The head of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah articulated his firm opposition to the Israeli-born Jewish American envoy, Amos Hochstein, as a mediator in maritime negotiations between Lebanon and Israel.
Hezbollah terror chief, Hassan Nasrallah, mocked the U.S. envoy’s Jewish-sounding name in an apparent anti-Semitic statement.
“I am saying to the Lebanese state: If you want to continue negotiating, go ahead, but not in Naqoura, and not with Hochstein, Frankenstein, or any other Stein coming to Lebanon,” declared Nasrallah.
“The path of negotiations, and especially via the conspiring, collaborating, and dishonest American broker who supports Israel, will not lead us to any results,” added the Hezbollah chief.
Large deposits of natural gas reportedly exist in the disputed maritime territory between Lebanon and Israel. While both countries are eyeing the valuable deposits, they could have a particularly dramatic impact in potentially reversing Lebanon’s severe economic crisis. In June 2021, the World Bank declared the Lebanese socio-economic crisis as one of the world’s worst in the last 150 years.
Lebanon and Israel are technically still at war since Lebanon reluctantly joined the Arab military coalition against the nascent Jewish state in 1948. However, Lebanon’s fate has largely been decided by outside actors such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Syria and, today, Iran which backs its loyal Lebanese-based terror proxy Hezbollah at the expense of the Lebanese people’s wellbeing.
In October 2020, Washington announced “historic” maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel. At the time, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the news.
“This offers the potential for greater stability, security, and prosperity for citizens in both nations,” stated Pompeo in a tweet. The former secretary of state stressed the unprecedented talks as “the fruit of relentless diplomatic efforts that lasted about three years.”
U.S. envoy Hochstein, who was born in Israel to American parents, moved to the U.S. and joined the State Department in 2011. Hochstein previously served as an International Energy Affairs envoy for the former Obama administration and joined the Biden administration in 2021. Hochstein is no stranger to the Middle East, having previously assisted in coordinating energy and security issues with regional players such as Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Unlike Hezbollah, Lebanon has not questioned Hochstein’s professionalism or impartiality. During a visit to the Lebanese capital Beirut in February 2022, Hochstein urged the Lebanese government to resolve its maritime dispute with the Jewish state. At the time, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon stressed that “an agreement on the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel could create a much-needed opportunity to achieve prosperity for Lebanon’s future.”
The official Lebanese response was in favor of Hochstein during his February visit. In an interview with the Lebanese paper Al Joumhouria, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib said Hochstein had delivered “positive proposals that can be built upon.”
However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun had reportedly asked the U.S. envoy to deliver the proposal in writing so the Lebanese government could formally respond to it.
Meanwhile, the severity of the Lebanese economic crisis is deepening. During a TV interview in April, Lebanese Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh al-Shami declared the country bankrupt.
“The state has gone bankrupt, as did the Banque du Liban, and the loss has occurred, and we will seek to reduce losses for the people,” al-Shami told the local TV channel, Al-Jadeed.
Most of Lebanon would likely support a resolution of the maritime dispute with Israel, especially if it would benefit the increasingly impoverished Lebanese society. However, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which is widely considered the most powerful player in Lebanon, remains ideologically opposed to the very existence of the Jewish state.