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Will Israel Expand Its War into Lebanon? Rami Khouri on Netanyahu’s Latest Threats

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that the Israeli military plans to shift its focus to Lebanon, from where attacks on Israel by Hezbollah have escalated in recent months. “The Lebanon-Israel border is more dangerous than ever because of the capabilities that Hezbollah has,” says Palestinian American journalist Rami Khouri. He explains how the balance of power has shifted in the region, but warns of the potentially “devastating” effects of a full-scale war in Lebanon. Khouri adds, “We’ve passed the point where Israel and the U.S. dominate the strategic realities, military realities, in the Middle East.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has arrived in Washington, D.C., where he’s expected to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others. They’re expected to discuss the situation in Gaza, as well as Lebanon, where fear is growing that fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could escalate. On Sunday, Netanyahu said the Israeli military will soon shift its focus to Lebanon. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres spoke Friday.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The risk for the conflict in the Middle East to widen is real and must be avoided. One rash move, one miscalculation could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border and, frankly, beyond imagination. Let’s be clear: The people of the region and the people of the world cannot afford Lebanon to become another Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Rami Khouri, Palestinian American journalist, senior public policy fellow at the American University of Beirut. He’s also a nonresident senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Rami. So, can you explain what exactly Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu means when he says they are finishing up their operations in Gaza and shifting to Lebanon to take on Hezbollah?

RAMI KHOURI: It means that he’s really trying to find a new political format that he can present to the seven, eight different political audiences that he is addressing simultaneously, in Israel, in the United States, in Palestine and all around the world. Netanyahu is, above all, a multitalented political entertainer, but he’s a successful one. He’s been the longest-serving prime minister, I think, ever in Israel. And he does it by constantly juggling different audiences.

But he’s got himself into a corner now. And the pronouncement he made about the Gaza fighting is almost over, we’re going to shift to Lebanon now, that doesn’t — you can’t take that at face value. It just is a kind of a notional idea that Hezbollah and Lebanon are important, we’ve got to pay attention to them. They always have. Since the last 18 years, they’ve done that. But the Gaza situation is not over. The political contest, the military contest and the contest of wills is not over, because it’s not only manifested in Gaza — the Gaza-Hamas-Palestine versus Israel conflict, or versus Israel and the U.S., because they’re really a joint team, the U.S. and Israel, in carrying out this genocidal attack. That contest is expressed in politics within the United States, electoral coalitions, public activism, legal cases, and so many arenas now around the world, and inside Israel, you have five or six different constituencies that are battling to get Netanyahu to pursue policies that they like, whether it’s to release the hostages, end the war, find a peace agreement one day, whatever.

So, this is what he’s doing. He’s just juggling all of these different constituencies. And he can’t really do it anymore, because he’s been exposed. The weaknesses of Israel have been exposed. The weaknesses of the Israeli-American military alliance and diplomatic tandem have been badly exposed as ineffective. Anywhere the U.S. and Israel have worked together militarily, diplomatically and politically in the last few years, whether it’s in Palestine or in Lebanon or elsewhere, they have really not achieved their strategic goals.

And this is probably just an inevitability that had to happen at some point, when Israel could no longer conduct its policies as it has for almost a century, since Zionism started in 1917 until now. For a century, Israel has done very well in convincing the world that it is a moral force, it needs to be protected, etc., and it has succeeded. But it’s done that by camouflaging the realities of what it does and denying the Palestinians a voice in the global political sphere. Those periods are over, and now the Palestinians are speaking out everywhere. There are political activism efforts with partners all over the world, legal groups, political groups, student groups, union groups, church groups, Jewish progressive groups. So, this is where Netanyahu is trying to juggle the different balls that he’s got to keep in the air at the same time.

And it’s extraordinary that his own military command is at odds with him, his own coalition partners are at odds with him, and the U.S., his biggest supporter, is at odds with him. So, we have to not take what Netanyahu says at face value, but understand it as a reflection of his self-produced painting himself into a corner.

And what the Israelis usually do in a situation like this is they talk about antisemitism, the Holocaust, the people who want to kill Jews all over the world, evil people in the Arab region, whether it’s — you know, used to be Saddam Hussein or ISIS, or now it’s Hamas. And they keep finding evil people. And they talk — and then they do military action. They’re very good at destroying things with their military force. They’re very bad at resolving the political underlying tensions that give rise to the militarism.

