Edition 33 Volume 5 - August 23, 2024

War in Lebanon: one year later

An Israeli perspective -   Yehuda Ben Meir

Next time, Nasrallah won't be able to claim he never imagined Israel would respond so violently.

Still no easy fix -   Ferry Biederman

The internal Lebanese crisis cannot be seen in isolation from the regional situation.

UNIFIL II - A year after -   Timur Goksel

UNIFIL, for all its impressive weaponry, will not get involved in any military confrontation with Hizballah.

What Syria learned from the war -   Murhaf Jouejati

The ramifications for Syrian-Israeli relations are rather ominous.

An Israeli perspective
 Yehuda Ben Meir

One year has passed since the end of the Second Lebanon War. It is far too early to determine the long range effects and consequences of this war on Israel. Nevertheless, one year does give us a perspective from which we can derive some initial observations regarding the results of the war from the Israeli standpoint, both objectively and subjectively.

Any analysis of the war, as far as Israel is concerned, must indeed differentiate between the objective and subjective point of view. The subjective result of the war, i.e., the way Israelis view the war, is relatively easy to determine. As with beauty, victory or defeat is to a large degree in the eyes of the beholder and perceptions have a reality of their own. As will be demonstrated below, Israelis by and large were unhappy with the results of the war, although as time goes by this picture may be changing slightly.

At the same time, there is a need to assess the results of the war from an objective perspective. Such an assessment is far more difficult and will inevitably be a subject of contention and controversy. Although the conflict was clearly triggered by Hizballah, it was Israel that decided to respond with a major military operation. It is therefore essential to understand what Israel's goals were in initiating such a major military action.

Israel's war goals are a subject of great controversy and debate in Israel. Many claim that Israel's political leadership never properly defined the political and military goals of the Second Lebanon War. Indeed, this conclusion is one of the most serious accusations made by the Winograd commission of inquiry. Others claim that the major failure of the Israeli government was that it formulated and presented to the Israeli public totally unrealistic goals for the war, such as the return of the kidnapped soldiers or the destruction of Hizballah.

An examination of some of the statements made by Israel's leaders, and specifically those made by the prime minister and minister of defense, give credence to the latter claim. Indeed, PM Ehud Olmert, in his testimony before the Winograd commission, said that sometimes a leader must publicly espouse certain goals even though they are unattainable.

Be that as it may, what were the realistic goals for Israel's military action and to what degree were these goals achieved? In retrospect, one can identify two clearly defined goals, the achievement of which was the raison d'etre from Israel's standpoint for the Second Lebanon War. The first goal was to restore Israel's deterrent--a capability seriously eroded as a result of Israel's ineffectual response to Hizballah's provocations over the years as well as to the abduction, a few weeks earlier, of an Israeli soldier by Hamas near the Gaza border. While it would be almost impossible to retrieve the kidnapped soldiers by purely military means, the aim of Israel's military action was to prevent further abductions of Israeli soldiers by Hizballah. The second and essentially major goal was to bring about a basic change in the situation in southern Lebanon through implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the removal of Hizballah's provocative and threatening armed presence on Israel's northern border.

Based on the events of the past year and looking at the situation on the ground as of now, one can conclude objectively that these goals were to a large degree achieved. The very fact that Israel initiated large scale hostilities and in effect went to war in response to Hizballah's provocation in and of itself went a long way toward restoring Israel's deterrence capability. At the same time, the far from conclusive result of the war and the Israeli public's widespread dissatisfaction and disappointment with its outcome impaired Israel's deterrent. Nevertheless, the grave Syrian concern about a possible Israeli attack and the fact that Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah emphasizes repeatedly that he has no intention of causing a renewal of hostilities with Israel do seem to indicate that Israel projects a renewed deterrence posture.

Accordingly, the probability of another attempt by Hizballah to abduct Israeli soldiers or, indeed, of any incursion into sovereign Israeli territory in the near future is close to zero. Next time, Nasrallah won't be able to claim he never imagined Israel would respond so violently.

