July 7, 2022 | Policy Brief

Hezbollah Drones Target Israeli Gas Rigs, Amplify U.S. Pressure on Israel

July 7, 2022 | Policy Brief

Hezbollah Drones Target Israeli Gas Rigs, Amplify U.S. Pressure on Israel

The Israeli military last week shot down three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah had launched toward one of Israel’s offshore rigs at the Karish gas field. The purpose of the attack was to pressure Israel into concluding an agreement to delineate its maritime border with Lebanon, thus enabling Beirut to tap its potential offshore natural gas reserves.

The Israeli government portrayed the UAV attack as a Hezbollah gambit aimed at “undermining Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime border” with Israel. This is backwards. Hezbollah has been the principal interlocutor in these negotiations, indirectly, since the beginning. Furthermore, as the dominant actor in the Lebanese system, it stands to benefit from an agreement that lets Beirut start producing gas, thereby turning Hezbollah into a player in Eastern Mediterranean energy.

Neither Republican nor Democratic administrations in Washington recognize a fundamental fact: The distinction between Hezbollah and the so-called Lebanese state is artificial. Thus, the Biden administration, like its predecessor, wants to clinch a maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon, with the explicit purpose of encouraging investment in “southern Lebanon” and allowing Lebanon to generate revenues.

Hezbollah knows the score, so it is playing its cards more effectively. In a statement taking responsibility for the UAV attack, Hezbollah underscored that the drones were unarmed but were intended to deliver a message to Israel. Specifically, the group has threatened to disrupt any commercial activity in the Karish field until the Jewish state concedes to Lebanon all of the so-called “Qana” prospective field, even though it protrudes well into Israel’s exclusive economic zone.

Such threats are designed to assist Washington in pressing for concessions from the Israelis, especially as the Biden administration has taken the posture of a neutral broker between the Israelis and Lebanese. The U.S. energy envoy, Amos Hochstein, reportedly offered in February a serpentine line that would grant Lebanon the majority of the Qana prospect. Supposedly, the remaining section would be exploited jointly, thereby entangling Israel in a de facto partnership with Hezbollah.

The Lebanese made clear they had no interest in such an arrangement, which Hezbollah clarified would be tantamount to normalization with the Jewish state. The border talks stalled. In the meantime, Israel proceeded with plans to begin extraction at the Karish field, where a floating production rig arrived in June and is set to begin operations in September.

Against this backdrop, Hezbollah moved to manufacture a crisis and bring Hochstein back to Beirut by threatening to disrupt operations at Karish. Sure enough, Hochstein rushed back and received Lebanon’s terms.

In Israel, Hochstein leveraged Hezbollah’s threat to push the Israelis toward a deal. Axios reported that Hochstein told the Israelis he is “concerned about a potential escalation” and wanted to take advantage of the “window of opportunity when both sides will have an incentive to get a deal and avoid a flare-up.”

Hezbollah intended its drone attack to reinforce the air of crisis that Hochstein cites as a reason for Israel to come to terms with Beirut by September. Israel’s response — condemning Hezbollah for attempting to disrupt maritime border talks while reaffirming their desire for a deal that would help Lebanon — suggests its leaders misunderstand the group’s motives and its dance with the U.S. administration.

There are many in Washington who proceed under the delusion that there is a meaningful separation politically, economically, or diplomatically between Hezbollah and the Lebanese “state.” For many years, Israel resisted this fiction, which it rightly saw as dangerous. Now it seems that a desperate caretaker government has decided to embrace those DC delusions and specifically the push for a maritime border agreement.

That should not change the calculation for U.S. lawmakers who see things clearly. They should challenge the administration’s efforts to cajole Israel’s pliant caretaker government into a deal that benefits Hezbollah at the expense of both U.S. and Israeli interests.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Israel Program. For more analysis from Tony and the Israel Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Tony on Twitter @AcrossTheBay. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Hezbollah Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Lebanon