Posts Tagged ‘ IDF ’

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Blitzkrieg of Southern Lebanon

Daniel Whalen

 

 

In March of 2003 the United States invaded the country of Iraq and since that invasion the Middle East has been in a perceptual state of never ending war. During the American occupation of Iraq there was to be another conflict erupted and for thirty-four days brought the world to the brink of global war. This conflict would pit a regional power against a well-trained paramilitary group that would be armed with some of the best weapons available. In 2006 Israel invaded Southern Lebanon, a reign Israel occupied between 1982-2000, mostly as a security zone on the border of Lebanon and Israel. This would be similar to Charlemagne’s Spanish March, in that it would keep clashes between Israeli forces and militia forces out of Israel. Israel claimed it was tired of being a prisoner of the status quo, a preverbal stalemate with Hezbollah that involved occasional prisoner swaps. Prior to this conflict Hezbollah is seen as negative within Lebanon and Israel had some support over the globe. As the conflict evolved that support would fade, it is important to know way.

This particular conflict in Lebanon was not between the government of Lebanon and Israel, but from the militant group Hezbollah based in Southern Lebanon, which is similar in many respects structurally to that of the Irish Republican Army, with a political wing and a paramilitary wing. Hezbollah however has the militant wing and political wing operating under the same name, where as the Irish Republican Army has the political wing operating under than name Sinn Fein. This political wing maintains a sizable network of charitable and civic organizations that build schools and hospitals, even fields candidates for elected office within Lebanon[1]. Hezbollah since the pull out of the Israeli Defense Force in 2000 has had a minor skirmish war of sorts with the Israeli Defense Force that has a method to it’s madness and keeps this skirmish war a literally unknown conflict, never reported in the media. There were rules to this skirmish war, a quid pro quo approach in that whenever Hezbollah attacked Israeli positions the IDF would attack command and control positions of Hezbollah. Also allowable with the rules of the game was prisoner exchanges[2]. It helped keep an uneasy peace between the two and helped the Israelis out of Lebanon.

The Lebanese government might have unaware of what Hezbollah was doing along the border the country shared with Israel and many of the businesses in Beirut was preparing for what was expected to be a record summer of tourism, giving a much needed boost the emerging economy[3]. One could safely assume that the Lebanese government was unaware of what was going on at the border because in Southern Lebanon Hezbollah enjoyed overwhelming popular support from those living in Southern Lebanon[4]. When a groups such as Hezbollah has support from the people in the region of a country it operates a lot of things can go unnoticed by those outside that region. Staying is one place Hezbollah could ratchet up any descent and keep news from going out of the region. Because of this the Lebanese governments attempts to disarm Hezbollah proved futile, which added to the political pressure within the government to improve things in the country in order to weaken Hezbollah’s grip on the south and keep Hezbollah from building on what little support the group has in the remainder of the country[5]. The coming summer season was predicted to be record setting economically, many hoped would be after years of war. With an economic boom the Lebanese government could have gained some support in the country to tip the balance in it’s favor over the influence of Hezbollah by proving things are improving and life is going to be better. Most importantly Lebanon was starting to lose the stigma of the civil war that plagued the country for years, causing many wealthy Arabs would vacation in Lebanon as an alternative to traveling to American or Europe where it was becoming troublesome to visit due to the heightened security in the post 9/11 world[6]. It was far easier to travel to Beirut where Arabic was spoken and the warm Mediterranean Sea is welcoming like any other vacation spot.

There was a subtle build up triggering to the invasion of Southern Lebanon by the Israeli military. Prior to the major conflict in the month of May Hezbollah fired upon an Israeli border post, leaving a wounded Israeli solider in its wake. In response the Israeli Defense Force shelled with artillery twenty positions used by Hezbollah as command and control for the paramilitary wing of the group. In response Hezbollah launched another rocket attack into Israel[7]. The thirty-four day war started shortly after that with a Hezbollah raid across the shared border and capturing two Israeli soldiers prisoner with the hopes of a prisoner exchange at a later date, which was within the rules of the game[8]. However the Israelis government felt the rules of the game need to be changed and a strong message needed to be sent to Hezbollah stating that the state of Israel was not going to tolerate the status quo any longer. Israel always agreeing to prisoner exchanges, doing so can be perceived as weakness by many hardliners within Israel who want an eye for an eye. With the American military not far away in Iraq, the Israeli government must have felt pressure to project strength within the region. Hezbollah may not have been looking for an escalation to what would become the conflict because the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah said “The prisoners in our hands will not return to Israel except through indirect negotiations and exchange of prisoners and peace[9].” Hezbollah is in the habit of relying on others to negotiate for on their behalf and always looked to free political prisoners that were being held in Israeli prisons. Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert ruled out any negotiations and went as far to file a complaint with the United Nations wanting the enforcement of resolutions forcing the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah[10]. This is a bit hypercritical because Israeli government has a long history of never compling with the resolutions filed against Israel by the United Nations. Prime Minster Olmert would go one to say that “’Israel will not be held hostage’ by terrorists…” adding that Israel is “…not looking for war or direct conflict…” with Hezbollah[11]. The Israeli government saw itself at the crossroads with some tough decisions to make, but there is only one remaining action Israel can take. However while Prime Minster Olmert was making the case of a defensive fight while Israeli tanks and bulldozers were crushing suspected Hezbollah hideouts in Southern Lebanon[12]. Olmert went as far as to vow that Israel ”…will not hesitate to take severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of rockets and missiles against innocent civilians for the sole purpose of killing them[13].” It is always easy to talk like the victim when one is taking action against ones enemy at the same time. It was clear however that Prime Minster Olmert was not in a position of strength within the Israeli government, even though he was trying to project strength.

