Middle East Review of International Affairs
Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?: Israel and Lebanon after the Withdrawal
By Laura Zittrain Eisenberg *
This study is based on a survey of 195 research cooperation projects conducted jointly by Israeli scholars with Arab counterparts from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, reflecting a large number of disciplines. Difficulties in developing such research cooperation involve the widespread resistance in the Arab world to "normalization" with Israel, including a perception that such cooperation should generally take place after the political process has resolved the major elements of the conflict. Nevertheless, the study concludes that such professional and scientific cooperation appears to break down barriers between academics, and can be a significant tool in peace-building.
Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Lebanon's steps towards the reestablishment of governmental control there open a new era in Israeli-Lebanese relations. This article recounts the history of Israeli and Lebanese perceptions of one another and of the frontier itself, suggesting that current conditions allow for cautious optimism and the possibility of a quiet border for the first time in many years.
On May 24, 2000, Israel suddenly withdrew its troops from its self-declared "security zone" in southern Lebanon. Israel had occupied this swath of Lebanon along its northern border, by proxy or directly, since 1978. In the two and a half years before the actual withdrawal, mounting casualties, a growing sense of purposelessness, increasing grassroots protests, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak's campaign promise to bring the Israel Defense Force (IDF) home created widespread anticipation that a drastic change in Israel's Lebanon policy was imminent.
By the summer of 2000 a consensus in favor of exiting Lebanon had clearly developed in Israel, but there was widespread disagreement over whether this could be accomplished safely, particularly without coordination with Lebanon and Syria. In choosing withdrawal, the Barak government is gambling that with Israel on one side of a mutually recognized border, and a responsible Lebanon on the other side, a good strong fence between them would make good neighbors (but not necessarily good friends) of southern Lebanon and northern Israel.
On August 9, 2000, 1,000 Lebanese soldiers and police were finally deployed near, but not at, the border. Between the Lebanese forces which enforce that country's sovereignty and the Israeli forces along the frontier itself is a narrow strip of land where both UN forces and Hizballah are present. The question is, of course, whether such a situation will bring a peaceful situation or an interim period in which a new structure of tension prevails and violence could break out.
Where one stood in the security zone debate boiled down to one's assumptions as to Hizballah's and Syria's post-withdrawal activity. In fact, Zionist and Israeli policy toward Lebanon has historically turned on two questions relevant to today's situation. First, exactly where is the border? Second and more importantly, exactly what are the intentions of the folks on the other side? Israel's blunders in Lebanon have usually reflected a failure to recognize the relative strengths and probable actions of various Lebanese actors.
The withdrawal decision so far seems to be a happier one than the choices that led Israel into ever-deepening trouble in Lebanon in the past. Examining this history and the most recent developments requires checking the past location and status of the Israel-Lebanon border and Yishuv/Israeli perceptions of their Lebanese neighbors. A third aspect, surprisingly neglected by many Israelis, is how the Lebanese perceive the border and Israel when they look south. After establishing the historical background, this paper considers all three questions in the context of the unilateral withdrawal. Where is the border, what are the intentions of Hizballah and other actors in Lebanon, and how do Lebanon and Israel see one another now that the IDF has departed?
Where is the border?
Historically, the border between Palestine/Israel and Lebanon has been highly fluid and permeable. The Ottomans had divided the territory of the eastern Mediterranean coast into administrative districts and sub-districts, none of whose boundaries resemble those of any contemporary political units. "Palestine" did not exist as a formal entity; "Lebanon" referred to the immediate area of Mount Lebanon; and "southern Syria" presumably meant southern Lebanon and/or northern Palestine, between which there was no boundary. 1
"Eretz Yisrael," the Hebrew expression for the biblical Land of Israel, proved similarly vague in terms of twentieth-century geography. Some scripturally-minded geographers deduced that the Hebrew tribe of Naphtali had dwelt along the Litani river, and that the tribe of Asher had settled near Sidon. 2 The Jews of Sidon, in fact, considered themselves part of Eretz Yisrael. 3 Mainstream Zionist interest in southern Lebanon during the early decades, based solely on economic imperatives, never went beyond the Litani river at most.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 marked the first attempt to draw the Lebanon-Israel border on a map. In 1918, as World War I victors, the British and French tried to draw that line on the ground. As a military, and not a political boundary, the border remained technically open to revision. Several modifications, reflecting primarily the rivalry and interests of the British and French in the division of spoils, were adopted and codified in 1923. It is this 1923 border (referred to today as the "blue line") which UN team cartographers painstakingly verified in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.
Even at its inception, however, the 1923 boundary worked better in theory than in practice, where it bisected private, communal, and religious property as well as local trade routes. Inhabitants on both sides of the new border responded by going about their business as if it did not exist. Both Jews and Arabs in the Galilee and Christians and Muslims in South Lebanon continued to travel and conduct commerce in each other's areas. The region's natural market forces proved unaffected by arbitrary map markings. Unable to close the border, the mandatory powers contented themselves with taxing cross-border activities via a Good Neighborly Relations accord signed in 1926. 4
Removed from the politics of Beirut and neglected by the central government, southern Lebanon had remained an economic extension of northern Palestine, despite the official border demarcation. But the absence of governmental control also created a power vacuum, quickly filled by Arab irregulars once the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 began in Palestine. Arab bands were recruited, based, armed, and trained in south Lebanon, from where they periodically crossed the border and struck southward against Jewish settlements.
The military consequences of the border's placement in the early 1920s thus became clear in the late 1930s. Debate about the establishment of the 1923 border had reflected hydrologic, economic, great power and religious interests. In terms of security, however, "northern Palestine was penetrable almost everywhere." 5 In an attempt to seal the border against incursions from the north, the British authorized the construction of double and triple barbed-wire fences running the length of the Palestine-Lebanon border in May and June 1938. "Tegart's Wall," named for Sir Charles Tegart, security advisor to the Palestine government, promptly incurred the wrath of local inhabitants on both sides of the border, since it bisected pastures and private property. A barrier to the legal and illegal trade upon which much of the border region's population depended, the wall suffered continuous attack from both sides. The British struggled to keep the fence more or less intact; but with the termination of the rebellion in 1939, the wall was rapidly dismantled. 6 The mandatory powers used their soldiers and gendarmes to control continued cross-border traffic, but smugglers, particularly of guns and illegal Jewish immigrants, still traversed the line at will.
