Laura Zittrain Eisenberg, a visiting associate professor in the History Department at Carnegie Mellon University, is co-author, with Neil Caplan, of Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: Patterns, Problems, Possibilities (Indiana University Press, forthcoming).
For roughly thirty years Lebanon has confounded Israeli policymakers. "Operation Grapes of Wrath" produced an international uproar in April 1996 but failed to crush Hizbullah, Lebanon's anti-Israel Shi`a Muslim militia. Daily confrontations between Hizbullah in Israel's self-declared south Lebanese "security zone" continue to claim a steady rate of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) casualties; a fatal February 1997 collision of two Israeli military helicopters ferrying troops to southern Lebanon cost the lives of 73 soldiers and finally thrust the issue of Israel's unsatisfactory Lebanon policy into the spotlight, unleashing a vigorous public debate about Israel's options. The options boil to two: should the IDF continue to control a buffer in south Lebanon? Or is unilateral withdrawal a viable alternative?
South Lebanon has long presented Israel with both promise and peril: defusing current Israeli-Lebanese tensions and choosing a successful policy there requires that Israel acknowledge the fallacy of its past premises and reconsider the logic of its current assumptions about its neighbor to the north.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM, 1880-1968
Israeli interests in south Lebanon date to the period of Zionist activity in Palestine in the late 1880s. Vagaries as to the actual boundary between Palestine and Lebanon, contact with the Jewish community in Sidon, and interest in the water resources of the Litani river combined to attract Zionist attention. The final border between the British and French mandates for Palestine and Lebanon left the Litani entirely within Lebanon, but because their interest in Lebanon was practical in nature, and not religiously or nationally motivated, Zionists greeted the loss of the Litani with disappointment but without irredentism. Zionist policy instead looked for a Lebanese partner with whom to jointly develop the water resources for mutual benefit.
Standard Zionist thinking saw Lebanon's Maronite Catholics as the most likely candidates for an alliance. Individuals on both sides proposed a "minority alliance" between Palestinian Jews and Lebanese Christians fending off a common Muslim enemy.1 Although close relations developed between leading Zionist officials and high-ranking Maronite politicians and clerics, all attempts to produce an operational political alliance failed, primarily due to the Maronite inability to withstand popular Lebanese anti-Zionist pressures. Some Zionists, however, clung to the dream of a Christian-Jewish front.
Removed from the politics of urban Beirut, rural south Lebanon remained accessible and open to Jewish tourists and traders and commerce flourished across the border. Jewish settlers in northern Palestine enjoyed good neighborly relations with villagers in southern Lebanon, both Christian and Muslim, where they also traveled freely and frequently. Lebanon seemed to offer the best promise of a quiet border and normal relations between Palestine's Jews and a neighboring Arab population.
A hint of the peril south Lebanon could pose occurred in the context of the Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936-39), when the Palestinian Arab leader, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem and an implacable foe of Zionism, escaped from Palestine to Lebanon. From his Lebanese haven the Mufti continued to direct the Arab uprising in Palestine, and Arab bands were recruited, based, armed and trained in southern Lebanon, from where they periodically crossed the long and permeable border to strike against Jewish settlements. This demonstrated that sleepy southern Lebanon could play a threatening role as a sanctuary and staging ground for the enemies of Jewish Palestine. Lebanon itself was not a menace, and in fact pleasant Zionist perceptions of a friendly Lebanon persisted, but the inability of its government to control rebels operating in its territory foreshadowed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hizbullah problems which would plague Israel decades later.
During the 1948-49 war, combat along the Lebanese-Israeli border was short-lived, and Israeli strategists saw the Lebanese goal as primarily stemming the flight of Palestinian Arab refugees into Lebanon. Largely unconcerned about any Lebanese threat per se, Israeli worries about the northern front focused on its potential as an additional attack route for Syrian troops.
