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Sunday, May 16, 2010

War possible in the North?

Next Monday, May 24, will mark ten years since the IDF withdrew fled from southern Lebanon, in a move that with hindsight many believe precipitated both the Oslo War (also known as the 'second intifada') later that year, and the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.

In Friday's Haaretz, Amos Harel, who is their chief military correspondent, has an interesting analysis of the dangers that lurk at our northern border today.
Of course, there were disadvantages to the withdrawal. Hezbollah's victory celebrations fed the Palestinians' mistaken conclusion that they could expel Israel from the West Bank by force, and this contributed to the outbreak of the second intifada. The state invested considerable effort in rehabilitating the SLA refugees, but the image that will be remembered in the Middle East is thousands of SLA troops and their families crowding around the Good Fence in a panic, with Israel appearing to turn a cold shoulder to its benefactors.

And still, with zero international legitimacy, no diplomatic objective, no long-term military plan, and only minimal attempts to win the hearts and minds of the people of south Lebanon - this was an unwinnable war and it was best to end it.


"The Lebanese tragedy has come to an end. Israel will set a very high threshold for a response throughout Lebanon," Barak promised when the last Israeli soldier left. It was a pledge he did not keep - and some will say that this is where the seeds of the 2006 misadventure were planted.

On October 7, 2000, less than five months after the withdrawal, Hezbollah attacked a military patrol in Har Dov, killed three soldiers and seized their bodies. The Israeli response was minimal: a light shelling of a limited area, followed by protracted negotiations to redeem the bodies. This was the Lebanese watershed. The day after the abduction at Har Dov, Barak embarked on a tour of Mount Hermon. In a meeting with officers there, Moshe Kaplinsky, then the commander of Division 91, harshly reproached him.

"It is a grave problem that we have no forces inside Lebanon right now," he told Barak. "You promised and we promised in your name to the residents of the north that if something happened here after the withdrawal, Lebanon would shake."

Barak has convoluted and not very convincing explanations for his decision to show restraint over the Har Dov incident. At the heart of the matter, apparently, were events occurring elsewhere. Nine days earlier, the second intifada had begun in the territories, followed by the Israeli-Arab October riots. The abduction occurred just hours after the IDF abandoned Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, under Palestinian attack. Israelis' anxiety level had risen sharply, and Barak was apprehensive about opening another front in the north.

Hezbollah took advantage of Israel's restraint and the relative quiet to build positions along the border, which served as a convenient point to launch the abduction of the two reservists that sparked the 2006 war. At the same time, it also built up an elaborate inventory of rockets that it fired at Israel during the war.

The postwar reckoning included much criticism of Israel's policy of counting on Hezbollah's rockets to rust from disuse. In fact, a very similar process, with even graver potential consequences, has been going on since the end of the war. The Islamic organization has armed itself with approximately 45,000 missiles and rockets, including some that could traverse all of Israel - and this time, too, Israel is sitting by quietly.

Despite its leaders' belligerent rhetoric, Israel largely refrains from taking high-profile action to keep its enemies from acquiring arms. The exceptions were the strike on the Iraqi reactor in 1981 and on the Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, when the "Begin doctrine" justifying such an undertaking in order to thwart a nuclear threat was invoked.

In addition to the erosion of deterrence vis-a-vis Hezbollah, the IDF has also neglected its intelligence-gathering activities, particularly on the tactical level, along the border. It has allocated too few resources and forces to securing the border and hasn't been serious enough about preparing for the next round in Lebanon. For all of these things, it paid a high price in 2006.
Read the whole thing.

The flight from Lebanon ten years ago was probably unavoidable politically, but the manner in which it was done and the failure to to react when Hezbullah started to build up along the border - of which the IDF was well aware - is inexcusable. With respect to the current situation, the biggest failure (which Harel does not mention) was agreeing to the terms of Resolution 1701 in the first place. It was unenforceable from the start, with the 'enhanced UNIFIL having almost no power - as I have documented on this blog since the day that Resolution 1701 was enacted. That failure can be laid at the feet of Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni.

There will be celebrations here next week. Not in the streets, but in Israel's Leftist media, which will laud the end of the 'occupation' of southern Lebanon - an area on which Israel never had territorial designs. Those celebrations are sadly mistaken.

The picture at the top is of a group of tourists at the 'Good Fence' on Israel's border with Lebanon, through which hundreds of supports of the SLA (South Lebanese Army) used to enter Israel every day to work at jobs in Israel. The picture was taken in early May 2000. The Good Fence has been closed for the last ten years.


At 12:42 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel's betrayal of Arabs who were its allies has all but ensured no Arabs will ever be foolish enough to trust the Jewish State again with their lives. Israel's treatment of its SLA allies was the most shameful aspect of the abandonment of South Lebanon and the subsequent domination of the area by the Hezbollah can be laid squarely at the feet of Ehud Barak.

The way Israel ended its 18 year old presence in South Lebanon is nothing to celebrate.


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