Who is on the other side?
(The Zionist Perspective)
From the outset, Lebanon impressed many in the Zionist movement as a Christian country sympathetic to the Zionist program in Palestine. Zionist representatives traveling in the Middle East often reported pleasant encounters with and political overtures from Lebanese Maronite Catholics, some highly placed, whose community exercised real political power in Lebanon. The Jewish Agency for Palestine, the official Zionist representation in Palestine, returned Maronite expressions of friendship in kind. Most officials dismissed the Maronites as too weak and divided to make useful political allies. But some in the Zionist camp thought it possible to forge a "minority alliance" of Lebanese Christians and Palestinian Jews against a common Muslim enemy. 7
The violence and disorder during the Palestinian Arab revolt of 1936-1939 sent thousands of Palestinian Arabs fleeing to Lebanon. At both the elite and local levels, Zionist observers persisted in viewing Lebanon as fundamentally friendly and blamed rising anti-Zionism there on Palestinian propaganda and intimidation. 8 They argued that once Palestinian Arab operations and organizations there were shut down, Lebanon would be free to express its natural affinity for Jewish Palestine. Continuing overtures from a small number of Maronite ultra-nationalists and the maintenance of good relations with Muslim and Christian villages on the border encouraged these misperceptions.
Although the Jewish Agency never adopted an outright pro-Maronite policy, the notion of a friendly Lebanon came to dominate Zionist thinking. Conventional Zionist wisdom held that the Christians were anxious to make common cause with Jewish Palestine; that Lebanon's Sunni Muslims would appreciate commercial interaction between Lebanon and Palestine; Shia Muslims would be content with pleasant trade relations with local Jewish settlements; and Lebanese Druze would follow the lead of their cooperative brethren in the Galilee. Although the Jewish Agency entered into negotiations and even signed some agreements, skepticism ran high enough among top officials such that it never actually predicated policy on the creation of a strong Lebanese-Yishuv alliance.
(The Lebanese Perspective)
There were indeed Lebanese of all sectarian stripes who did seek economic benefit from the influx of Jews into Palestine. But many more saw the incoming European Jews as economic rivals or perceived a Zionist threat to the Arabs in Palestine. Pleased by the myriad of contacts from friendly Lebanese they were receiving, Zionists active in relations with Lebanon paid insufficient attention to the larger mass of unfriendly forces there.
The 1936-1939 uprising in Palestine moved Lebanese public opinion, including that of Lebanese Christians, towards even greater sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs. The temptation on the part of some Lebanese to harness Zionist resources to their own projects led to a series of draft agreements and one actual treaty between the Jewish Agency and various actors, mostly but not exclusively Maronite, between 1920 and1948. But all attempts to produce an operational political partnership failed, primarily due to the Lebanese side's inability to withstand popular Lebanese anti-Zionist pressures. 9
The First Arab-Israeli War, 1948-1949
Where is the border?
Israeli strategists only worried about the northern border insofar as the Arab Liberation Army or the Syrians might try to cross it. Lebanon's small army (3,500 troops) was never considered a threat. When war broke out in May 1948, the Lebanese army participated in several hit-and-run attacks in the Galilee; in June it took two Israeli border settlements, but did not advance further. During Operation Hiram 10 , of October 29-31, 1948, the IDF pushed the Lebanese Army back across the border, taking 15 south Lebanese villages in the process. Armistice negotiations in March 1949 bogged down only when Israel attempted to link its withdrawal from the Lebanese villages to a Syrian withdrawal from Israeli territory. Once Israel dropped linkage, the armistice was easily concluded 11 and the 1923 border reestablished, although neither side committed to it as the final border.
Who is on the other side?
(The Israeli Perspective)
The limited nature of the Lebanese-Israeli military engagement and the relatively smooth negotiation of the armistice perpetuated the traditional Zionist perspective of a benign Lebanon, including some particularly friendly Maronites. During Operation Hiram several Maronite villages in south Lebanon, besides those occupied, requested to be taken under Israeli aegis; some Maronites volunteered to join the IDF; 12 and reports reached Jerusalem that Maronite forces had protected Beirut's Jewish quarter during the war. 13 Israeli participants in the armistice talks and Israel-Lebanon Mixed Armistice Commission (ILMAC) came away with the distinct impression that some from the Lebanese side were winking at them, intimating a shared Palestinian or Muslim problem. Some Lebanese delegates suggested that while weak Lebanon could not be the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, it would surely be the second. Instead, Israel put any plans for Lebanon on the back burner, since more pressing problems on the Syrian and Egyptian borders demanded its attention.
(The Lebanese Perspective)
For their part, Lebanese perceptions of Israel tended to split in two directions: a majority blamed Israel for inundating Lebanon with Palestinian refugees; a minority saw in Israel a partner with whom to side against Palestinian Arab activity and Lebanese Muslim assertiveness. Lebanon's turbulent domestic politics of the 1950s and 1960s sent its many sectarian groups in search of outside patrons. By and large, the Israeli authorities resisted invitations to dabble in Lebanese politics, although on several occasions a small, ineffectual amount of money changed hands. 14 The border between Israel and Lebanon was for the most part successfully sealed, with cross-border activity limited by and large to stray cows and the occasional errant shepherd.
Where is the border?