Negotiating the Israeli-Lebanese armistice in 1949 proved relatively painless. Meetings alternated between sites on both sides of the border and traditional Middle Eastern hospitality dictated lavish meals, which encouraged social interchange. Negotiations bogged down only when the Israelis attempted to link the withdrawal of their soldiers from several Lebanese villages to a Syrian withdrawal from Israeli territory. Once Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dropped linkage, an armistice was easily concluded. The Israel-Lebanon Mixed Armistice Commission (ILMAC) monitored the situation along the border until 1967, and operated so effectively that problems were resolved with minimal third-party assistance.2 The armistice and ILMAC experiences perpetuated the sense that there was no real fight between Israel and Lebanon; Lebanese delegates encouraged the Israelis in the oft-repeated maxim that while Lebanon could not be the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, it would surely be the second.
Lebanon's turbulent domestic politics of the 1950s and 1960s sent its many sectarian groups in search of outside influence to use in their conflicts with one another. Secretive advances in 1948-51 by Maronites, seeking Israeli help in bringing themselves to power, failed to elicit serious support. By and large, the Israeli authorities resisted invitations to dabble in Lebanese politics and most supplicants received only encouraging words, although on several occasions a small, ineffectual amount of money changed hands.3
Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, occasionally expressed a passing interest in Lebanon's Maronites and the hope that one day Israel would enjoy an alliance with a strong Christian state in Lebanon. His successor, Moshe Sharett, rejected the premise that Israeli assistance could bring a friendly Maronite government to power in Lebanon, and successfully rebuffed suggestions for an active pro-Maronite policy. Indeed, most Israelis realized that a majority of Maronites had reluctantly acceded to power-sharing within a pluralistic Lebanon. Until the late 1960s, Israel adopted a generally hands-off approach to its weak northern neighbor and devoted minimal attention to that country.
LEBANON AS BATTLEGROUND, 1968-1985
The PLO to center stage. To pressure the Lebanese into preventing the PLO from using southern Lebanon as a base for strikes against Israel, Israeli helicopter gunships raided Beirut's international airport in December 1968, destroying fourteen commercial aircraft belonging to Lebanon's Middle East Airways. When the feeble central government in Beirut proved unable to control Palestinians in the south, the IDF took matters into its own hands, conducting tough reprisals for each PLO attack. But Palestinian forces further increased in the aftermath of "Black September" of 1970, when PLO elements escaped to Lebanon from Jordan. South Lebanon, now dubbed "Fatahland" because of the predominance there of Yasir Arafat's Fatah organization, became a primary theater of operations in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For the next decade southern Lebanon served as training and staging ground for PLO forces, the launch site for periodic katyusha rocket attacks into the Israeli Galilee, and the jumping off point for terrorist strikes against civilian targets in northern Israel. Palestinian refugee camps throughout Lebanon provided ready recruits for PLO service and Arafat established operational and intelligence headquarters in Beirut. A deadly cycle of PLO strikes and Israeli counterstrikes alternated across the Israeli-Lebanese border.
When the PLO became a principal actor in the Lebanese civil war that started in 1975, Israel closely followed Palestinian fortunes, hoping to see the organization weakened or even destroyed. The 1976 intervention of the Syrian army rang alarm bells in Israel; as in 1948, the Defense establishment perceived Lebanon as a threat insofar as the Syrians might make it another invasion route. Hasty "red-line agreements" between Israel and Syria precluded a conflict between them on Lebanese soil.
Focused on the PLO and Syria in Lebanon, the government of Yitzhak Rabin responded cautiously, albeit sympathetically, to overtures from the PLO's main challenger in Lebanon, the Maronites' Lebanese Front. Jerusalem sent small amounts of arms to Maronites in northern Lebanon and opened what would become formalized a year later as the "Good Fence" -- a crossing at the Israeli border town of Metulla where residents of south Lebanon, primarily Christians, Druze, and Shi`a, came for food, shelter, sanctuary and medical attention while civil war raged in their country. Although the Good Fence was established to offer humanitarian relief, the influx of Lebanese also enhanced Israeli intelligence regarding the situation in Lebanon.
The emergence in 1976 of a friendly militia under the leadership of Sa`d Haddad, a Greek Catholic and renegade Lebanese army officer, finally seemed to offer Israel an open Lebanese ally. But despite Israeli training and equipment, Haddad's volunteers, both Christians and Shi`a, were not a powerful force. Assigned the task of keeping the PLO away from the Israeli border, more often than not they had to call for IDF back-up in confronting Palestinian guerrillas. The government of Menachem Begin, elected in 1977, stepped up Israeli commitments to anti-PLO forces in Lebanon, going beyond Haddad's troops to fully embrace the stronger Maronite militias in northern Lebanon.
