ISRAEL’S DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS WITH LEBANON: THE UNFORGETTABLE PAST AND THE BEIRUT EXPLOSION

Israel has offered humanitarian aid to Lebanon twice in a year following the Beirut Port Blast. Of course, this option was refused by the Lebanese Government, and people reacted against it. Because many Lebanese are still remembering what Israel has done in Lebanon in various years with military operations and their acts in Palestine territory. Lebanon is just one of few Arab countries, which would not have any normalization with Israel in the short term, even some people/parties cooperated with Tel Aviv in the past. This public opinion is apart from Hezbollah’s perspective to Israel and its power in Lebanon.

Israel Military Operations in Lebanon

Israel has always been in a struggle in its existence in the Middle East region. In recent historical context, Israel faced the Arabs in three wars. These wars took place at different levels, including conventional warfare, political and intelligence struggles, counter-insurgency operations, guerrilla and unconventional warfare throughout the region. It’s all about existence of Israel and Palestinian case. This confrontation has changed year by year. People from different Arab countries were mobilized and went to Damascus for war against Israel in 1948. But after the 1948 defeat, Arab states preferred warfare with regular armies instead of military volunteers because of their undiscipline. They tried to tackle Israel on the conventional battlefield by using their quantitative advantage. In the twenty years period, even they ran joint operations on various ground fronts, none had succeeded against Israel.

 

Palestinian activists have been brought together under the armed doctrines as factions. It was an effectuated hope to Arab populations after many failures both in diplomacy and military. Israel has used new rhetoric against the Palestinian factions; “terrorism.” It was a more ‘legal’ ground for Israelis’ activities around the world and embraced by the Western world immediately. Everything had changed at that moment. Israel faced a new approach.

 

Tel Aviv began to tackle with a popular without borders, formalities, and international responsibilities. “Operation Wrath of God” was Mossad assassinations campaign against the Palestinian armed factions, both in Middle East and Europe in unconventional way, like Palestinians did.[af] For more information; A. Dawson B., (2013) “Manhunts: A Policy Maker’s Guide to High-Value Targeting”. Naval Postgraduate School [/af] Israelis quickly adopted the new ways in military and intelligence methods. They studied their enemies in many perspectives for victory. Because of that, they immediately took actions against multiple threats towards themselves. So, they have changed their responses regularly, which parallel the Palestinians unstable military methods, in the nature of guerrilla warfare. Israel and Palestinian factions fought each others in many landscapes, which were far away from their headquarters after Six Days War.

 

In 1982, Israel determined that Palestinians should be removed from Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. This was the large IDF operation, which is called “Operation Peace for Galilee”, against Palestinian guerillas. Israeli forces headed toward Beirut on multiple fronts from the coastal road to the near of Bekaa Valley’s border with Syria. The main goal achieved by the Israelis to expel the PLO from Beirut on 30 August with the agreement. [af] For more information; Arantz, Christopher A., (2002) “‘Just War’ Case Study: Israeli Invasion Of Lebanon”. Marine Corps Command and Staff College [/af] Although its HQ moved to Tunisia, some Palestinian factions remained in Lebanon. It was an important act for functions of diplomatic and humanitarian institutions during Israel’s Middle East existence crises after agreements with Egypt and the disengagement agreement with Syria. Tel Aviv communicated with Palestinian factions via international institutions. Another maneuver between Israel and Lebanon was made thanks to Lebanese right-wing Phalangist President Amin Gemayel, who was not recognized by at least half of Lebanon. Israel and the Phalangist government signed the “May 17” agreement which protected Israel’s security along the Lebanese border and aimed to prevent attacks on the country. At the same time, it tried to stabilize Lebanon by disarming political groups, to prove that they worked to create a peaceful atmosphere and strengthen the government. These were early steps of Israel’s diplomatic intentions in the region to stabilize its future. Tel Aviv wanted peace deals and diplomatic ties with all actors in the Middle East while continuing illegal expansions in Palestine and tried to isolate the Palestinian armed factions around the Arab world so Israel would make push the danger away from its border.