Israeli attention did not turn seriously to Lebanon again until Palestinian guerrillas took up positions there, especially after their ouster from Jordan in the "Black September" of 1970. With the PLO headquartered in Beirut, its factions recruiting within the refugee camps, and the south dubbed "Fatahland" due to the predominance there of Yasir Arafat's Fatah organization, Lebanon became the focus of a bitter Israeli-PLO war. As foreshadowed 30 years earlier, southern Lebanon became the site for PLO training camps, arms depots, and staging grounds. Under Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's tutelage, the Lebanese government and the guerrillas negotiated the Cairo Agreement of 1969, ostensibly designed to regulate Palestinian activity in Lebanon. But the Agreement failed and the guerrillas continued to enjoy essentially free rein in the south, echoing Beirut's lack of control there in the 1936-39 period as well. Many of the most infamous Palestinian terrorist attacks of the 1970s originated in Lebanon, or were at least planned there, and the border area became a launching site for Palestinian attacks against Israel and blistering Israeli reprisals.
Who is on the other side?
(The Israeli Perspective)
Even as Israel and the PLO battled one another, the PLO became fully enmeshed in the Lebanese civil war that erupted in 1975. Focused on the PLO, Israel now perceived a Lebanon dominated in practice by a combination of Palestinian terrorists and their Lebanese Muslim supporters, Syrian troops in support of any anti-Israel faction, Maronites fighting off threatened Muslim supremacy, and the good citizens of southern Lebanon terrorized by PLO operatives in their midst. The Rabin government transferred a modest amount of arms to Maronite militias in northern Lebanon but remained skeptical as to their real fighting ability. In July 1976 Israel opened "The Good Fence" at the Israeli border town of Metulla. Presented as a humanitarian response to the suffering of South Lebanese civilians, the project was also designed to enhance Israeli intelligence and access across the border.
(The Lebanese Perspective)
Lebanese remained divided in their opinion of Israel. A majority shared the greater pan-Arab nationalist enmity toward the Jewish state. Some extremist Maronite factions aspired to employ Israeli military might on their behalf against their Lebanese rivals. In the south, both Christian and Muslim residents looked hopefully to any and all quarters which might bring security, stability and relief from Palestinian-Israeli crossfire.
The Litani Operation (June 1978) and Peace for Galilee (June 1982)
Where is the border?
In the late 1970s, the establishment of a buffer zone within Lebanon effectively moved the "border" between Israel and Lebanon northward. The 1978 "Litani Operation" and 1982 "Operation Peace for Galilee" were Israeli invasions designed to drive the PLO out of southern Lebanon (1978) and destroy the PLO entirely (1982). The buffer zone was officially created three months after the first invasion when, under U.S. pressure, Israel reluctantly withdrew its forces and acquiesced in their replacement by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). UN Resolution 425 of June 1978 called for an immediate Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 border and charged UNIFIL with confirming the withdrawal, restoring security, and assisting the government of Lebanon in extending effective control to the area. 15
Israel initially rejected 425 on the grounds that it was one-sided and unfairly castigated Israel for a retaliatory operation provoked by Palestinian terrorists operating freely in southern Lebanon. Distrustful of UNIFIL's commitment and ability to deter continued Palestinian attacks, Israel left behind a small number of IDF advisors to assist a local South Lebanese militia composed of Christians and Shia Muslims living in the area who agreed to prevent a PLO return in exchange for funds, arms, and military training from Israel. But neither UNIFIL nor the Israeli-bolstered Lebanese militias (first the "Free Lebanon Militia" [FLM] later the "South Lebanese Army" [SLA]) could stop anti-Israeli forces from massing in south Lebanon.
The second Israeli invasion, in 1982, was considerably more extensive and undertaken in conjunction with the Maronite Phalange organization. The primary goal was to destroy the PLO. Subsidiary goals were to diminish Syrian influence in Lebanon, facilitate the consolidation of a pro-Israel Lebanese government under Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel, and win Israel its second peace treaty with an Arab state.
The PLO was indeed expelled in September 1982. In May 1983, Lebanon and Israel signed an agreement that formally recognized the 1923 boundary between the two states, but allowed Israel tremendous liberties in crossing into Lebanese territory. 16 Article 3 and the Annex for Security Arrangements established a "security region" in southern Lebanon to serve as a buffer between Israel and anti-Israel forces operating in Lebanon. It was a humiliating affront to Lebanon's territorial sovereignty and absolutely unacceptable to Syria, Lebanon's power broker, which forced the accord's abrogation in March 1984. Prime Minister Shimon Peres, intending to cut Israel's losses, ordered a unilateral withdrawal. But since there was no agreement with Lebanon to secure the border, some IDF troops stayed behind. Moving throughout its South Lebanese "Security Zone" at will, Israel extended, in effect, its border with Lebanon to a line running roughly nine miles north of and parallel to the 1949 armistice line.
Who is on the other side?
(The Israeli Perspective)
In the early 1980s Israel made its most dangerous blunder in assessing the intentions and relative power of its Lebanese friends and foes. Up until the 1970s the Zionist/Israeli exaggeration of a friendly Christian community of allies in Lebanon caused minimum damage because Israel did not predicate policy upon that faulty precept. While the increasingly unrealistic perception of a Maronite partner perhaps precluded the Yishuv from pursuing a more realistic and productive Lebanon policy, it had not exposed it to any special political or military threat. The same held true for the first two decades of Israeli statehood. But once the Lebanese civil war began in 1975, Israel fell into the common trap of relying on religious shorthand, Christian vs. Muslim, to distinguish the nature and intentions of the key actors and began to pursue policy in Lebanon accordingly.
But in actuality, the conflict was one between Maronites trying to preserve their traditional political and economic privileges in Lebanon versus everyone else trying to seize a larger piece of the Lebanese pie for themselves. Israel's interests in Lebanon were not "Christian" at all, but rather dictated by standard strategic political thinking, which made any anti-PLO (and later anti-Hizballah) force a potential ally. 17 Differences within and among the Israeli cabinet, military and intelligence services concerning the desirability and capability of the Phalange as an ally are well-documented in the many accounts of the 1982 war. There was general agreement over the usefulness of forcing the PLO away from the northern border and even destroying the organization, if possible, but Prime Minister Menahem Begin used the Maronite angle both in formulating strategy and in appealing to Israeli public opinion. Deeply steeped in the historical lore of Maronite friendliness, few Israelis initially balked at the depiction of Lebanese Christians threatened with genocide and a natural harmony of Christian and Israeli interests in the face of mutual Muslim, Palestinian, and Syrian foes.
