Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 1   No. 9

September 1999 

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IDF to Withdraw from Lebanon by June 2000

Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz

Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has reportedly ordered Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz to prepare for a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in June 2000. According to the program laid out by Barak, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) will begin constructing new posts and reinforcing existing fortifications along the international border. Israel has also prepared a list of South Lebanon Army (SLA) leaders and their families who will be invited to relocate in a new village in northern Israel.1

This decision may be influenced by domestic political considerations. Barak, who is also Defense Minister, had promised during the election campaign that he would withdraw IDF forces from Lebanon within a year of taking office. As his popularity ratings have steadily declined, Barak has begun emphasizing his determination to stand by this pledge. "Everything that I promised the public will be carried out," Barak told Channel 2 television earlier this month. "Next July, when this government completes its first year in office, the IDF will be deployed along the international border."2

Although there has been no cabinet decision on the matter, the timetable of IDF preparations is a startling development in light of the slow pace of progress on the Syrian track of the peace process--the start of negotiations with the Syrians is not yet in sight. In fact, even a preliminary agreement on the agenda for talks may not be on the near-term horizon. Barak's comments suggest that prior security arrangements with Syria and Lebanon are no longer an ironclad precondition for the IDF's departure.

In an interview with Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper, however, Mofaz implied that some sort of arrangements were expected beforehand. "If the prime minister said that there will be an agreement and that there will be an Israeli army withdrawal from the security zone, there must be preparation for it," he said. Asked if the IDF was preparing for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, Mofaz said: "When there's discussion of a possibility of negotiations with Syria, it's fitting to refresh the plans also. That is what we are doing . . . The army is smart enough and understands that if the political level intends to achieve negotiations with the Syrians, (then) when it will happen, the army must be prepared."3

The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon prior to a Syrian-Israeli peace accord will undoubtedly meet opposition from Barak's right-wing political opponents. Strangely enough, the government of Lebanon also opposes an unconditional Israeli withdrawal. Last month, Lebanese Information Minister Anwar Khalil said that Israel must first transfer control of the Golan Heights to Syria before leaving Lebanon. "If Ehud Barak understands this logic, there will be no problem," he said. "Otherwise, many obstacles will appear to block the road."4

  1 Israel, which once demanded the integration of SLA members into the Lebanese army and their immunity from prosecution as a precondition for any withdrawal, is now pledging only to guarantee their safety. "The prime minister reaffirmed his government's obligation to guarantee the safety of SLA members and all civilian members who worked with Israel in any potential peace agreement," said an SLA statement released shortly after SLA chief Antoine Lahad met Barak in Tel Aviv earlier this month. "Israel's Lebanon militia says Barak pledges safety," Reuters, 17 September 1999.
  2 "Report: Barak Orders IDF to Prepare for June Lebanon Pullout," The Jerusalem Post, 9 September 1999.
  3 Ma'ariv, 19 September 1999, quoted in "General Says Israel Readies For Golan, Lebanon Pullout," Reuters, 19 September 1999. Note that Mofaz has also questioned Barak's timetable for a final settlement with the Palestinians.
  4 "Lebanon Withdrawal Should Be after Syria: Official," XINHUA, 19 August 1999.

1999 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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