After Civil War

Israel remained in Lebanese south to protect itself from Hezbollah and other groups attacks with help of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), which included many different sects and religion in its ranks. Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon was maintained between 1982 and 2000. There were many exchanges of fire in the south, like launching rockets, infiltration operations etc. between Israeli and backed SLA forces and Hezbollah in the nineties. These were heavily affected civilians with injuries, deaths and displaced them to north Lebanon. Both Israel occupation and operations have made Lebanese aggressive against Tel Aviv and perceive it as the biggest enemy of Lebanon. In the summer of 1993, Israel conducted a military attack, called “Operation Accountability” and also known as “Seven Day War,” on Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. In a week of military operation, Israel killed 130 people, mainly civilians, hundreds of thousands of villagers left their homes while nearly one hundred thousand Israeli citizens were stuck in bomb shelters. America’s shutter diplomacy in some Arab countries had worked and announced a truce between Israel, Lebanon and Syria. But this was one of the first battlefields in Lebanon with two enemy forces. Next years, their conflicts occurred in Israel’s buffer zone in Lebanon while Hezbollah used its rockets and infiltration for attacks. However, Lebanese public and society were directly affected by the conflict. Every use of heavy armament pushed on people to move to other areas. Another and unforgettable warfare happened in 1996. “Operation Grapes of Wrath” took seventeen days by Israeli forces from ground, air and even in the navy. Israeli forces fired 25,132 shelled artillery and 2,350 sorties over Lebanon to hit the targets.[af] Israel/Lebanon – Unlawful Killings During Operation Grapes of Wrath. (July 1996), Amnesty International, p. 4-5 [/af] One of the attacks by Israeli artillery is still rembembered today: the Qana Massacre. During the Operation Grapes of Wrath, over a hundred people, who took refuge in a UN compound, were killed by Israeli forces. These events supported Hezbollah’s rise in the country while Israel’s aggressive acts against the Arabs were seen by the public. Israel’s policy on Palestinians had changed with the Oslo Accords. Before that Tel Aviv administrations did not meet with the Palestinians’ factions in other countries for secret talks but only to get green light for military options. Added to the ending of the Cold War, international pressure because of disproportionate use of force, Arafat’s looking at other options in the table etc. pushed both sides to diplomacy channels via other countries. However, it was a crucial step for both sides. Israel recognized the non-state armed group as a limited government in Western Bank and Gaza with the PLO admitting Israel’s existence. Israel definitely saw one more time that diplomacy was easier to reach to aim instead of conflict.

Israel MFA’s official map of the buffer zone in south Lebanon

Under the administration of Ehud Barak, who was former Chief of Staff of Israel Armed Forces, ended the Israeli occupation in south Lebanon and withdrew the remaining forces to the country. There were two reasons for the withdrawal; one was diplomatic and other was military. Ehud Barak negotiated with Syria and Palestinians in early 2000’s and for the achievements, he decided to act unilaterally. However, his diplomatic efforts failed both in Camp David and Geneva.[af] Freilich, Charles D., (2012) “Israel in Lebanon—Getting It Wrong: The 1982 Invasion, 2000 Withdrawal, and 2006 War”. Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. VI. No. 3. p. 44-45 [/af] Other was about Hezbollah’s rockets and missiles capacity. Buffer zone was established in 1985 to prevent attacks on Israel from Lebanese side. But, Hezbollah had Iranian made Fajr-3 and Fajr-4 rockets which had range from 20 kilometers to 70 kilometers, and could reach even Tel Aviv. So, Ehud Barak did not see any necessity for Israeli military presence in southern Lebanon.

2006 War: Destruction of Lebanon

Israel has to face a bigger difficulty than any other armed group on its southern border: Hezbollah. They are back by Iran and Syria, but more important thing is their socio-political strength. Instead of Palestinians, most of the southern Lebanese people fully supported Hezbollah because of relatively mixed relations with sectarian issues. Hezbollah fought in their natural-born areas. Lebanese villagers did not always support the Palestinians in the south because they directly affected the violence, they saw the Palestinians as an occasion of unrest in their daily life for bringing Israel to Lebanon.

 

