The conflict in Lebanon has been splattered all over the news for the last couple of months. Presently, the United Nations is struggling to bring in more peacekeepers from Spain and Indonesia to… keep the peace. By sensationalizing who is the victim and who is evil, the media has exhausted the topic. In this ‘world crisis,’ who is to blame?
Right and wrong are black and white until motivations and historical justifications come into play. Regarding Israel and Lebanon, there are many shades of grey the media tends to neglect. Understanding the history behind the present situation is vital in deconstructing the quagmire perpetuated by the press.
1975 to 1990: The state of Lebanon goes through civil war, due partly to the huge number of Palestinian arabs forced out of Israel into the mostly peaceful Christian/Muslim nation of Lebanon. These ex-patriots leave Israel with fury at being ousted from what was ‘their nation,’ for reasons they see (rightly or wrongly) as being unethical and unjustified. The Palestinian Liberation Organization begins bombing Israel’s northern towns.
1982: Israel invades southern Lebanon in an attempt to expel the PLO. Although largely successful, Israel is forced soon after to withdraw into a borderland buffer zone (on Lebanese territory), thanks to the United Nations’decree. A host of Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah, rise up to replace the Palestinians and regain the southern portion of Lebanon, which lacks strong military presence.
1991: Hezbollah becomes a threat to Israel after most of the PLO-replacement factions quit fighting for power in southern Lebanon. It continues to bomb Israel in the hope of forcing them completely out of Lebanon–including the buffer zone.
1993: Israel responds with Operation Accountability, displacing 300,000 Lebanese civilians.
1996: Israel launches Operation Grapes of Wrath–an air campaign and assault where many Lebanese homes and infrastructure are destroyed. Both Accountability and Grapes of Wrath fail in eliminating Hezbollah, and kill more than 150 civilians in the shelling of a UN base.
2000: Israel is ‘persuaded’ to make an early withdrawal from Lebanon. The withdrawal forces the surrender of the Southern Lebanese Army, which, unlike Hezbollah, is allied with Israel. This marks an astounding success for Hezbollah: while Israel has western financial capacity, western resources and western allies, Hezbollah uses rockets and guerilla warfare to force the hand of a nation with nuclear capacity.
2006: Israel goes back into Lebanon. Citing the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of eight after a series of Hezbollah cross border raids and shellings and an IDF intrusion into Lebanon as their justification, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declares the attack an act of war and promises Lebanon a “very painful and far-reaching response.” The Israeli cabinet authorizes “severe and harsh” retaliation against Lebanon. Ignoring the last twenty years, this seems like a drastic reaction on Israel’s behalf, but perpetual Hezbollah attacks into northern Israel likely tipped the scales for Israel towards trying to end Hezbollah’s control of southern Lebanon.
August 2006: A UN Ceasefire goes into effect. While initially requesting Hezbollah be disarmed (a success for bombed Israelis in northern parts of the country), Lebanon Prime Minister Fouad Siniora makes clear that his own military is not strong enough to protect Lebanon. He requests Hezbollah stop their attacks into northern Israel, but lacks the power to enforce his words.
At this point, no other nation has shown desire to enforce Hezbollah’s disarmament. A retired Israeli Army Colonel explained that the rationale behind the attack was to create a rift between the Lebanese population and the Hezbollah supporters. If anything, however, it has done the exact opposite, inciting greater anti-Isreali sentiment in Lebanon.
Future: The Lebanese majority has turned towards their strong friend–Hezbollah, thought to be funded by Iran and Syria. Though perhaps not quite at western levels financially, these two nations have deeper pockets than Lebanon and a greater capability for future actions against their opposition. Israel, on the other hand, has finally exited southern Lebanon with UN peacekeepers taking her place. With any luck, this will stop the border bombing that has taken place in Israel for 20 years. The remaining PLO camps that resided there have also been broken up.
Regarding right and wrong, both nations have violated the laws of war according to Human Rights Watch. Lebanon has lost more in the short term, with destruction of property and industry. Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, stated that “[i]f the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon’s clock back twenty years.” It looks like they successfully did this.
In the long term, however, Israel has aggravated an already volatile relationship with its surrounding neighbours for reasons it obviously saw as justified, but may have been viewed as otherwise on the global stage.