The 33-Day War: Israels War on Hezbollah in Lebanon and Its Consequences
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In , another Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert—who had far less military experience and military savvy than Barak—thought he would try his hand at diminishing the considerable amount of military and political power that Hizbullah had continued to accrue in Lebanon. With huge support from President George W. Bush and most European governments, Olmert launched another scorched-earth attack against Lebanon, once again aimed at either destroying Hizbullah or turning the Lebanese public against it.
In the two years prior to , there had been quite a lot of Saudi-supported anti-Hizbullah agitation in Lebanon, so perhaps Olmert hoped to gain advantage from that. If so, he failed miserably. Lebanese from all political and religious persuasions rallied strongly around Hizbullah. That was not the only thing that went wrong with the war from Olmert's point of view. Some three weeks into the conflict, it became clear that even the Israeli air force's destruction of critical Lebanese infrastructure gruesomely celebrated in Israel thereafter as the "Dahiyeh Doctrine" could not force Hizbullah to cry "uncle.
Olmert and his advisers decided to send in Israeli ground forces. But the ground units all proved woefully ill-prepared for their task. It soon became clear that neither they nor the air force could stop Hizbullah's well-trained rocketeers from continuing to fire missiles deep into Israel's interior.
Thirty-three days into the campaign, both leaderships agreed it was time to stop. They negotiated a ceasefire through the mediation of the Lebanese government and the United Nations. The ceasefire's basic structure was a return to the status-quo ante. All the Israeli troops recently deployed into Lebanon had to immediately withdraw. All hostilities and cross-border military actions had to cease.
The United Nations beefed up its southern Lebanon peacekeeping force, which since had been a fairly ineffective presence along the border. For Israel, the war was a crushing defeat—and for its ground forces, in particular, a humiliation.
One explanation for the three vicious assaults Israel launched against Gaza in , , and was that the country's military leaders sought to regain from Israel's citizens the high esteem they had always previously enjoyed—esteem that had been very badly dented in For Hizbullah, the Day War of was unquestionably a victory, though one bought at a high price in the human and material losses suffered by all the Lebanese people. The essential victory that Hizbullah won in , as in , was that it faced down Israel's extremely high-tech military and survived with its core military and political networks and its ability to inflict significant destruction inside Israel all intact—and without having made any political concessions.
This is, of course, why Israel and its acolytes and supporters in the West all hate it so deeply. In the limited military exchange that Hizbullah and Israel engaged in on September 1, the underlying facts about the reciprocal deterrence that has existed between them since were on full display. For some years now, the Israeli military has been taking advantage of the chaotic situation in Syria to mount sporadic attacks against various targets there, including some that they claim are connected to Hizbullah or the Iranian military.
Lebanon War - Wikipedia
At periodic meetings that Israeli officials have conducted with their counterparts in Russia, which has long been allied with the Syrian government, the two sides have sketched out rudimentary "rules of engagement" for such raids. In July, and again in late August, it struck at Hizbullah operatives inside Syria, killing at least two of them.
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Of all the targets thus attacked, only Hizbullah retaliated directly against Israel. Israel's reaction to the announcement Nasrallah made on August 31, that Hizbullah "would retaliate" for Israel's killing of its operatives in Syria, was intriguing. As was widely reported in the always military-censored Israeli media, the Israeli military ostentatiously announced that it would pull troops back from front-line positions facing Lebanon, in what seemed like a deliberate move to de-escalate tensions.
Israeli soldiers near the Israel-Lebanon border, on the Israeli side, September 1, Israel's responses to the Wolf attack, which happened the very next day, were also intriguing. Secondly, in the informational sphere, Netanyahu went out of his way to deny that the attack on the military vehicle had caused any casualties. The video that Hizbullah made and distributed of the incident seemed clearly to show that the vehicle was an APC, and that the two missiles that struck it caused massive explosions.
Other news footage from inside Israel showed injured soldiers being carried out and evacuated to a nearby military hospital. But Israeli spokesmen, faithfully parroted by reporters from the local and foreign media—all of whom are subject to Israeli military censorship- described the vehicle as merely a military "jeep" and said the footage showing apparent medevac operations had been faked by the military, using dummies.
This strange claim seemed aimed either at reassuring Hizbullah that its operation had already "succeeded" enough that it need not launch any follow-on attacks—or, perhaps more plausibly, at damping down any desire Israelis might have had for a large-scale retaliation. Israeli troops in the northern Israeli village of Avivim, close to the border with Lebanon, September 1, But throughout this whole episode, Israel's leaders were still clearly signaling that they agree that "You don't mess with Hizbullah.
One essential fact in that balance is that the alliance between Hizbullah and Iranian leadership goes far deeper than any mere coalition of convenience and is, in practice, unbreakable at this point. Another is that Hizbullah's home turf and principal area of operations directly abuts Israel—and it cannot be defeated there. Remember, after all, that Hizbullah first emerged in the mids under the difficult circumstances of a harsh Israeli occupation of one-third of Lebanon—and that it showed first, that it could successfully organize to throw off that occupation and, then, that it could repel the next big attempt Israel made, in , to destroy it.
Much about the regional balance has changed since The biggest change has been the heartbreakingly protracted civil war in Syria, a conflict that weakened the Syrian government which had long been a key part of the Iran-led coalition and considerably weakened Damascus's ability to protect the Syrian homeland from incursion by all manner of hostile foreign forces, including those of Israel, the United States, and Turkey.
Syria's civil war has, however, provided Hizbullah and the IRGC with valuable opportunities to act and train in complex urban-conflict environments. Similar prisoner exchanges had been conducted a number of times in recent years. In Gaza, militants from the fringe Popular Resistance Committees had captured another IDF soldier on June 25 with the same goal; he was still held captive.