Until the 2006 July War, Second Intifada took five years while Hezbollah attacked the Israel time to time, but not at large. With the rocket capabilities of Hezbollah, Israeli politicians and military administrations were concerned about it. However, the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon after three decades triggered the Cedar Revolution against the Resistance of the Axis and their backers. The US prevented Israel’s attack on Hezbollah because it would have overturned the rising political mood in Lebanon against Hezbollah. After small scale conflicts in years by two sides on the border, Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during patrol. Hezbollah General Secretary Hasan Nasrallah stated that he did not think that operation would lead to war with Israel. As in previous cases, this war directly affected the Lebanese people. Human Rights Watch’s report about the 2006 July War declared the losses of civilians as the responsibility of both sides responsibilities. Hezbollah stocked their military positions, shelters, ammunition stores etc. in civilian neighborhoods. However, Israeli attacks too on those areas were massive and indiscriminate as disproportionate.[af] Human Rights Watch, “Why They Died – Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War”. (September 2007), Volume 19, No. 5 [/af] Also, not just south Lebanon and Beirut targeted by Israel, Sunni-dominated areas like Tripoli stricken by Air Force’s salvo bombings. Israel punished the whole country because they did not stand against Hezbollah in all ways. Their strikes not only on military positions, but also destroy the infrastructure. Tel Aviv wanted to give a lesson to Lebanese about Hezbollah’s existence with led to destruction of their regular life, which was the same done by Hezbollah’s rockets to Israel. In the wake of the July 2006 War, 1,140 Lebanese died and more than four thousand were wounded. Nearly one million people displaced and around fifteen thousand homes destroyed. The cost of the attacks was between seven and ten billion Dollars. Hezbollah and Israel lost their soldiers just under two hundred each sides. International community collected the donations to help Lebanon to repair whole damages, which was mentioned before. However, only near two billion Dollars could be gathered, led by Gulf countries but mostly European countries.[af] Lebanon: The Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah Conflict”. (September 2006), CRS Report for Congress, p.15 [/af] Another diplomatic act displayed itself between a state and armed group. However, this time, negotiations only included Hezbollah without Syria or/and Lebanon. Hezbollah and Israel were communicating through Italy for ceasefire conditions, like releasing two soldiers and pulling back Israeli forces from Lebanon. United Nations brokered ceasefire declared on August 11 with declaration of Resolution 1701, which has focused on immediately ceasefire by whole sides, UNIFIL and Lebanese Army deployment to along border, called Blue Line, ban of a delivering weapons to Lebanon except country’s army, also disarmament of all Lebanese groups. This war seen Israel unprepared for Hezbollah’s military capacities, like armament, tactics, special forces etc. Party had used geography and settlements (asymmetric warfare) for its military tactics during ground battlefields. Israel evolved their skills, like previous, for new situations because July 2006 had many lessons for Tel Aviv.

Behind Curtains: Diplomatic Ways

Hezbollah again climbed the top of the Arab and Muslim communities. While Tel Aviv was focusing on improving their military skills, on the other hand they have started to use diplomatic channels to press Hezbollah for disarmament, which was prepared by the United Nations. These channels has many categories like normalization other Muslim-dominated various countries, Arab nations and ban of Hezbollah in Western countries. Also, Tel Aviv has chosen the public and humanitarian diplomacy channels to Lebanon for alienation of Hezbollah. It has been started in 2008; Tel Aviv offered to Lebanon via the US, by then-Foreign Minister Condoleezza Rice to directly discuss the peace deal and disputed land area with Lebanon. Beirut said that, first of all Israel must give disputed land, prisoners and maps of cluster, mines from the July 2006 War to Lebanon unconditionally. This attempt remained inconclusive, however, if Syria-Israel talks had been successful, the result might be different today. Hezbollah’s duty in Syria had shifting focus away from Israel. But this is not enough for Tel Aviv, as Israel Air Force regularly targeted Hezbollah’s positions and convoys in Syria, also run a assassination campaign against the Hezbollah figures, like Jihad Mughniyah, who was son of Imad, founder of Hezbollah’s military wing and Samir Kuntar, who was seen as hero by Resistance Axis. Mustafa Badraddine’s situation is still unclear how he was killed, by Israel, Syrian Opposition or infighting with Hezbollah. Those civil war continuum and Hezbollah and Israel’s avoidance from the bring conflict in their lands, just occurred small scale change of fire on Blue Line border area with artillery, TOWs etc. for a while, like in 2015, 2019, and 2020. These military actions are usual acts by two sides having violence history. Maybe they are not trying to confront each other in the field, but challenge each other in cyber, intelligence, asymmetric and especially diplomatic ways. Especially Israel doing this in diplomacy for the easiest option. Israel is using post-Arab Spring atmosphere for political movements in the region. Tel Aviv is working on legalized relations with Gulf countries, establishing ties with Maghreb countries and pushing on Iran with Hezbollah. Israel’s cooperation with UAE and Bahrain in the region is based on one point; Iran. Iran is a natural rival for Gulf countries on the whole Basra with geopolitical and economic. Tehran has an expansion strategy through the Middle East including Gulf countries and operates in areas with armed groups from 1979. Like the same in Lebanon, Gulf countries have Hezbollahi groups but they are illegal. In addition to this, Israel and Gulf countries had wanted to trade bridges with each other for profit. Israel has been using these methods across the Muslim and Arab countries for obliterate to Iranian influence in the region. From Morocco, Sudan to Malaysia and Indonesia, Tel Aviv wants the acquiescence of Muslim/Arab countries for its existence of expansion in Palestine and struggling with Iran. The Abraham Accords was the biggest act for this plan so far. Abu Dhabi-Tel Aviv relations also are based on economy, besides security issues. But this economic cooperation is being used for geopolitical and security purposes. Israel is offering help to some Arab and Muslim countries, which did not recognized the Tel Aviv, in the economy, technology, etc. United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a secret part of these negotiations in using its wealth for additional aid to those countries.[af] Morocco’s partial normalization with Israel comes with risks and gains, and Employing digital diplomacy in foreign policy: Israel as a model [/af]