The major achievement of the war from Israel's point of view is no doubt the dramatic change in the situation on the ground in southern Lebanon and along Israel's northern border. For the first time in over 30 years, the Lebanese army has been deployed in southern Lebanon and has taken up positions along Israel's northern border. The introduction of thousands of armed UNIFIL troops, including sizable contingents from western European countries--France, Italy and Spain--does seem to be making a difference. Armed Hizballah soldiers are nowhere to be seen along Israel's border. The quiet and tranquility, concomitant with the increased sense of security and the tourist boom this summer throughout the Galilee, attest to this dramatic change and can be seen as a positive result of the war.

From the subjective point of view, the story is quite different and far less positive. In a study performed by INSS in March 2024, the Jewish public expressed mixed feelings regarding the results of the Second Lebanon War. Fifty-one percent believed that neither side won the war; the remainder was evenly divided, with 23 percent saying that Israel won and 26 percent that Hizballah won. At the same time, it should be noted that close to 70 percent justified the government's decision to go to war, although the vast majority believed that Israel should have continued the war until either Hizballah was destroyed or the abducted soldiers recovered.

Faith in the political leadership was seriously diminished as a result of the outcome of the war. However, confidence in the Israel Defense Forces remained high, with 83 percent saying that they can depend on the IDF to defend the country.

Only time will tell to what extent the objective and subjective points of view converge.- Published 23/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir, a former deputy foreign minister of Israel, is currently a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv.

Still no easy fix
 Ferry Biederman

The Shi'ites of South Lebanon and the Israelis should seek joint therapy for their unhealthy relationship. Their mutual resentment, distrust and geopolitics lead to new disasters every time. Hizballah is currently celebrating what it considers its victory in the war with Israel last year at an exhibition in Beirut's southern suburbs. Families with little kids stroll around the grounds, taking in displays that mingle gore, glitter and above all glory. The mood is elated but also determined because it seems as if every last woman, man and child expects a new war, much in the same way as so many Israelis are convinced that there will be a "next round".

Not that either the Israelis or the Lebanese are looking forward to a new period of bloodletting, destabilization, economic hardship and all the other consequences of conflict. But once again, Lebanon in particular seems to be caught up in a web of domestic, regional and international circumstances that is dragging the country inexorably toward a new abyss. Even if it is not be tipped into the void, just the incessant sense of crisis, which started well before last year's war, may well grind the country down to such an extent that serious questions about its sustainability will emerge again, as they did during the civil war.

The internal Lebanese crisis cannot and could never before be seen in isolation from the regional situation. Last year's war is being used by the various Lebanese factions to justify their domestic political positions. Hizballah has since the war been emphasizing that the US supports both Israel and the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The Shi'ite movement has to all effects and purposes accused the ruling anti-Syrian majority of treason, of having engineered or extended the war and of being an American puppet. Now that both sides are gearing up for the immensely important and controversial vote in Parliament to choose a new president later this fall, Hizballah has upped the rhetoric another notch. "We will not allow the American scheme, which we buried last July, to come into being again through the upcoming presidential elections," said Nabil Kawook, Hizballah's commander in the south. Obviously, the tone is polarizing and the majority, which encompasses a large part of the Sunni Muslim community, bristles at being cast as pro-Israeli American puppets. And despite many claims to the contrary, resentment against Hizballah for starting last year's war and then paralyzing the country politically and Beirut's downtown commercially is running high among the movement's opponents.

Both sides would have had different sticks anyway to beat each other with if last year's war had not taken place. The international tribunal for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri remains a hot topic as does the extent of desirable Syrian influence in the country as well as Hizballah's weapons. A "national dialogue" among the parties before last year's war did not go anywhere. In fact, it's more than likely that Lebanon's internal disagreements were a major contributing factor in the outbreak of last year's war. Not only in the sense that the country's internal divisions and its weakness lay it open to foreign intervention or to militant groups using its territory to launch attacks. This time the lingering feeling among many is that they are facing a choice between two unpalatable extremes: either perpetual war and tension with Israel if Hizballah gets its way or American dependency with all the concomitant tensions that internal and regional resistance to such a state idea will bring.