And Lebanon is also now an unprecedented new situation, where the technical capabilities that Hezbollah has shown — over the last three, four years, it’s shown what it can do technically, militarily. But in the last four or five days, by releasing these videos of its surveillance drones and things like that, it is showing that the Lebanon-Israel border is more dangerous than ever because of the capabilities that Hezbollah has. If there were to be a full-scale war, which I still doubt — I think there’s going to be limited skirmishes along the border — but the consequences of a full-scale war would be just devastating, for power plants, you know, even the airports, or whatever, ports. And Hezbollah showed aerial photos of the gas extraction positions that Israel has in the eastern Mediterranean. And so, the message it’s sending is: You don’t want to get into a full-scale war with us — to the Israelis. And so, we have to just really see how this plays out. Not surprisingly, the Americans have taken the diplomatic lead and have not succeeded.

AMY GOODMAN: Rami, if you can talk more about this video which Hezbollah titled “To Whom It May Concern”? They released it on June 22nd, featuring coordinates of sensitive and vital Israeli targets that would be struck in the event of a war against Lebanon, marking the second such warning within less than a week, the video beginning with a clip from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, where he warns the Lebanese resistance will fight without limits, rules or restraints if Israel wages a war against Lebanon. The video beginning with a clip — the video begins with a clip that — of Nasrallah, the targets, as you said, including sensitive targets in Haifa, in Ashdod, the Hadera power station, the Ramat David military airport, the Ben Gurion Airport, as well as the Dimona nuclear reactor. Talk more about the significance of this and why you think, actually, it will not come to this.

RAMI KHOURI: Well, there are several really significant things about this. First of all, it shows the technical capabilities that Hezbollah has of evading the Israeli-American very sophisticated defensive system and getting through, taking photographs and coming back.

Second of all, it’s important because it clarifies to the Israelis and the Americans, who are really their partners in Middle East warfare and aggression — it clarifies to them that the consequences of a war are not going to be defined only by what Israel decides to do. Historically, Israel was more powerful, whether it’s with Hezbollah or Hamas or somebody else, and they could start and end the war whenever it wanted. That’s no longer the case, as we see in Gaza.

And third of all, I think the third and most important message is the fact that the strategic balance between not just Hezbollah and Israel, but between all of the forces in the region that are close to Hezbollah, close to Iran, close to Hamas, close to the vast majority of Arab citizens — probably 80, 90% of Arab citizens around the region are sympathetic to what Hezbollah and Hamas are doing in resisting Israel. The message is that this power that they have generated, technological and military power, is now on display, and the Israelis should take it seriously.

What it also tells us, should tell the Israelis and the Americans, if they’re listening, but they tend to listen but really not understand what’s being said — the message is that if Hezbollah has these capabilities, you can be pretty sure that its friends and allies all around the region have either the same or something similar, and/or Iran will come and help them develop it soon, or Hezbollah will help them develop it soon. So, we passed — about two years ago, we passed the point where Israel and the U.S. dominated the strategic realities, military realities, in the Middle East, certainly in the Levant area. And now there is this uncertain picture. And the Israelis have learned huge lessons, or should have learned, in Gaza of what they can and cannot do militarily. The Americans are still trying to figure this out.

And Lebanon is now the next immediate cause of concern. But it’s not so immediate only because Netanyahu said, “We’re looking at Lebanon now.” It’s because for the last 10 years, the Israelis have repeatedly said that Hezbollah is their main strategic concern in the region. Hamas, they always thought they could contain or destroy or whatever. But Hezbollah is a much —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds, Rami.

RAMI KHOURI: Hezbollah is much more formidable, and the Israelis have always realized that, and therefore, they are now trying to focus on it, but with nothing new to deal with the new realities. And this is one of the great dilemmas that all of us have to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Rami Khouri, Palestinian American journalist, senior public policy fellow at American University of Beirut, also nonresident senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC.

We go now to Gaza to speak with the award-winning Palestinian journalist and human rights advocate Maha Hussaini, as International Women’s Media Foundation is under fire for rescinding its Courage in Journalism Award to her. Back in 20 seconds.

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Meet Maha Hussaini, Gaza Journalist Whose Courage Award Was Rescinded After Pro-Israel Smear Campaign

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