Begin relished the irony in the Jewish State rescuing oppressed Christians, while the rest of the world stayed mute. But Beirut was not Berlin, and Begin's insistence on viewing the Maronite situation in European, post-Holocaust terms removed him further from Lebanese realities than any of his predecessors.
Despite behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity, support for the SLA, and its own military operations in July 1993 (Operation Accountability) and April 1996 (Grapes of Wrath), Israel failed to suppress Hizballah. Fatalities ran at 20-30 IDF soldiers per year. Attempting to avoid roadside bombs, the IDF began to ferry its soldiers to security zone bases by helicopter, a plan that worked only until a collision between two helicopters in February 1997 claimed 73 lives. From that tragedy the "Four Mothers" group was born, a grassroots movement initiated by four mothers of sons serving in Lebanon, with the goal of compelling the government to withdraw all Israeli troops from Lebanon. 18 The organization introduced and legitimized the concept of unilateral withdrawal in national debate, its message driven home by the relentless procession of IDF body bags from Lebanon. Hizballah had succeeded in making the security zone untenable.
(The Lebanese Perspective)
Israel was so focused on the PLO and its Lebanese and Syrian allies that it neglected to evaluate properly the Lebanese Shi`a's politicization in the early 1970s, marked by the rise to leadership of Musa al-Sadr, and the formation of Shi'a organizations such as Amal and the Islamic fundamentalist Hizballah. Although some Shi'a supported the Palestinians and the PLO, othersangered at oppressive PLO domination and PLO cross-border attacks that invited Israeli retaliatory strikes against their villagesresponded to Israel's anti-PLO invasion of 1982 with relief and support. But as hostilities dragged on 1982, Israeli forces settled into the south, building new roads, posting road signs in Hebrew, commandeering facilities, and establishing bases or detention camps. These steps caused Israel to change in many Shi'a eyes from liberator to occupier. Despite the fact that a majority of the FLM and SLA foot soldiers were Shia, Israel had neither recognized nor rewarded the Shi'a as potential allies, taking their continued acquiescence for granted.
By 1985 Amal, founded to champion Shia rights within Lebanon, was being outgunned by Hizballah, which proclaimed a pan-Islamic fundamentalism. Funded by Iran and encouraged by Syria, Hizballah sought to drive the Israelis back across the border. Frequent declarations by the organization also stated an intention to remove Israel from Palestine and Jerusalem, as well. It is ironic that the PLO, target of the 1982 invasion, became Israel's peace partner in 1993, while many of the previously friendly Shi'a of south Lebanon joined Israel's new Hizballah enemy.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but it does appear that Israel missed a critical opportunity for salvaging some benefit from the 1982 invasion in the year or two immediately afterward. Unlike the situation in 1978, the PLO was really gone this time, and although the alliance with the Phalange had already soured, relations were still good with the Christians and Shia of south Lebanon. Had Israel withdrawn at that time, and/or accurately recognized the sensibilities and needs of the south Lebanese people, it might have earned the trust of a population genuinely interested in seeing the border quiet and secure. In a reflective post-withdrawal interview, Israel's coordinator for activity in Lebanon, Uri Lubrani, similarly suggests that Israel could and should have redeployed to the international border in 1984. 19 By failing to identify and accommodate the south Lebanese actors who remained after the PLO's expulsion, Israel helped provoke the creation of Hizballah, an enemy equally or more punishing than the PLO had ever been.
Israel's Unilateral Withdrawal, May 24, 2000
Where is the border?
In April 1998, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally committed Israel to the fulfillment of UN Resolution 425, twenty years after its passage. Thus when the Barak government ordered the IDF withdrawal in May 2000, its plan was in accord with longstanding Lebanese demands that the "Blue Line" to which Israel would withdraw would be the internationally recognized armistice line of 1949, itself a confirmation of the old 1923 border. Despite this confluence of opinion, however, that border again proved more difficult to situate on the ground than on paper.
UN border inspectors under the command of UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen spent almost two months marking the border and investigating Lebanese claims of Israeli infringements. 20 The case of Shebaa Farms, a water-rich site on the Syria-Lebanon border initially threatened to become a point of contention, but UN maps support Israel's contention that this area is Syrian territory, and therefore not a factor in Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. 21 Most of the alleged violations took the form of patrol roads that dipped into Lebanese territory or IDF outposts and fences that protruded across the border. Israel's rectification of UN-confirmed breaches and Beirut's acceptance of verification by the UN team that the withdrawal was in fact complete cleared the way in August 2000 for UNIFIL troops to deploy directly to the 1949 border. They were followed on August 9 by 1,000 Lebanese soldiers and police, although none of them went as far as the actual border, leaving both UNIFIL and Hizballah between themselves and the actual frontier.
Who is on the other side?
(The Israeli perspective)
The 1982 debacle and its painful costs have erased any rosy images of Lebanon or of specific Lebanese groups that might have lingered in the collective Israeli psyche. Too many families have lost sons and brothers in Lebanon, such that Israelis, now allergic to all things Lebanese, simply want a quiet border and a responsible force on the Lebanese side to keep it that way. Today Israel is fully aware of the multiplicity of actors on the Lebanese side of the border and devotes much attention to trying to judge their relative weight, although debate as to their various intentions still exists. When Israelis look north across the freshly marked border they see:
The Government of Lebanon - A troika comprised of President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Salim Hoss, and Speaker Nabih Berri presides over a weak Lebanese government beholden to Syria and seemingly unprepared for an IDF withdrawal. The leadership in both Lebanon and Syria apparently misread Israeli intentions, believing the unilateral withdrawal scenario to be a bluff. When they were proved wrong, voices from the international community, the Lebanese media, civilians in the south, and from Israel all urged the immediate dispatch of Lebanese Army forces to the south in the wake of the IDF's exit. But Beirut at first refused, just as it had, at Syria's insistence, rebuffed previous Israeli invitations to coordinate a withdrawal with the resumption of Lebanese control in the zone.
