[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
July 16, 2006
This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin
Lebanon summer 2006
The strategic goals of Israel in the war which was launched by Hizbollah with its attack in the north on Wednesday are somewhat confused. It is clear that Israel wants to push Hizbollah back away from the border where they have become entrenched since the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000. It is clear that Israel is interested in pushing the government of Lebanon to implement UN Resolution 1310 from July 27, 2000 following the Israeli withdrawal. That resolution stated:
Endorses the understanding, mentioned in the report of the Secretary-General of 20 July 2000, that the Force will deploy and function fully throughout its area of operations and that the Government of Lebanon will strengthen its presence in this area, by deploying additional troops and internal security forces; 2. Decides, in this context, to extend the present mandate of UNIFIL for a further period of 6 months, until 31 January 2001;
3. Reiterates its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized boundaries;
4. Welcomes the statement in the Secretary-General’s letter to the President of the Security Council of 24 July 2000 (S/2000/731) that, as of that date, the Government of Israel had removed all violations of the withdrawal line;
5. Calls on the parties to respect that line, to exercise utmost restraint and to cooperate fully with the United Nations and with UNIFIL;
6. Calls on the Government of Lebanon to ensure the return of its effective authority and presence in the south, and in particular to proceed with a significant deployment of the Lebanese armed forces as soon as possible;
7. Welcomes the establishment of checkpoints by the Government of Lebanon in the vacated area, and encourages the Government of Lebanon to ensure a calm environment throughout the south, including through the control of all checkpoints;
As well as Security Council Resolution 1559 that stated:
Reaffirms its call for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon;
Calls upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon;
Calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias;
Supports the extension of the control of the
Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory;
These resolutions, of course, were never implemented and Hizbollah, supported by Syria and Iran, dug itself in deep along the Israeli-Lebanese border. It has been reported that Hizbollah deployed more than 13,000 ground-to-ground missiles which are all targeted at Israel. Following the attack across the border and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, Israel has decided that Hizbollah will not return to its former positions. Either the Lebanese army will be deployed there, or Israel will create a no-man’s zone where no Lebanese troops will be deployed at all.
Israel has repeatedly said that it wishes to hit the infrastructure of Hizbollah and does not wish to attack Lebanon. But in reality, the infrastructure of the Lebanese state has been mortally wounded. Ports – air and sea, roads, bridges, electricity stations and more have been totally destroyed by Israeli missiles. Friends in Lebanon have written to me that they cannot understand the Israeli strategy. If Israel had friends in Lebanon from the anti-Syrian coalition of Sunnis, Christians and Druze, after this weekend, those people are no longer friends of Israel. As one of my friends told me this morning, “the war is not between Israel and Hizbollah, it is between Israel and Lebanon and we are all Lebanon.”
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Foaud Seniora did call for a ceasefire and for the deployment of Lebanese forces along the border with Israel, but everyone knows that he has no power to go against Hizbollah. Another of my Lebanese friends told me this morning that if the Lebanese army were to confront Hizbollah, the result would be the renewal of the Lebanese civil war and the death of Lebanon. Most of the anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon would be very happy to see Hizbollah demolished, but they believe that the real address should be Syria and not Lebanon. Strangely enough, Meretz Party leader Dr. Yossi Beilin shares this assessment. Beilin called on the government of Israel to hit Hizbollah and other terrorists’ infrastructures inside of Syria. Right now, the Government of Israel does not wish to open another front with Syria, but there is definitely the possibility that this will open later in the week or in the coming weeks.
Israel’s new position
The influential Minister of Justice Haim Ramon has stated that Israel is determined to change the rules of the game, “no more will terrorism be rewarded, instead terrorists will pay a very heavy price for the actions”. Meanwhile, the families of the kidnapped soldiers – two in Lebanon and one still in Gaza, have called on the government to negotiate their release. If Ramon and Olmert stick to their guns and refuse to negotiate the release of the kidnapped soldiers, it is very unlikely that they will be released alive. It is possible for the government to decide that these young men were soldiers in the service of their country and if they are taken prisoner by the enemy, they must be freed by a military action or they must face the possibility of being killed in service to their country. I wonder how many parents would send their children off to the army if they knew that the general rules of the game had been changed. Does Israel have to negotiate for the release of the soldiers? Of course it doesn’t and perhaps not negotiating while making the kidnappers bear the responsibility for the high price that their society will pay from the forceful Israeli attacks will drive the message home that kidnapping Israeli soldiers does not pay. That, at least is the logic behind the Israeli policy. That is what Ramon and other Israeli leaders are explaining to us.
Unfortunately, that logic probably won’t work here. The Israeli policy of hitting the civilian population so that it will pressure its leaders has never worked in the Israeli Arab conflict, with perhaps the exception of the young King Hussein who expelled the PLO from the Jordan Valley after three years of the War of Attrition from 1967 – 1970. But the PLO did not disappear, instead they grew in power and ended up taking over most of Lebanon, bring the former Switzerland of the Middle East to ruin and leaving Hizbollah in its wake. It seems that especially when dealing with Islamic fundamentalist groups like Hamas and Hizbollah, the more you hit them, the more they come back to hit you. Almost all Palestinians today want to hit Israel back and almost all Palestinians support continued kidnappings as one of the best ways to hit Israel.
More than 10,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons and Israel has almost never released Palestinian prisoners of any significance in anyway other than prisoner exchanges for Israeli soldiers and civilians – dead or alive. Some 300 Lebanese citizens are still in Israeli prisons. Most Lebanese citizens, regardless of their denomination will not support making peace with Israel until those people are released and the majority of Lebanese citizens would support kidnapping Israeli soldiers to hold them as hostages in exchange for the Lebanese prisoners in Israel. Some people believe that the fighting in the north would end if Israel manages to kill Hasan Nasrallah. No doubt that would be a real blow to the organization, but the vacuum would be filled rapidly and the desire for revenge would surely increase.
It is far from clear how the current round will end. There are still many possibilities for escalation beyond the control of anyone. As I write these lines, Haifa is being hit by rockets and Israel is stepping up the attacks on Beirut. One of the Lebanese missiles could hit the petrol-chemical plants in Haifa bay and then we could have a real disaster beyond imagination. The amount of human suffering and physical damage could go far beyond what any of the architects of this violence could have planned for. In the end of the day, the international community will get involved, in one way or another. It would be wise to bring the Saudis in as soon as possible. They have real economic interests in Lebanon and they could help to find a way out of the crisis. The situation is extremely dangerous now and the end is no where in sight.
The crisis in Gaza is also far from over, but it has been knocked off the screens by what’s happening in Lebanon. Gilead Shalit is still being held without any word from him or his captors. Israel is still hitting infrastructures in Gaza and the civilian population there is really suffering. I spoke with several friends from Gaza over the weekend and they described to me what their lives are like with less than two hours of electricity a day and almost no water or food supplies available. I believe that Hamas is really feeling the pressure and wants a way out of the crisis. The government of Israel seems to be resistant to consider any of the negotiated offers that have been put on the table behind the scenes so far. Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet, flew to Amman to meet with Abu Mazen to discuss some ideas. The leaks about the meeting suggested that both sides were searching for a way out of the crisis, but nothing concrete has appeared that would move the process forward.
I have continued my own behind the scenes efforts to find a way out of the Gaza crisis. Without going into the details – it is too sensitive to disclose at this time, I remain hopeful that we can find a way out and that we can return Gilead Shalit to his family alive and healthy.
Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org