Conflict Even in Sea: Maritime Disputes

Source: Alma Research & Education Center, 24 November 2020

Lebanon and Israel have started maritime meetings for arranging the demarcation between two countries in Eastern Mediterranean to find energy sources. These negotiations have been mediated by the US and UN. However, the situation is far from an agreement. Lebanon and Israel maritime dispute goes back to the 1949 Armistice Demarcation Line, which exactly lines up with the 1923 international boundary agreement by France and Britain’s mandate period in Lebanon and Palestine. Lebanon has started discovering gas and oil fields in Block 9, which overlap with Israel’s 72 and breach the Israeli claimed maritime border line. Disputed area contains 860 square kilometers. Maritime dispute talks started in October 2020, indirect talks and meditation with the US in the headquarters of UNIFIL in Naqoura which is located in the Lebanon-Israel border coastal town. Delegations consist of technical (energy and military) individuals not politicians, except Israel Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. Although Yuval’s statement about talks are “pragmatic and realistic based on economy,” Netanyahu wanted it to reach to the political ends and make a peace deal with Lebanon. In many and limited reports, talks were going positive while nothing changed in practice, Lebanon offered an objective of adding around 1,400 square kilometers into its maritime economic zone. The US mediator told the Lebanese side that talks should be going on the basis of UN registration. However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun ordered to delegation that negotiations are not tied to preconditions and should rely on international law for a fair solution. There were many reports about the talks which would lead to the peace deal between Lebanon and Israel. However both sides and the realistic assumptions rejected that idea in short term. Especially, Hezbollah and AMAL duo cannot allow any kind of normalization with Israel. In fact, Lebanon’s offer is economic, not headed for normalization like. Lebanese Government and President push the negotiations for more energy searching areas to the country’s economic solution. 

After Port Explosion: “From the heart of Tel Aviv, Shalom to Beirut”

Towards evening of August 4, Beirut has been shaken with a blast. Explosion occurred in the city’s port. For seven years, ammonium nitrate was stored in one of the warehouses in the center of the north side of Beirut. That explosion cost more than 190 deaths, 6,500 injured. It left 300,000 people homeless. 50,000 houses, 9 major hospitals and 178 schools have been damaged. When Beirut Port Blast destroy the city, Israel’s former policy makers, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, declared a joint statement: “Israel approached Lebanon through international defense and diplomatic channels to offer the Lebanese government medical humanitarian aid,” while Israeli officials denial the any relevant with the blast.

Israel expressed their offers to Lebanon via third parties that they were ready to wait for Lebanese injured people in Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, which is six kilometers away to Lebanon border, and Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where they treated Syrian civilians between 2013 and 2018. Many high level Israeli officials, who were from local to national leaders, offered aids to Lebanon but as t it was expected, Lebanon rejected the offers. Israel’s former Military Intelligence Chief Amir Yadlin has argued Iran is meddling to Lebanon’s domestics through the use of Hezbollah, so the country’s government cannot accept such offers from Tel Aviv. However, all the Lebanese parties and groups, even liberals and living in abroad, have distance to Israel. Lebanese pubic is highly politicized. The public closely keeps track of what happens in Palestine and try to be vocal for the developments in occupied territories. When Israeli government officials offer humanitarian aid, they remember what they did to Palestinians and also their part in Lebanese history. In following new aid offer from Benny Gantz, who is Israel Defense Minister, through United Nations, Lebanese spread the news about the polemical military background of Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. In 1996 during the Operation Grapes of Wrath, Bennett was responsible for one of the units from Maglan, which performed special forces’ reconnaissance branch duty in behind the enemy lines, Bennett spotted one of the Hezbollah mortar fire locations and contacted headquarters. IDF’s artillery strikes hit the UN compound, where more than a hundred people were killed. Also, he wrote a piece in 2017 about Hezbollah and Lebanon. This discourse is generally used by pro-Israelis that “Hezbollah is not only an Iranian-trained army stationed in Lebanon. It is part and parcel of the Lebanese government, boasting 12 seats in Parliament and two ministers in Cabinet.” This approach is using them for trying to legalize their acts against Lebanon. However, this reductive interpretation is not totally fitted with Lebanon’s fragmented structure. Under the new period, Lebanese-Israeli relations will not change much as before.

 

Israel is playing on Lebanese people’s minds, trying to change Lebanese acts against Hezbollah in the country. Tel Aviv wants a grassroots stand against the party to weaken them permanently without interference from foreigners. While Israel offers aid to Lebanon, it also uses social media, especially Twitter, for its PR campaign against Hezbollah. Israel’s aim is to show Lebanese (also world opinion and official institutions) that Hezbollah’s armed wings activities in Lebanon and party’s threats to stability in the region and Israel, yet Israel’s public and humanitarian diplomacy channels towards Lebanon are seen as hypocritical by Lebanese.

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