunity for cooperation between Israel and certain Arab states.
Lebanon's opposition headed by Hizbullah has pledged a new push to topple the Siniora government after a week of street protests demanding reform (AFP 12/7/06).

The Reut Institute contends that the perception that Iranian influence lies behind the current Hizbullah actions in Lebanon presents a window of opportunity for cooperation between Israel and certain Arab states.

What is the Issue?

  • Arab and Lebanese leaders blame Iran for encouraging Hizbullah to undermine the government headed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

  • Due to this perception, Arab actors - such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan -have tried to bolster Siniora and ensure that his government survives.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

  • Iran's involvement in Lebanon is only one case in which Iran cooperates in a Resistance Network with actors such as Syria and Hizbullah for the purpose of expanding its influence and subverting its enemies (see "Battle for Control by the Resistance Network").

  • Iran's strategy threatens Arab regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other Gulf states.

  • Israel is also threatened by the Resistance Network since it prevents, through terrorism, any military or diplomatic progress towards Israel's secure existence (see "Terror is an Existential Threat").

  • Therefore, combating the threat of the Resistance Network is a common interest of both Israel and the aforementioned Arab states.

Hence, a window of opportunity has opened for regional cooperation between Israel and certain Arab states to combat the Resistance Network.

Policy Options

To address the systemic threat posed by the Resistance Network, Israel will need a systemic approach that requires cooperation with multiple actors, including Arab states.

Currently, the most significant obstacle to cooperation with Arab states is the deep-rooted antagonism towards Israel that exists in the Arab world (see "How to Deal with the Bear-Hug Paradox").

However, Israel could pursue quiet, behind-the-scenes strategic cooperation based on common goals of regional stability and reduction of Iranian influence.

To encourage such cooperation, Israel could bring a political package to the Arab states that would provide incentives for cooperation. Such a package could include:

  • Security cooperation - Israel can offer expanded behind-the-scenes security cooperation on issues such as counter-terrorism and intelligence.

  • Increased Arab involvement in political processes - Israel can accept an enhanced role for Arab states as mediators in regional political processes, particularly in the Palestinian arena.

    The more Israel shows willingness and flexibility, the more likely it is that cooperation could be established. The first stage could be revision of Israel's official position towards the Saudi Initiative (see "Arab Peace Initiative").

  • Include the US in a political package - Israel can seek Arab cooperation based on incentives the US may provide in the framework of the political package of the US withdrawal from Iraq.

  • Economic package - Israel can offer economic incentives to Arab states such as increased trade. Expanding and/or upgrading the model of Qualified Industrial Zones in Jordan and Egypt are examples of such an incentive.