In March 1978, responding to a terrorist attack by Palestinians coming from Lebanon, the Begin government launched the "Litani Operation" -- the first major, sustained cross-border invasion into Lebanon by conventional Israeli military forces since 1948. To move PLO Katyusha rockets out of striking range of northern Israel, eight thousand Israeli soldiers pushed PLO forces north of the Litani River. When the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) took up positions in a buffer zone three months later, the IDF withdrew. Haddad's Free Lebanon Militia (FLM) showed only questionable efficacy during the Litani operation but Jerusalem continued to support it as a back-up to the UNIFIL operation. The return of the PLO to southern Lebanon over the next three years and the extension of Syrian influence there reflected the long-term failure of both the Litani operation and the UNIFIL/Haddad missions. That failure set the stage for a shattering event of joint Israeli-Lebanese history and a turning point in the Arab-Israel conflict: Israel's 1982 "Operation Peace for the Galilee."
The 1982 war. Israel's primary purpose in invading Lebanon in 1982 was to destroy the PLO. Subsidiary goals were to diminish Syrian influence in Lebanon, facilitate the consolidation of a pro-Israel Lebanese government, and win Israel its second peace treaty with an Arab state. Although its close cooperation with the Maronite Phalange movement and its efforts to make Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel president of Lebanon suggest that the Begin government labored under pre-state illusions of a credible Jewish-Christian alliance, the thrust of Israel's latter-day alliance with the Phalange resulted not from grandiose conceptions of an Israeli- Maronite bond but from "standard strategic-political thinking" 4vis-à-vis its enemies. In other words, the anti-PLO stance of the Maronites was enough to attract Israeli attention in the 1970s and 1980s; Israel would have been equally inclined to explore partnerships with similarly inclined Shi`a, Druze, or Sunnis.
Grossly misconceived and poorly executed, every aspect of Israel's 1982 campaign failed. The IDF cornered the PLO in Beirut, but its siege of the city brought worldwide condemnation. Satisfaction at the PLO's evacuation from Lebanon was cut short by the assassination of Israel's ally, Bashir Gemayel, by Syrian agents, and the subsequent massacre of Palestinian civilians by the Phalange, in an area under ostensible Israeli control. The latter provoked further international fury at Israel and revolted Israelis, who demanded an end to their country's involvement in Lebanon. But Lebanon proved easier to enter than exit. Having sided with the Maronites, the IDF became an active participant in the Lebanese civil war and Israeli troops (as well as American forces leading a multinational peace force) became targets, particularly for Shi`a suicide bombers. The American-mediated agreement of May 1983 between the Lebanese and Israeli governments looked like the peace accord Israel had wanted and called for an IDF withdrawal, but Syrian pressure and challenges from rival Lebanese groups led to the quick abrogation of the accord by Beirut. Unable to wrest political or military victory from the Begin government's invasion of Lebanon, Prime Minister Shimon Peres ordered a unilateral withdrawal in 1985.
DEEPENING TROUBLES, 1985-1997
The new Shi`a enemy. After the withdrawal, a small number of IDF soldiers remained behind in Israel's self-declared "security zone," a ten-mile wide swath of Lebanese territory running the length of the Israel-Lebanon border. As in 1978, the plan was to equip and support the indigenous South Lebanese Army (SLA), the reconstituted FLM led by General Antoine Lahad since Haddad's death in 1984, to act as a buffer between northern Israel and anti-Israel forces in south Lebanon.
By 1985, however, Israel had a new enemy in south Lebanon, fiercer and more effective than the PLO had ever been and, ironically, in part the unwitting creation of Israel itself. Lebanese Shi`a from the border region had constituted 60 percent of Haddad's militia. Angered at oppressive PLO domination and PLO cross-border attacks, which invited Israeli retaliatory strikes against their villages, many responded to Israel's anti-PLO invasion of 1982 with relief and support. But as hostilities dragged on after 1982, Israeli forces settled into the south, building new roads, posting road signs in Hebrew, commandeering facilities, and establishing bases, headquarters, and detention camps. These heavy-handed steps caused Israel to change in Shi`a eyes from liberator to occupier. Further, Israeli strategists had focused so single-mindedly on PLO and Syrian activities in Lebanon that they failed to register the active politicization of the Lebanese Shi`a in the early 1970s and the formation of Shi`a organizations such as Amal and Hizbullah (Party of God), the Iranian-backed fundamentalist Islamic organization. Despite Shi`a-PLO antagonism, Israel had neither recognized nor rewarded the Shi`a as potential allies, but mistakenly took continued Shi'a quiescence for granted.