There is no easy fix to this dilemma, especially since a middle ground barely exists and Lebanon's political system is particularly ill equipped to deal with existential political questions that go beyond how to divide the loot. A good first step would be for Hizballah to accept that it can remain relevant even if it does not provoke wars and even if it does not build up one of the largest strategic weapons arsenals in the region. For that to happen it would be essential that the other groups and the government take concrete steps to make it very clear that the Shi'ites and other relatively disadvantaged sectors of Lebanese society can get a fair shake in the country, politically and financially--something that still requires a lot of work- Published 23/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ferry Biedermann is a Beirut-based journalist.

UNIFIL II - A year after
 Timur Goksel

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was set up in 1978 after Israel's invasion of South Lebanon in response to a Palestinian bus hijacking in Israel that ended with more than 30 civilian deaths. The US realized the occupation of South Lebanon by the Israeli army was threatening to unravel the momentum for peace created by the visit of late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem. Yet Washington ignored the objections of experienced UN staff against placing a peacekeeping force in a country without central authority and wrecked by a raging civil war as well as armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and pushed for the creation of UNIFIL.

UNIFIL, a lightly armed peacekeeping force with no enforcement powers and an unrealistic and ambiguous mandate, was thus thrown into the conflict without a properly defined area of operations, sandwiched between heavily armed, undisciplined militias and Israel.

Over the years, it became a habit to refer to UNIFIL as a toothless and ineffective symbol of UN peacekeeping. But UNIFIL turned out to be a resilient force that held its ground despite suffering more than 100 fatalities.

In the aftermath of the July 2024 Israel-Hizballah war, some western leaders took their cues from Israel and naively called for UNIFIL to be replaced by a fighting multinational force that would go in and teach Hizballah a lesson. Both Hizballah and the Lebanese government announced they would not allow the deployment of a quasi-occupation force that could set off a new round of civil war. In any case, no country came forward to seriously discuss such a force. Thus the idea of a robust UNIFIL II, not under enforcement stipulations of Chapter VII of the UN Charter but under peacekeeping rules of Chapter VI, emerged.

Actually, nothing has changed except that UNIFIL now has better armed units that still won't use their guns unless they are attacked. UNIFIL, for all its impressive weaponry, will not get involved in any military confrontation with Hizballah because it cannot sustain a prolonged clash. Moreover, in today's South Lebanon with its militant villagers loyal to Hizballah, UNIFIL cannot last if it starts killing civilians. The talk of robust peacekeeping quickly subsided and UNIFIL, much to Israel's chagrin, began to operate as a classic peacekeeping force in support of the national army.

The outstanding feature of the new UNIFIL was to mobilize leading European countries as its key components. With self-sufficient, well-trained and well-equipped infantry troops from France, Italy and Spain and with the addition of Germany as a naval unit and participation of other European nations, UNIFIL acquired political clout the UN could never claim by itself.

In all fairness, the new UNIFIL caught on quickly that it was meant to be a conflict management tool with emphasis on winning the hearts and minds of the population and that good relations with the people would also be key to force protection because useful intelligence information would come from them.

The mood in South Lebanon began to change and the people began to rely more and more on UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army for their needs. South Lebanon is now experiencing a period of calm and peace it has not known in decades. But, unless a permanent peace is put in place, the conflict will re-erupt.

There are UN resolutions that call for the disarming of militias, including Hizballah, and stopping the flow of weapons across the Lebanese borders. Some think the UN should do it. But the Lebanese government says that disarming cannot be done by foreign armies as that would lead to internal conflict, and that the Lebanese will do it their way. Countries contributing troops to UNIFIL are not willing to change their peacekeeping mandate no matter how hard Israel wants them to.

UNIFIL is now at a crossroads. After the car-bomb attack that killed six Spanish peacekeepers, UN personnel were confined to bases and could only move in heavily guarded, armored convoys. A vital link to the people that could provide warnings against similar attacks was severed. The UNIFIL command is aware of the problem, but to achieve consensus among the 30 countries making up the force is a formidable task. A multinational force of 30 countries is not the right structure in southern Lebanon. Differences in national interests, training, doctrine, officer quality, communications and other capabilities make a mockery of any claims to unified and effective command and control structure.