The government explained its inaction as a principled refusal to coordinate activity with Israel or as the precise implementation of UN Resolution 425, which it interpreted as mandating the extension of Lebanese authority to the south only after an Israeli withdrawal had been verified by the UN. 22 Most observers assumed that the Lebanese government awaited a green light from Syria before moving troops into the area. Indeed, it was widely reported that Lebanon's government officially accepted UNIFIL's deployment only after an endorsement by telephone from Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.
Lebanese leaders also wanted to receive Hizballah's approvement for the army's deployment. The Government in Beirut had often expressed support for Hizballah's role as a resistance and liberation force, but should Hizballah try to implement an Islamic fundamentalist program in Lebanon, or refuse to disarm, the two will be at odds.
Since the withdrawal, Beirut has busied itself with military trials against hundreds of SLA members who surrendered to Hizballah or were turned over to the government after Israel departed. Accused of collaboration with the enemy, these SLA men, Christians and Muslims, have received sentences ranging from several months to many years, leaving it unclear as to whether the government's purpose is to punish or assimilate Israel's former allies. SLA commanders have already been tried in absentia and sentenced to death.
The SLA - The SLA is no more. After a series of isolated defections in the weeks leading up to the withdrawal, the largely Shia 70th Battalion completely collapsed at the very beginning of the withdrawal, and the remainder of the 2,500-member force melted away, either surrendering to Hizballah or to Lebanese army units, returning quietly to their villages, or seeking emergency refuge in Israel. Israelis generally voiced sympathy for the SLA families left in the lurch by the sudden withdrawal and approved the government's efforts to admit all SLA affiliates requesting shelter. Stung by SLA accusations of having been sold out by the unannounced pullback, Israel argued that the safety of its own men during the withdrawal necessitated the difficult decision not to forewarn the SLA. In the preceding months during which rumors of an imminent Israeli withdrawal grew, some SLA members tried to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of Hizballah by passing on information as to Israeli plans, times and routes. But many more fought by Israel's side for many years. While there was no obviously graceful way to terminate the security zone and the relationship with the SLA, the disintegration of the SLA and the mad dash across the border for many of its members are not something of which Israelis can be proud.
Hizballah is perhaps the most important actor in Lebanon concerning the south's future. Expectations regarding Hizballah differ. Those analysts who predicted an immediate spasm of violence after an IDF withdrawal clearly miscalculated. Some suspect that the organization still seeks to liberate Jerusalem and, egged on by Iran and Syria, will revert to anti-Israeli attacks, this time from the border where they can strike deeper into Israel.
Hizballah leader Sayyed Nasrallah's July 2000 threat to destroy the U.S. Embassy in Israel, should it be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, is indicative of the organization's continued radical rhetoric. But many analysts believe that, with the IDF catalyst gone, Hizballah will turn its energies inward, to Lebanese domestic matters and to the intra-Shia struggle for predominance between Hizballah and Amal. Veteran Hizballah watchers Bahman Baktiari and Augustus Richard Norton argue that not only has Hizballah transformed itself "from revolutionary vanguard to legitimate political party," but that profound political developments in Tehran have actually led Iran to "actively encourage" that metamorphosis. 23
Moreover, and despite being on the same south Lebanon battlefield, Hizballah is not the political or ideological heir to the pre-Oslo PLO, either in terms of program or regarding its local situation. The PLO was always focused on liberating Palestine, and operated within an often hostile population in south Lebanon. Hizballah was fighting to liberate Lebanese land and operated among an increasingly supportive population. By accepting the 1996 Grapes of Wrath rules for IDF-Hizballah engagement within the security zone, Israel itself legitimated Hizballah military activity against the IDF and the SLA in Lebanon and over time began referring to Hizballah fighters as guerrillas and not simply terrorists. 24
Regardless of how one characterizes past Hizballah behavior, at issue now is how it has behaved since the withdrawal and what it will do in the future. Hizballah's post-withdrawal behavior to date has been very encouraging. There has been no wave of revenge killings, massacres, or sectarian ruptures, as opponents of the withdrawal plan predicted. Two incidents of inter-Lebanese violence have been linked to a failed car theft, in one instance, and an altercation between Amal and Hizballah members posting campaign posters in another.
If anything, Hizballah proved infinitely better prepared for the withdrawal than did the Lebanese government. Hizballah members had already been organized into teams according to their home villages and, as the withdrawal progressed, these teams were sent to keep their own people calm and either detain SLA members or persuade them to surrender. While the government dithered, Hizballah took quick and effective control of hospitals and clinics, trucked in water, and brought bulldozers, engineers, and doctors to the south. 25 From the beginning of the withdrawal Hizballah leaders stated a readiness to turn everything over to the government whenever it asked. When UN troops deployed in early August, Hizballah did turn over to them the fortified positions and observation posts they had assumed from the IDF and the SLA - but retained their weapons, which could be used in future cross-border attacks. 26
In the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal, civilians throughout Lebanon flocked to the south, coming within meters of Israeli soldiers across a chain-link fence at the Fatima Gate. Hizballah allows and even facilitates civilian Lebanese rock-throwing across the border at IDF soldiers posted inside Israel. Indeed, people come from all over Lebanon to the border for the express purpose of throwing stones, bottles, iron bars and other debris. 27 Hizballah men moved to subdue the crowds only when the harassment threatens to provoke a sharp Israeli response. On August 5, in an incident involving the throwing of an incendiary device, an Israeli soldier wounded four people on Lebanon's side of the border.