Funded by Iran and encouraged by Syria, Hizbullah took upon itself the task of driving the Israelis back across the border. The contest with Hizbullah took on a life of its own, to the point that since 1985 it has become the primary focus of Israel's Lebanon policy. Ironically, the PLO, target of the 1982 invasion, became Israel's peace partner in 1993, while the previously friendly Shi`a of south Lebanon produced a new and active enemy in Hizbullah. Hizbullah's suicide attacks, roadside bombs, and ambushes take a steady toll on the IDF and its SLA ally while sparking continuous debate within Israel over its Lebanon policy.
Israel's diplomatic overtures to Beirut for help in resolving this problem have failed due to that government's dependence on Syria, which gains from Israel's troubles with Hizbullah. Israeli hopes that the SLA could thwart Hizbullah have also been disappointed; instead, the SLA has repeatedly required Israeli air cover and ground support to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. As a result, Israel has lost some 20-30 soldiers a year in south Lebanon since 1985; the number of Israeli troops on patrol there has recently increased from 1,000 to 2,000. Iran's recent provision of more sophisticated technology to Hizbullah apparently countered the 1995 creation of an IDF special forces unit ("Egoz") assigned to Lebanon.
Israeli military campaigns. Following sustained Hizbullah rocket attacks into northern Israel, Israel has twice resorted to full frontal military campaigns. Both operations ("Accountability" in July 1993 and "Grapes of Wrath" in April 1996) aimed to break Hizbullah's ability to undertake military attacks within southern Lebanon and into northern Israel by destroying Hizbullah camps, supply lines, arms depots, and fighters. In addition, the attacks forced Lebanese civilians in the border region to flee north, which the Rabin (1993) and Peres (1996) governments hoped would pressure Beirut to pressure Damascus to pressure Hizbullah to stop its activities. Jerusalem also hoped that suffering civilians in the south would blame the Hizbullah elements in their midst for provoking Israel's wrath. Both hopes failed. Lebanese across the sectarian spectrum, even those with little sympathy for Hizbullah's wider aspirations (such as creating an Islamic state), rallied behind the refugees and against Israel. Hizbullah emerged from the battles bloodied but unbowed, with its prestige heightened.
The cease-fires ending the two Israeli operations both stipulated that neither Hizbullah nor Israel would target the other's civilians. These terms, however, implicitly permit continued warfare in the security zone, where Hizbullah hit-and-run strikes each time promptly resumed. Carnage in the security zone prompts one observer to pronounce the buffer an "(in)security zone."5
"Lebanon First." In August 1996, soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proposed a "Lebanon First" plan whereby Israeli troops would withdraw entirely from Lebanon in exchange for Syrian guarantees to disarm Hizbullah, facilitate the deployment of the Lebanese army southward to the border with Israel, and protect Israel's SLA allies. This diplomatic initiative aimed simultaneously to divest the new government of its draining Lebanese inheritance and to advance security arrangements with Syria. But Syria's President Hafiz al-Asad rejected the proposal out of hand. With no promise of a reward for Syria's services (such as an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights), he has no interest in confronting his Hizbullah client, protecting his Israeli opponent, or promoting the authority of the Lebanese Army at the expense of Syrian influence. When Damascus rejected his offer, Netanyahu marveled at the "Kafkaesque" situation, in which "the prime minister of Israel announces he wants to get out of the territory of an Arab state -- Lebanon. And the Syrian government, together with the Lebanese, are opposing this withdrawal."6 Former foreign minister Abba Eban rightly observed, however, that the situation is equally "Golanesque."7
The general outline of an Israeli- Lebanese agreement for a border solution is clear: Lebanese army units replace IDF troops and disarm Hizbullah, the SLA disbands, joint Lebanese-Israel teams patrol the border region, SLA commanders win amnesty or safe passage abroad, while the rank-and-file are reintegrated into the Lebanese army (as have been members of other disbanded militias). Beirut's refusal to coordinate policy with Israel, however, forces Jerusalem to seek alternatives.
That search became more intense in the aftermath of the February 4, 1997, collision between two air force "Yasur" (Sikorsky CH-53) helicopters transporting Israeli soldiers to bases within the security zone. (Helicopter shuttles had been instituted to reduce IDF vulnerability to Hizbullah roadside bombs.) The resulting military casualties, the largest in a single day since the 1973 war, shattered any remaining restraints on an open debate about the most controversial of proposals, unilateral withdrawal.
Support and opposition for unilateral withdrawal is unusual in that it does not cut along standard party or ideological lines. The "Kochav Yair" group, a bipartisan association of parliamentarians and former intelligence chiefs supporting a unilateral withdrawal includes Yossi Beilin, a prominent Labor party leader; Michael Eitan, the Likud party whip; Avigdor Kahalani, a Cabinet member and leader of the Third Way; and Gideon Ezra, former deputy head of the Shin Bet. The equally bipartisan opposition to unilateral withdrawal is led by Netanyahu, backed by the unlikely coalition of Army Intelligence chief Moshe Ya'alon, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordecai, Lebanon coordinator Uri Lubrani, aspiring Labor party leader Ehud Barak, and Meretz dove Yossi Sarid.
The argument for. The logic is simple: the Hizbullah enemy arose in response to Israel's lingering presence in southern Lebanon. Were Israel to withdraw, Hizbullah's raison d'être would be fulfilled, and its call to arms obsolete. If it continued attacks across the border, Hizbullah would find itself rejected by a south Lebanese population unwilling to countenance activities that provoke Israeli retaliation. Unilateral withdrawal thus immediately removes Israeli troops from daily contact with the Hizbullah enemy while drastically diminishing Hizbullah's will and capacity to fight. Withdrawal proponents see Hizbullah's increasing activity in Lebanon's political arena as evidence that, after an Israeli pull-back, it will turn its energies away from Israel and focus on Shi`a issues within the Lebanese political system.
Supporters of a unilateral withdrawal emphasize that "unilateral" does not mean "unconditional," but rather "without Syrian agreement." Their plan calls for a clear declaration that an Israeli redeployment back across the border is contingent upon strict adherence to a full cease-fire, and a clear warning that any attack against persons or sites within Israel would provoke a massive Israeli military response, including the seizure and full pacification of Lebanese territory. Other possible components of the withdrawal scenario include foreign buffer troop to replace the IDF and SLA (possibly American and French, or Egyptian and Jordanian) and a fully fortified and patrolled border with minefields, high electrified fences, and electronic warning systems.
Withdrawal proponents point out that neither the iron fist (Peace for Galilee, Accountability, Grapes of Wrath) nor the extended hand (Madrid, Oslo) have calmed the border region;8 a dramatic new policy is necessary. They argue that Hizbullah's ability to fire missiles over the security zone and into Israel has diminished the usefulness of the security zone as a buffer; the best way to stop the attacks is to remove the catalyst, namely, the IDF occupation of Lebanese territory. The alternative is the status quo: an indefinite war of attrition in the security zone punctuated by periodic, intensive military flare-ups, and the guaranteed deaths of dozens of Israeli soldiers, at least, pending a far-off peace with Syria. In unilaterally initiating a withdrawal from Lebanon, Israel both liberates itself from a military and political burden and simultaneously denies Syria leverage over Israel in Lebanon. This camp holds that Israel is powerful enough, and its deterrence well enough established, to test the proposition that Hizbullah is dedicated to fighting Israel in Lebanon, not in Israel.
The argument against. Skeptics cite four factors against unilateral withdrawal: Syria's intention not to let Israel off the hook so easily, the weakness of the Lebanese government and army, calls for vengeance from some Lebanese quarters, and Hizbullah's fundamentalist doctrine, which prescribes an ongoing jihad (sacred war) against Israel.
