The negotiations with Hamas and Hezbollah – back and forth

Najib Mikati. Wikipedia, Monika Flueckiger

Yesterday, the high friction on the Lebanese border continued at full intensity when Hezbollah launched no less than 30 rockets at Kiryat Shmonah. Israel’s defence systems succeeded in intercepting most of the rockets, and the rest fell in empty areas. In response, the Air Force launched a series of air strikes on 6 targets in southern Lebanon, including launch sites and operational headquarters. “Hezbollah is bringing us closer to a point where we will have to make a decision about what we are doing,” Defense Minister Galant said in a conversation with soldiers yesterday, “and we have the highest task of bringing the residents home. We will bring them home either in an acceptable agreement, or by means of war.”

Between the exchange of blows, US special negotiator Amos Hochstein ended a skipping tour between Beirut and Jerusalem, in which he met with the leaders of Lebanon and Israel in order to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikathi expressed a principled concession to an agreement that would include the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 (Hezbollah’s withdrawal behind the Litani River, far from the Israeli border), but Hezbollah stressed that it would not advance to a political settlement without the end of the war in Gaza. Israel explained to Hochstein that it had not yet given up on the prospect of a settlement that would not include war, but the connectivity between the wars in the north and south is unacceptable.

And on the Gaza front, the negotiations have reached a completely dead end, which lowers the chances of a prisoner exchange deal involving a long ceasefire during the month of Ramadan. In the United States, senior administration officials and president Biden blame Hamas for its insistence against legitimate demands (such as a list of the hostages), blocking the chances of a deal. For Israel, this is a diplomatic victory, as the legitimacy for the continuation of the war has not been compromised, but also a security challenge, since the war in the month of Ramadan could add tensions in other arenas. In addition, without a deal, Israel will be able to operate in Rafah despite international criticism, as Minister Gantz made clear yesterday on his visit to Washington: “Ending the war without discharging Rafah is like sending firefighters to extinguish 80% of the fire.” And Israel has come to extinguish this fire once and for all.

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