While no one can predict Hizballah's future behavior, there are encouraging indications that it has plenty of non-military operations with which to busy itself. The important social services' network on which ordinary supporters depend has developed priorities beyond removing the IDF from the south. Since 1992, Hizballah has been active in domestic Lebanese electoral politics, joining Amal in raising the national prominence of Shia issues. It won seven parliament seats in the 1996 elections and will surely garner even more in the August 2000 elections by riding the crest of its south Lebanon success. In parliament, Hizballah representatives have demonstrated a readiness to "check their ideology at the door," eschewing the classic fundamentalist stances of inflexibility and a refusal to compromise. 28 This readiness to seek respectability has increased the organization's attractiveness to middle-class Shia, making its activists, in the words of one veteran observer, "Lebanese nationalists par excellence." 29
Syria - The sudden death of President Hafiz al-Asad in June 2000 creates great uncertainty as to Syria's desires and role in Lebanon. His son and successor, Dr. Bashar Assad, is an opthamologist by training whose ability to consolidate power and make and execute policy is untested. Small rumblings of Lebanese impatience for a Syrian withdrawal from their country have yet to become prevalent enough provoke a serious Syrian response. 30 It is likely that Bashar's internal maneuverings have bought the Israeli-Lebanese border region some quiet time and the go-ahead for the Lebanese Army's deployment to the south is encouraging. But unless the army moves all the way to the border, there remains the possibility that Syria will hold up a full Lebanese deployment as a bargaining chip for the Golan. For the same reason, it might also encourage Hizballah or Palestinian rejectionists to continue attacks into Israel across the border.
UNIFIL By serving as a neutral arbiter in verifying the Israel-Lebanon border, the UN team provided a valuable service to both countries. If UNIFIL is to be any more effective than it has been in the past, it must fulfill its expanding responsibilities with the same seriousness it recently demonstrated in marking the border. It will be aided in that respect if the principal actors, Lebanon, Syria, Hizballah and Israel meet it with cooperation instead of obstruction. The smooth deployment in the first days in August bode well for the future. Even Israel, traditionally disappointed with UNIFIL's weak performance, now indicates an eagerness to work in concert with the blue helmets. 31
(The Lebanese Perspective)
Lebanese have been flocking to the new border fence in a celebratory mood. (32) When they look southward through the barbed wire, whom do they see on the other side? In the immediate sense, they look at the well-tended gardens and orchards and neatly red-tiled roofs of Metulla, Israel's northernmost town, which they can't help but note does not bear the obvious scars and deprivations of Lebanese towns in the former war-zone directly across the border.
Despite continued Israeli assurances that the Jewish state stakes no claim to Lebanese land or water and that its goal had long been to end the fighting without endangering civilians on its side of the border, Lebanese are still skeptical and continue to see Israel as an aggressive enemy of the past, present and future. Prominent among negative characterizations are that Israel may yet take advantage of some future ooportunity to seize Lebanese land or water, or will still try to meddle in Lebanese affairs, a suspicion occasionally fueled by the pro-Israel position of a shrinking number of Lebanese Christian nationalists.
Among members and families of Israel's previous SLA ally, many have expressed feelings of abandonment and betrayal at the rapid withdrawal. Anti-SLA forces have delighted in pointing out to the SLA, whom they see as traitors, just how unreliable their Israeli patron turned out to be. Although most Israelis expressed sympathy for the SLA's post-withdrawal plight, the government significantly underestimated the number of SLA refugees who would demand sanctuary, and while providing them with temporary accommodations, healthcare, and stipends, appears to have no long-term plan for what to do with them.(33)
Many Palestinians resident in Lebanon were among the first to travel to the border. When they look across the line, they see Palestine, many of them for the first time. Their precarious position in Lebanon, the fear of provoking an anti-Palestinian backlash among the Lebanese, and their own lack of military wherewithal mitigate against a cross-border campaign against Israel. They contribute, however, to the general level of Lebanese hostility towards Israel.
Twenty two years of Israeli military activity in Lebanon embittered Lebanese across the political spectrum, and strikes within the last two years against utilities in Beirut, designed to coerce Lebanese restraint of Hizballah, only reminded Lebanese otherwise removed from the border of their grudge against Israel. The most unifying and damning moment for Lebanese perceptions of Israel came in April 1996, when IDF gunners hit the UN compound at Qana, resulting in the deaths of over 100 Lebanese who had sought shelter there. The memorial there has become a place of pilgrimage.
Despite its Islamist origins and precepts, Hizballah won the respect of most Lebanese across sectarian lines for its role as an ultimately successful patriotic resistance force. Israel has few friends left in Lebanon; in fact, Israeli operations in Lebanon have left a reservoir of Lebanese anger likely to last for some time. The best source of hope for the diminishing of Lebanese enmity for Israel is Lebanon's self-interest in unifying and rebuilding the country without fear of Israeli retaliation for new cross-border attacks.
Israel's decision to evacuate the security zone unilaterally was a courageous risk, reflecting, at last, a clear-eyed, realistic appraisal of the situation along the border, of Israel's goals with respect to Lebanon and of the relative weaknesses and strengths of forces on the other side. The first few months following Israel's withdrawal from the Lebanese security zone suggest that there is reason for cautious optimism that both Lebanon and Israel can look forward to a quiet front between them. For Lebanon, the most important result of the withdrawal has been the complete evaporation of IDF and SLA forces from Lebanese territory and the termination of armed conflict between them and Hizballah within the now defunct security zone. The most important result for Israel has been the immediate cessation of IDF contact and conflict with Hizballah, and the restoration, "for the first time in 22 years, of a clear-cut border between Israel and Lebanon, [leaving] Israel with a tighter fist and a more unified public." (34)
Mutual recognition of an official border strengthens Israel's position in many ways: it removes Hizballah's ostensible purpose, diminishing its incentive to fight; puts international public opinion on Israel's side; and leaves the formidable Israeli air force free to act should hostile activity from the Lebanese side threaten northern Israel. Thomas Friedman puts Israel's take on the border issue succinctly:
Whenever Israel has found itself in conflicts without borders-south Lebanon, the Intifada in the West Bank-it has always lost, because it always found it difficult to win support, either at home or abroad, for the force that is required to win a war without borders....Israelis will only sanction this force and sacrifice for a war of clear-cut self-defense over a defined border. (35)
Mutual acceptance of the international border and the evacuation of Lebanese territory by the IDF clearly bolster Beirut's political standing. The continued presence of Syrian troops and influence elsewhere in the country, and the tardy deployment of the Lebanese Army to the south, however, indicate that neither a line on a map nor a line on the ground are proof positive indicators of a country's true independence.
Now it is clear exactly where the border is-but who do Israelis see when they look north? Just hours after the last IDF soldier crossed the border back into Israel, the residents of Metulla could look out their windows and observe armed Hizballah men and jeering Lebanese crowds only meters away through a thin metal fence. Neat gardens and pretty red roofs aside, Metulla's homes also have much-used security rooms and bomb shelters.Israelis know they have enemies on the opposite side, but are gambling that the end of the occupation, the Lebanese desire for security, the expansion of the UNIFIL operation, the deployment of the Lebanese Army, Hizballah's preoccupation with the upcoming elections and the IDF's deterrent punch will restrain those enemies from attacking.
Lebanese celebrations and Hizballah's victory declarations take place in the context of a situation that is not a zero-sum game. Israelis are as happy to have the troops come home as the Lebanese are to see them go. Ending the battle over south Lebanon and establishing stability along the border is a benefit to both sides, not something Israel did to placate or satisfy Lebanon.
At the same time, whatever rhetoric is employed by Hizballah and others, Israel has not lost its strategic deterrent. In closing down shop in south Lebanon, Israel demonstrated "not a loss of will...[but rather a rethinking of ] its willingness to go on doing something self-defeating."(36) Shibley Telhami argues that far from giving in to terrorism, Israel simply came, belatedly but correctly, to the understanding that it could justify the sacrifice of her sons in defense of its own territory better than it could in a foreign land forcibly occupied. (37)
And who do Lebanese see when they look south? A defeated Israeli army, over whom Hizballah has declared victory? While this interpretation is simplistic, it can nonetheless contribute to the possibility of a quiet border. Hizballah is using its triumph as the centerpiece in its campaign for the August parliamentary elections. If its success in the south propels the party into the heart of Lebanese internal politics, everyone on both sides of the border will benefit. This includes Israel, which prefers Hizballah be busy wheeling and dealing in Lebanese politics instead of lobbing katyusha rockets across the border; Lebanon's Shia population, which has long needed powerful representation at the top of Lebanon's system; and all the border residentsIsraeli and Lebanesewho want to live in peace and quiet.
A Lebanese campaign to rebuild in the south is similarly in the interest of both sides. The more Lebanese invest in the South and the more people return to rebuild their communities and their lives there, the more it is in their own best interests not to allow an anti-Israel military offensive to re-ignite the conflict. The successful rehabilitation of south Lebanon is a great constraint on any temptation Hizballah might have to carry on the fight. The assumption of genuine control over that region by Lebanon's own army is a necessity if the border is to become stable. For their part, Israelis are gambling that in the new situation a Lebanese desire for security, the enhanced UNIFIL operation, the deployment of Lebanese soldiers and police to the south, Hizballah's preoccupation with domestic and electoral politics, and the IDF's deterrent punch will prevent cross-border attacks.
The Good Fence may be locked, but there is a chance that a good fence can make Israel and Lebanon, if not good friends, then at least neighbors who no longer trespass on one another's property or harbor the other's enemies, both with deadly results. Even as good people on both sides must strive to break down the psychological walls of hostility between Israelis and Lebanese, the material fence separating them must remain, for the indefinite future, high and strong.
*: Laura Zittrain Eisenberg is Visiting Associate Professor in the History Department at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the co-author, with Neil Caplan, of Negotiating Arab-Israel Peace: Patterns, Problems, Possibilities (Indiana University Press, 1998) and a co-editor of Books on Israel, Volumes 5 and 6 (SUNY, 2000 and forthcoming). Back.
Note 1: For an interesting discussion of the imprecision of geographical terms in the Levant, see Kamal Salibi, A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 60-71. Back.
Note 2: Deuteronomy 1:7, 3:25, 11:24; Joshua 1:4; "The Northern Boundary of Biblical Palestine," January 1, 1920, Central Zionist Archives [CZA], Z4/16024; For a detailed analysis of the various interpretations of the biblical boundaries of Eretz Yisrael, see Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Biblical Account of the Conquest of Canaan (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1953). Back.
Note 3: The Jewish community in Sidon received aid from the Zionist Commission in Jerusalem commensurate with that received by Jewish communities in the Holy Land, and Sidon's Jews voted in the election for the first Jewish Elected Assembly in Eretz Yisrael. When the community fell on hard times, its leaders identified themselves as "the residents of Sidon, which is in Eretz Yisrael," and appealed to Jerusalem to assist them in no less the manner than "the rest of the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisrael." Petition from the Jewish Community of Sidon, [ca. 1919?], Archive for Jewish Education in Israel and the Diaspora [ED], file 1138 (Hebrew.). See also Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), pp. 197-98. Back.
Note 4: Frederic C. Hof, Galilee Divided: The Israel-Lebanon Frontier 1916-1984 (Boulder: Westview, 1985) , pp. 17-20; Mayor Yossi Goldberg, David Sandler, and Shalom Fein, interviews with author, April 28, 1987, Metulla, Israel. The Accord legalized commercial trafficking between the inhabitants of southern Lebanon and the Jews and Arabs of the Galilee and permitted the Jews of Metulla to work their land in French mandated territory, for which they paid property taxes to the Lebanese government. Local Christians, Shi'a, and Druze continued to approach Zionist representatives with offers to sell land in southern Lebanon. Pinchas Na'aman to Zionist Commission, July 8, 1920 and July 13, 1920, Central Zionist Archives [CZA], L3/625 (Hebrew.); L. K. Weiss to Kadmi-Cohen concerning land for sale near Tyre and Sidon, [ca. 1921-1924?], CZA, A174/20/5 (Hebrew.). Back.
Note 7: 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 Reuven Erlich, The Lebanon Tangle: The Policy of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel towards Lebanon, 1918-1958 (Tel Aviv: Maarchot, 2000) (Hebrew) and from the Christian nationalist perspective in Walid Phares, Lebanese Christian Nationalism: The Rise and Fall of an Ethnic Resistance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1995). Back.
Note 8: The actual assailants who harassed Jewish settlements in the Galilee were, in fact, bands of Arab irregulars based in Lebanon and almost never local Lebanese, some of whom tipped off their Jewish neighbors about imminent rebel operations. Author's interviews with lifelong border residents at Kibbutz Hanita, Metulla, and Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, April 1987. For the relationship of Lebanon to the conflict in Palestine prior to 1948, see Barry Rubin, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict (Syracuse, NY, 1982). Back.
Note 9: Because the Jewish Agency never wholly bought into the minority-alliance concept, the conclusion - and quick failure - of a secret 1946 treaty between the Jewish Agency and the Maronite Church had minimal impact on Zionist planning and policy. Laura Zittrain Eisenberg, "Desperate Diplomacy: the Zionist-Maronite Treaty of 1946," Studies in Zionism, 13:2 (Autumn 1992) 147-163. Back.
Note 10: Hiram was the Phoenician King of Tyre who enjoyed a close alliance with Kings David and Solomon. In the pre-state period the romantic wing of the minority alliance school cited this biblical pact between the Hebrews and the Phoenicians, from whom some Maronites claim descent, as precedent for a modern Zionist-Maronite partnership. Back.
Note 11: Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel, Vols. 2 and 3 (Jerusalem, 1983, 1984); See Erlich, The Lebanese Tangle, Part 2, for extensive discussion of the Israel and Lebanon and the first Arab-Israeli war. Back.
Note 12: Ya'akov Shimoni to Eliahu Sasson, November 2, 1948, Israel State Archives [ISA] 2570/11; Shimoni to Walter Eytan, November 18, 1948, ISA FM 186/17; Beate Hamizrahi, The Emergence of the South Lebanon Security Belt: Major Saad Haddad and the Ties with Israel 1975-1978 (New York: Praeger, 1988), p. 14. Back.
Note 13: "Situation of Jews in Syrian and Lebanon," August 31, 1948, ISA 2563/3; Anon, "News from the Lebanon," undated (probably December 1949), ISA, 2531/12; author's interview with Kamal Salibi, October 31, 1992; Michael Hudson, The Precarious Republic: Political Modernization in Lebanon (New York: Random House, 1968) pp. 48-49. Back.
Note 14: Secretive advances in 1948-51 by Maronites, seeking Israeli help in bringing themselves to power, failed to elicit serious support. David Ben-Gurion, From Ben-Gurion's Diary: the War of Independence, edited by G. Rivlin and E. Oren (Tel Aviv: Misrad Habitachon, 1986), p. 444 (Hebrew); and Benny Morris, "Israel and the Lebanese Phalange: The Birth of a Relationship, 1948-1951," Studies in Zionism, 5:1 (Spring 1984) pp. 125-44. During the 1958 crisis in Lebanon, Israel did transfer some guns to the Chamoun government. See Erlich, The Lebanon Tangle, Part 3, for extensive discussion of the 1949-1958 period. Back.
Note 17: Strategic imperatives created an Israeli interest in deterring limited attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border and denying Syria access to Israel via Lebanon in the event of a full-scale war. Once Israel acquiesced to Syria's penetration of Lebanon, through the "red line" agreements of the 1970s, "standard strategic-political thinking" suggested the usefulness of an ally in Lebanon. Avner Yaniv, Dilemmas of Security: Politics, Strategy, and the Israeli Experience in Lebanon (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 64, Yair Evron, Lebanon: The Israeli-Syrian Deterrence Dialogue (London: Croom Helm, 1987) p. 28. Back.
Note 20: For a complete discussion see Frederic C. Hof, "Defining full withdrawal: Re-Marking the Lebanese-Israeli Border," Middle East Insight (May-June 2000), on-line at www.mideastinsight.org and Hof, Beyond the Boundary: Lebanon, Israel and the Challenge of Change (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Insight, 2000). The last time Israel and Lebanon cooperated in marking the border was under UN supervision, between 1949-1951. Hof, Beyond the Boundary, p. 22. Back.
Note 21: Syria and Lebanon contend that the area was Syrian, but that Syria ceded it to Lebanon in 1951. It will be interesting to see if Syria indeed turns it over to Lebanon, should Syria regain it in a future Syrian-Israeli land-for-peace deal. See Nicholas Blanford, "Larsen's loophole may be solution to Shebaa," The Daily Start (Beirut), 27 May 2000, on-line <www.dailystar.com.lb> and Hof, Beyond the Boundary, pp. 17-21. Back.
Note 24: For example, Shmuel Gordon, The Vulture and the Snake: Counter-Guerrilla Air Warfare: The War in Southern Lebanon, BESA Security and Policy Studies, No. 39, July 1998. The text of the Grapes of Wrath ceasefire understanding is available on-line at the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, <www.mfa.gov.il>. Back.
Note 26: John Kifner, "UN Peacekeepers Arrive to Guard Israel-Lebanon Border," NYT, August 6, 2000, p. A4; Nicholas Blanford, "Go, go! Lahoud gives UNIFIL the green light - 800 peacekeepers begin moving into liberated areas," Daily Star (Beirut), August 6, 2000, on-line; David Rudge, "Lebanese Army set to move south," The Jerusalem Post, August 6, 2000, on-line. Back.
Note 31: Regarding Israeli intention vis-à-vis UNIFIL, see "Israel Respects Lebanese Sovereignty": interview with Yehuda Lancry, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, in Middle East Insight, July-August 2000, on-line. Back.
Note 32: Michael S. Arnold, "Heady Days in Lebanon," The Jerusalem Post (international edition), June 16, 2000, p 6; John Kifner, "Ice Cream and Bottle Rockets at Lebanon's Border Parade," NYT, July 3, 2000, p. A1, Deborah Sontag, "Lebanese holiday is born and old prison is preserved," NYT, May 26, 2000, p. A11. Back.