Opponents of unilateral withdrawal argue that as long as Asad sees Hizbullah attacks as a valuable pressure point against Israel, he will encourage those Lebanese who want to punish Israel even after a unilateral Israeli withdrawal, which he opposes for the same reasons he opposed the "Lebanon First" plan. Although Hizbullah's original purpose was to eliminate Israel's presence on Lebanese soil, encouragement from fundamentalist Iran over the years has provoked calls for the elimination of Israel. Syria and Iran would likely support extremists intent upon carrying the fight into Israel.
However promising the logic of unilateral withdrawal, its potential drawbacks are severe. Most mayors of northern Israeli towns have petitioned the government against a unilateral withdrawal, citing an unacceptable threat to their constituents, some living within automatic rifle range of the Lebanese border. Lebanese Christian nationalists and the SLA vigorously oppose a unilateral withdrawal for fear of a wholesale massacre of SLA members and their families by Hizbullah, a horror that Lebanese history in no way rules out. They are persuaded by a recent "amnesty" offered by Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah to all SLA members who lay down their arms prior to an Israeli pull-back, and Nasrallah's promise of protection for south Lebanon's Christians afterwards.9 As recently and eloquently argued in these pages by Walid Phares,10 this segment of the Lebanese Maronite population forwards the logic of a Christian-Jewish alliance: the two sides have common Muslim enemies in Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah; pending the liberation of the rest of the country from Syrian domination, Israel should support the creation of a Christian Free Lebanon, with an independent army, in the south.
But this approach flirts with the same problems which doomed the Maronite/Zionist alliance in the pre-state period. Many if not most Lebanese Christians believe their future lies in national reconciliation with the Lebanese Muslims (now a majority in Lebanon) and are resigned to indefinite Syrian influence in Lebanese affairs. With a Maronite president currently presiding over a pluralistic government in Beirut, neither the U.S. nor Israeli governments will recognize a renegade Christian mini-state as the legitimate government of Lebanon. And it is hard to imagine a strong military force emerging in south Lebanon, given the inability of either Haddad's forces or the SLA to survive without Israeli backing. Clearly Israel would welcome the friendship of a truly free Lebanese state. But Israel has learned the hard way that the liberation of Lebanon from Syrian control and the consolidation of pro-Israel Christian power there is a monumental task beyond the scope of its abilities. Israel must do all it can to see that its SLA partners are not thrown to the wolves, but the focus of Israel's policy must be its own narrow security needs. Israel adopted the SLA so it could protect northern Israel; now Israel's need to protect its SLA ally, whose casualty rate exceeds that of the IDF, is one of the primary factors mitigating against a unilateral withdrawal.
Hizbullah's intentions. Hizbullah's intentions stand at the heart of the Israeli debate. If allowed to reach the border, would Hizbullah simply strike deeper into Israel? If so, Israelis would prefer to fight Hizbullah in Lebanon. In a concise and expert analysis of the unilateral withdrawal dilemma, Mark Heller of the Jaffee Center at Tel Aviv University argues that the popular Israeli assessment of the Hizbullah threat falsely identifies Hizbullah as the chronological and ideological heir to the pre-Oslo PLO, arguing that the two organizations emerged under conditions, in different eras, and with different agendas. He acknowledges, however, that the faulty association does not necessarily mean that the conclusion -- that Hizbullah intends to pursue the fight into Israel -- is invalid.11 Sheikh Nasrallah has been purposefully vague in defining Hizbullah's post-withdrawal plans, expressing a tactical preference for "keeping the enemy off-balance" rather than "reassuring the enemy,"12 even though the latter would be useful ammunition for those Israelis favoring a pull-back. And Hizbullah's public "jubilation"13at the fatal helicopter crash in February 1997 offered ammunition of a decidedly different sort.
After the helicopter tragedy, Netanyahu tried to stem the vociferous public debate over Israel's Lebanon policy with the warning that it injured the morale of soldiers still serving in the Lebanese combat zone and encouraged Hizbullah in the belief that a devastating body count will force an Israeli retreat; he also reminded Israelis of the unwritten national code not to question a military operation while the troops were still in the field. The Lebanon war of 1982 had already challenged that last premise, however, with its unprecedented anti-war demonstrations and scattered incidents of conscientious objection. Successive Israeli governments have learned that picturesque southern Lebanon is a dangerous place which poses hard questions, suggests no easy answers, and offers no respite for baffled Israeli policymakers.