In this part of the world, if you are designated as a target no amount of body armor and machineguns on your vehicles will protect you. Only advance intelligence warning will, and the most reliable and maybe the only way to receive such information is for the peacekeepers to stay in touch with the population. That population, if treated with compassion and respect, will in turn protect the troops- Published 23/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Timur Goksel served first as the official spokesman and than as the senior advisor of UNIFIL between 1979-2003. He now consults on conflict and peacekeeping and teaches the same at American University of Beirut.

What Syria learned from the war
 Murhaf Jouejati

If Syrians ever had any doubt about Hizballah's military prowess, they were pleasantly surprised by its remarkable performance during its confrontation with Israel last summer. By holding out for more than a month against Israel, the most powerful military in the Middle East, Hizballah showed itself to be a powerhouse. Over and above the tremendous psychological boost this gave the embattled Syrian regime (worn down by continuous US pressures), Hizballah held its own for 34 days despite the punishing blows of Israel's massive air strikes and Hizballah fighters were able to launch an average of 150 Katyusha rockets per day into northern Israel, defeating the Israel Air Force in the process and forcing one fourth of Israel's civilian population from their homes into shelters.

Most Syrians scoff at suggestions that Hizballah's victory is debatable. Despite Israel's overwhelming American-backed power, the Jewish state, even when egged on by Washington, failed to achieve its stated objectives of releasing its two captured servicemen and eliminating Hizballah's arsenal. The mere fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was obliged to convene a commission of inquiry into "what went wrong" provides Syrians the evidence they need to distinguish victor from vanquished.

To be sure, the cost of Israel's retribution following Hizballah's July 12 cross-border attack was high for Lebanon. The conflict killed more than one thousand civilians, severely damaged Lebanon's infrastructure and displaced close to a million Lebanese, one quarter of whom fled to Syria. High too was the cost to Syria, at least at the strategic level. In the aftermath of the conflict, Hizballah forces dug in behind the Litani River rather than at the international border where they were massed prior to the confrontation. As a result, Hizballah's freedom of maneuver is now more restricted, reducing Syria's capacity to exert indirect pressure on Israel.

That said, Hizballah's ability to disrupt US-Israeli efforts to dislodge the Shi'ite group from the south of Lebanon and to eradicate Syrian influence in Lebanon emboldened the Syrian regime: Damascus perceived Hizballah's victory against Israel as a victory for the Syrian-Iranian alliance and a defeat of the US-Israel-moderate Arab axis. Moreover, the post-conflict security regime that ensued did not significantly alter Hizballah's strategic posture. Although it was forced to surrender its monopoly of force in the south of Lebanon in favor of the US-equipped Lebanese army and an expanded UNIFIL, neither the Lebanese army nor UNIFIL had the will or the mandate, respectively, to disarm Hizballah. Finally, despite Hizballah's loss of the border strip, its rockets can still reach deep into Israel, providing Syria and its Iranian ally with continued leverage.

In hindsight, the one regret Damascus has is not having exploited the opportunity for a Syrian land grab in the Golan. Indeed, as Hizballah fighters skillfully tied the Israeli army down, Syrian land forces were in an ideal position to storm Israel's Golan defenses. A successful Syrian thrust into the Golan would have boosted Syria's chances of resuming peace talks with Israel later, this time on Syria's own terms.

Thus, one lesson Syria learned from the "July War" is that caution does not always pay. Another has to do with doctrine: Hizballah's success demonstrated that guerrilla warfare, at least in this instance, yielded better results than conventional power. During the fighting, Hizballah fighters trained in anti-tank warfare shuttled from village to village on scooters to launch attacks. Many took cover in underground tunnels. In addition to Hizballah's discipline and motivation, these tactics were instrumental in robbing Israel of victory.

Within this context, the ramifications for the region in general and for Syrian-Israeli relations in particular are rather ominous. The absence of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian-Israeli conflict combined with the broader tensions in the US-Iranian relationship might tempt Damascus to apply the lessons it learned from the "July War".- Published 23/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Murhaf Jouejati is a professor of Middle East studies at the Washington-based National Defense University's NESA Center for Strategic Studies.

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