The strategy worked. It took the local IDF commanders half an hour even to learn about the ambush of the jeeps. Once they did, they sent a force of tanks and armored personnel carriers into Lebanon in pursuit of the group that was presumed to be holding the abducted soldiers. Around 11 a. Throughout the day Israeli air and naval forces bombed bridges and other choke points along the routes to the north that they thought the abductors might take. At some point that day, too, the Olmert government decided to unleash a far broader bombing campaign. This was a crucial declaration. Two Israelis were killed by Hizbullah rockets that day.
But there was another. Many influential members of the Israeli political right had been arguing for some years that Israel needed to reestablish the credibility of Israeli military deterrence, not only with Hizbullah but throughout the region. The Olmert government apparently embraced this broader goal. It must convince not only Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups that they should abandon their attacks on Israel, but also send a broader regional message that proxy wars against Israel executed by Iran and Syria will no longer be tolerated.
Morag stressed that Israel needed time to succeed. With the Bush administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair blocking Security Council calls for an immediate ceasefire, the bombing and destruction continued inside Lebanon. This bombardment had significant political effects. First and foremost, it greatly angered Jewish Israelis, and thus gave the government much stronger popular support for the war.
In and again in the late s, large Lebanon-related peace movements grew strong enough to sway official policy: one persuaded Barak to undertake the unilateral pullout from Lebanon in From July 12 through early August, the veteran Peace Now movement remained noticeably split, with many of its leaders and supporters—including such luminaries as the novelists Amos Oz and David Grossmann—expressing continued support for the war.
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As for the moderate Labor Party, it had been coopted by the government since Olmert first formed it in early May. It can be seen as having prolonged the war—though from its early days Nasrallah was also calling loudly for a rapid, reciprocal, and unconditional ceasefire. Why, then, had he ordered that first provocative raid against Israel on July 12, and why did he continue rocketing Israel even after it was evident that these continuing attacks were prolonging the war and the suffering of Lebanese people?
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He denied that the abduction of the IDF soldiers had been particularly provocative, saying that Hizbullah had launched even larger-scale operations against Israel since the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in ; but those operations had not sparked anything like the furious response of July Nasrallah saw no need to remind his mainly Lebanese audience that Israel had violated the recognized border between the two countries many hundreds of times since It was this attack that Olmert had launched.
There is indeed some evidence that the campaign was undertaken too hastily. Moreover, once a path of action was adopted, something went terribly wrong in making and implementing decisions. Bassam did not press Nasrallah on why, once the counterattack had started, Hizbullah continued launching almost daily barrages of rockets into Israel. But in numerous public utterances during the war Nasrallah said that Hizbullah would continue to launch rockets against civilian population centers inside Israel so long as Israel did the same in Lebanon.
On August 2, the rocketing resumed, and it continued until the August 14 ceasefire went into effect. When it did, the rockets stopped completely, and none have been launched against Israel since.
For a week, Israel and Lebanon seemed on the brink of war. But neither has the appetite for it
Time—and in particular, the timing of the ceasefire—was an important dimension of the war. At first the Lebanese government was the party most eager for a ceasefire. Hizbullah wanted one, too—provided it was unconditional. And Israel and the United States were working hard to block that possibility. As early as July 13, the Maglans, a special-forces unit of the IDF, had tried to enter the village of Maroun al-Ras, one kilometer north of the border.
Instead, we found a hydraulic steel door leading to a well-equipped network of tunnels. The next morning the Maglans were still pinned down by Hezbollah fighters. The reports of the raid shocked Halutz and Lieutenant General Udi Adam, who sent in reinforcements from the Egoz brigade. Meanwhile, on July 21 the IDF announced its first large call-up of ground-force reserves.
On July 26, Siniora presented the plan at an international conference in Rome.
Israel/Lebanon/Hezbollah Conflict in 2006
But the American government, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, continued to argue that the time was not right for a ceasefire. She and Bush still wanted to force Hizbullah to disarm. In Israel, the call-up of reserves was encountering difficulties. Peretz favors expanding the incursion as far as the Litani River, with the objective of controlling the area from which the short-range rockets are fired at Israel. He announced yesterday that he had instructed the army to do so.
Some officers fear that inadequately trained reserve units will sustain heavy losses. In any case, Israel intends to hold the security zone as a bargaining chip until a multinational force arrives. The bargaining chip, however, could become a burden if the troops remain in Lebanon for any length of time.
As the debate continued in Israel, the Bush administration finally moved toward the idea of a speedy ceasefire. The draft called for the unconditional release of the two captured IDF soldiers. By then the Bush administration, too, was starting to scale back its demands. Syria protested, too, and numerous Security Council members, including veto-wielders China and Russia, declined to support the U. Even the French backed away from it. In Israel, high-level dithering continued over whether there should be a large ground operation, and if so, what kind.
There were serious divisions among the top brass in the military, too. On August 11 at 8 p. It embodied a speedy, single-step approach to the deployment of additional peacekeepers, expanding the existing UN force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, rather than recommending the creation of a whole new force. Although the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution that Friday evening, hostilities still continued.
This offensive tripled the number of IDF ground troops inside Lebanon to 30, Deploying both by ground and in large convoys of helicopters, they tried to reach the Litani River at a number of points. The air force provided close air support; but it also hit targets deeper in the Lebanese interior, including power plants in Tyre and Sidon, a highway and several other targets in the far north of the country, and an apartment building in Baalbek in the northern Bekaa Valley.