Israel's buffer zone in south Lebanon and support for the SLA now focus narrowly on the security of the border region. To the extent that wistful illusions of an effective Christian ally or a friendly Lebanese neighbor might have lingered, Israel's 1982 debacle destroyed them. The fantasy that Lebanon will be the next Arab state to make peace with Israel is long gone. Lebanon will be the last contiguous state to sue for peace, following a Syrian-Israeli agreement.
Israel stakes no claim to Lebanese territory, and its sorry Lebanese legacy spurs the government to find a way to withdraw, with or without Syria's blessing. "Lebanon" has become a dirty word in Israel; a swamp in which Israeli interventionists of all political stripes invariably founder. The failure of all post-1967 IDF operations in Lebanon -- Grapes of Wrath, Accountability, Peace for the Galilee, and Litani -- illustrates that military campaigns alone cannot satisfy Israeli needs for security and peace along the border with Lebanon. The real "Operation All Quiet on the Northern Front" will entail a package solution that includes Israel's total withdrawal from the security zone, the disarming of Hizbullah, protective arrangements for pro-Israeli Lebanese left behind, and stringent security arrangements along the border. Until then, thoroughly disabused of any idyllic visions and anxious to be out of Lebanon, Israel will have to weigh all options -- particularly unilateral withdrawal -- seriously and soberly.
1 This orientation is treated in depth, from the Zionist perspective, in Laura Zittrain Eisenberg, My Enemy's Enemy: Lebanon in the Early Zionist Imagination, 1900-1948 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994) and from the Christian nationalist perspective in Walid Phares, Lebanese Christian Nationalism: The Rise and Fall of an Ethnic Resistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1995).
2 Multiple ILMAC reports, including Israel State Archives [ISA] 24545/12, 2950/3, 6, 8, 10; Walter Eytan, The First Ten Years: A Diplomatic History of Israel (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1958), pp. 39, 42-44; author's interview with Walter Eytan, Mar. 6, 1987; and E.L.M. Burns, Between Arab and Israeli (New York: I. Obolensky, 1962), pp. 120-22.
3 David Ben-Gurion, Min Hayoman, edited by G. Rivlin and E. Oren (Tel Aviv: Misrad Habitachon, 1986), p. 444; and Benny Morris, "Israel and the Lebanese Phalange: The Birth of a Relationship, 1948-1951," Studies in Zionism, Spring 1984, pp. 125-44. The 1958 crisis in Lebanon also saw a small number of Israeli arms and funds find their way to the Maronites.
4 Avner Yaniv, Dilemmas of Security: Politics, Strategy, and the Israeli Experience in Lebanon (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 64; and Yair Evron, Lebanon: The Israeli- Syrian Deterrence Dialogue (London: Croom Helm, 1987), p. 28.
5 Augustus Richard Norton with the assistance of Jillian Schwedler, "(In)security Zones in South Lebanon," Journal of Palestine Studies, Autumn 1993, pp. 61-79.
6 The Jerusalem Post International Edition, Aug. 17, 1996.
7 Abba Eban, "A `Golanesque' Situation," The Jerusalem Post, August 16, 1996.
8 Herb Keinon, "Taking a new look at Lebanon," The Jerusalem Post International Edition, Feb. 22, 1997.
9 Mona Ziade, "Nasrallah to SLA: Leave now and we will help you" (interview with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah), Daily Star (Beirut), March 14, 1997.
10 Walid Phares, "Liberating Lebanon," Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1996, pp. 21-30.
11 Mark Heller, "Weighing Israel's Options Now," in Rosemary Hollis and Nadim Shehadi, eds., Lebanon on Hold: Implications for Middle East Peace (London: The Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1996), pp. 52-55.
12 Ziade, "Nasrallah to SLA."
13 Binyamin Netanyahu's characterization, quoted in Joel Greenberg, "Israel, Shaken by Air Crash, Ponders Cost of Buffer Zone," The New York Times, Feb. 6, 1997. Hizbullah celebrations are described in David Rudge, "Hizbullah celebrates crash," The Jerusalem Post International Edition, Feb. 15, 1997.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon | June 1997 MEQ
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