Why did Israel attack Lebanon?
Some background and a short FAQ
In 2000, Israel withdrew all its military forces from southern Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982. (Here is why Israel had invaded.) Hezbollah, which formed not long afterward to fight Israeli forces in Lebanon, did not consider its mission complete when Israel withdrew. Supplied and trained by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah continued low-intensity combat against Israel across Israel's border. There were intermittent firefights between Hezbollahis and Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah also began launching Katyusha rockets into northern Israel not long after Israel left Lebanon, though in nowhere near the volume it has launched rockets in the present war.
There was an uneasy and sometimes violent stasis between Israel and Hezbollah that persisted from 2000 until last month. On July 12, Hezbollah fighters crossed the border into Israel and attacked an Israeli patrol. Three Israeli soldiers died in the fight. Hezbollah kidnapped two others and took them back into Lebanon.
Q: Why did Hezbollah carry out that raid?
A: According to Ali Fayyad, a member of Hezbollah's politburo, interviewed by Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker, Hezbollah kidnapped the Israeli soldiers to use them as bargaining chips for to obtain the release of some Hezbollah prisoners held by Israel.
Q: Why did Israel respond immediately with such strong military action?
A: Only two weeks before, the Hamas terrorist group, operating in Gaza, had kidnapped another Israeli soldier, apparently with the same intention. After several years of intifada against its citizens, the Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert thought that its two main adversaries were elevating the simmering war to a higher level. There was also a very widespread belief in the government and among the Israeli people that Israel had made great concessions for peace that turned out to be fruitless.
Under the Sharon government, the Israeli Defense Forces, IDF, had actually, physically removed Jewish settlers from Gaza and bulldozed their homes. There was enormous expectation that by withdrawing all Jews, not just the IDF, from Palestinian areas, that peace would finally be realized. However, with the ascent of Hamas into power in Gaza, essentially brushing aside the peace-inclined Palestinian Authority, there was no peace.
When Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, Israelis of all political stripes quickly united in the belief that there were no more concessions that Israel could make, that their adversaries had chosen war instead of peace. For example, Israeli author Daniel Gordis says that the war against Hezbollah is Israel's second war for independence.
So widespread is this belief among Israeli citizens that CNN reported today that surveys show that 85-90 percent of Israelis support a more vigorous prosecution of the war by the Olmert government.
This time, it’s different. Rage has given way to sadness. Disbelief has given way to recognition. Because we’ve been here before. Because we’d once believed we wouldn’t be back here again. And because we know why this war is happening. …
This is a war over our homes. Over our homes in the north, for now, but eventually, as the rockets get better and larger, all of our homes. This is not about the territories. This is not about the “occupation.” This is not about creating a Palestinian State. This is about whether there will be a state called Israel. Sixty years after Arab nations greeted the UN resolution on November 29 1947 with a declaration of war, nothing much has changed. They attacked this time for the same reason that they did sixty years ago.
Q: Did Hezbollah expect Israel to respond so violently?
A: Hezbollah's spokesmen say they did not. Ali Fayyad said they expected Israel would perhaps launch some short-term punitive strikes using aircraft and artillery, and then open back channel discussions about getting their soldiers back.
Q: What is Israel trying to accomplish with its military campaign?
A: Prime minister Olmert told the Israeli Knesset on July 17, explaining that the actions against both Hezbollah and Hamas were intended to “terminate their activity,” “remove this threat of the Middle East” and “conduct a tireless battle until terror ceases.” There were four national objectives, Olmert said, in striking into Lebanon:
* The return of the hostages, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev;Q: What about the Lebanese army? Is it involved in the fighting?
* A complete cease fire [on terms favorable to Israel - DS];
* Deployment of the Lebanese army in all of southern Lebanon;
* Expulsion of Hezbollah from the area, and fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 1559.
A: It is widely acknowledged by observers of all sentiments that the Lebanese national army is a symbolic organization rather than a real military one. Late last month Lebanese President Emile Lahoud was interviewed by Der Spiegel and explained why the idea, floated by the UN in 2004 (Resolution 1559) and the Israelis and some Western powers since July 12, that Lebanon’s national army bring Hezbollah to heel is a fantasy.
At the outset of hostilities, no military analyst gave a ghost of a chance that the Lebanese army could fight Hezbollah. Given the very stiff resistance Hezbollah has given Israel's army, there's no douby they were correct.
SPIEGEL: Mr President, you are the commander-in-chief of the Lebanese army. Lebanon finds itself in the middle of a war, but it is being fought by a militia in the south of the country. Where is the regular army?
Lahoud: I myself built up this army following the civil war and integrated all the religious groups: Muslims, Christians and Druze. This army is there to secure internal peace, but it is not an army to fight a war.
SPIEGEL: United Nations Resolution 1559 demands that the army should control the whole country — up to the border with Israel.
Lahoud: It (the army) does that. But it wasn’t the army that freed the occupied south of the country, rather it was the resistance which achieved that. Without this resistance Lebanon would still be occupied today.
Q: What did UN Resoluton 1559 say?
A: In 2004 the UN Security Council passed a resolution that called for a "fair presidential election in Lebanon conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence and, in that connection, called upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon." The "foreign forces" referred to were Syrian, Israeli troops having left Lebanon four years before.
The text of the resolution said in part,
The Security Council ...The resolution recognized that Lebanon's natonal government did not (and still does not) exercise sovereign authority over most of southern Lebanon.
Gravely concerned at the continued presence of armed militias in Lebanon [this meant Hezbollah - DS], which prevent the Lebanese government from exercising its full sovereignty over all Lebanese territory, ...
3. Calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias [again, Hezbollah];
4. Supports the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory;