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Israeli foreign policy expert discusses the Middle East

By Tate Herbert
On March 26, 2012

Ehud Eiran Ph.D. '10, Israeli foreign policy expert and Post-doctoral Fellow in International Relations at Haifa University, spoke and hosted a discussion on the challenge of relations between Israel and Lebanon on Thursday afternoon at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.

The event was cosponsored by the Schusterman Center and Brandeis' Department of Politics as the latest installment in Schusterman's Spring Speaker Series.

Eiran's presentation, titled "Our Test Grows Out of Their Weakness: Israel and the Security Challenge of the Feeble Lebanese State 1968-2000," examined the security threat of weak states, focusing on Israel's past relations with, and policy toward, the unstable neighboring country of Lebanon.

He also framed the discussion in the context of the recent "Arab Spring," which gave rise to many new weak governments in the region.

Within the time frame of his topic, Lebanon was the only unstable country in the region, but now many others also pose a threat to Israel. "In a way, we are almost back in the [1950s], where the neighboring countries are unstable," said Eiran. "We tend to think of the Middle East as an unstable environment, but if you look closely, from the early 70s, the Arab state system ... was generally stable and did not seriously challenge Israel," said Eiran.

"Part of the challenge Israel may face is not the strength, or the renewed energy, of these regimes, but rather their weakness," he explained. States' weaknesses confront Israel with the challenge of defending itself from an abstract, decentralized enemy, according to Eiran.

Unstable countries in general are also more likely to go to war and cannot effectively control people within their borders.

Eiran repeatedly referred to the terrorist organization and political force Hezbollah as an example of this, which he called "a major player in Lebanon."

Eiran explained that Lebanon's weak authority is partly due to a lack of recognition given to the Lebanese state by its own people, or what he termed an internal "legitimacy gap."

According to Eiran, Lebanon's government representation, according to their constitution, is based partly on the religions of the demographics. However, that data is from 1932, when the majority of the population was Christian. Now, Muslims make up the majority.

Lebanon's struggles can also be attributed to its long history of conflict and civil war (including the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990), said Eiran. "As we all know, the Mideast is an area where memories play an important part," he said.

Challenges to Israel include attacks from the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hezbollah, which uses Lebanon as a base, indirect fire from conflicts within Lebanon and drugs filtering through the Lebanese border-something that Eiran described as "an ongoing problem that is far from being resolved."

Israel has responded to these threats in part with counter-attacks, which were met with little success. Israel "quickly realized the problem is not the state, but the non-state actors," said Eiran. Other strategies over the years have been invasion of Lebanon and the instrumentation of a regime change, establishing local militia along the border and the installment of a fence.

However, said Eiran, these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. "This episode ends with Israel being haunted by the same problems that haunt the Lebanese state," he said. Eiran emphasized that Lebanon's nature as a weak state that was home to "numerous groups with different ideologies" made the challenge especially complicated. Lebanon is "a country of constantly shifting alliances," said Eiran.

Eiran concluded the discussion with a question-and-answer session with the audience.  

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