Half a world away Americans were occupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Support for Israel was in the background as support for the American soldier was on the rise and the American economy was starting to show signs of slowing down. War wariness spreading across the United States and the world at a quickening pace, the last thing people were looking for was another conflict in the world, especially one in the Middle East. This is something important the Israeli government overlooked when the decision was made to march the Israeli Defense Force into Southern Lebanon to free the two captured Israeli soldiers. The Israeli government took a lot of things for granted when it made that fateful decision. The Israeli government had reason to take things for granted, the President of the United States George W. Bush and his administration would give Israel the proverbial green light early on in the crisis claiming it was within the American ‘war on terror’ which is what the Israel ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, would claim saying Israel “is actually doing its work in the war against terror[14].” Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice would add to that by saying that a “…cessation of violence is crucial, but if that cessation of violence is hostage to Hezbollah’s next decision to launch missiles into Israel or Hamas’s next decision to abduct an Israel citizen, then we will have gotten nowhere[15].” Secretary Rice advocating for new rules to the game along the Lebanese-Israeli border on the behalf of Israel, doing so behind the guise of the Bush administrations war on terror. Secretary Rice would brush off criticism the United States was receiving around the world for its support of Israel’s military action, going on to say any promise of a cease-fire Hezbollah and Israel is a “false promise” from Hezbollah[16].  It was clear the United States would go against any calls for a cease-fire because the United States was exporting many of its state-of-the-art weapons to Israel[17]. Other countries however were not fully behind Israel, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed at a G8 conference, which took place as the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel was just beginning, that he was under the impression that the goal of Israel was to“…go beyond just recovering their kidnapped soldiers[18].” It is easy for President Putin to say that because as the days went by the Israel Defense Force was mounting forces for a major land invasion into Lebanon that could have dragged the whole region into a large-scale conflict, for what would be the second stage of Israeli offensive against Hezbollah. It is clear that President Putin had received some very good intelligence.   

Israel for the most part depends on support from the United States and her allies, however Israel’s invasion of Southern Lebanon started an erosion of that support in the West. A lot of the erosion of support had a lot to do with Israel’s actions within the conflict. In the Lebanese village of Qana the world saw the worse in the Israeli Defense Force’s strategy. Using airstrikes the Israeli Defense Force more than 100 civilians in the village of Qana, horrifying the world[19]. This attack did not come with prior warning and should have been expected as the Israeli air force was leveling the countryside of Lebanon and taking out important infrastructure. The Israeli air force even bombed a United Nations mission in Southern Lebanon[20]. It could have happen anywhere, but for the poor people of Qana it happen to them. A weekend prior to the attack Israeli warplanes launched a missile attack on two Red Cross ambulances, hitting one in the center of the cross[21]. An attack on any Red Cross vehicle or camp is unprecedented. Israel would later claim that many of the houses were destroyed because of “munitions” stored in them, killing the people residing in these houses[22]. Many in the international community, who would condemn this attack, would not believe however this claim put forth by Israel[23]. Even average citizens in Israel would feel bad about these attacks, but would blame Hezbollah for hiding weapons in civilian centers[24]. Outrage of this attack would lead to protests in Beirut, with many burning American flags in protest of the Bush administrations support for Israel and Israel’s actions in the conflict. The rage of the people would force Secretary Rice to cancel a trip to negotiate a cease-fire in Beirut[25]. With many news agencies around the world reporting that more than half of the causalities being children, it was becoming hard for the world to see Israel’s actions as being justified[26]. With Israel’s claim’s of Hezbollah storing weapons there, even claiming that Hezbollah would use United Nations outposts as weapons caches[27], Israel was slowing isolating itself in the world, bringing down the United States with it. Israel was doing everything it felt possible to rid itself of a enemy that has log plagued them, by any means necessary. In doing so Israel was making a lot more new enemies that were growing tired of Israel doing things on its own.    

The great Sun Tzu said, “He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.” Hezbollah lied in wait for the Israel Defense Force in Southern Lebanon, much the Vietcong in the Vietnam War, in complex tunnel systems that were in the hills of Southern Lebanon[28]. The Lebanese army, unlike Hezbollah, was not equipped like a modern army making it unable to fight in any large-scale combat mission[29]. The Lebanese army was estimated 38,000 men that are meant to keep the peace within Lebanon, were as Hezbollah has unknown numbers of men and weapons[30]. One thing that gets overlooked often is that Hezbollah does have is a formidable fighting force that is well drilled and well armed[31]. By well-armed Hezbollah had modern Russian made weapons, which many suspected was given to Hezbollah by Iran and Syria to use against their common enemy, Israel[32]. With these weapons, especially sophisticated Russian antitank weapons, Hezbollah was able to inflict serious damage to the Israeli Defense Forces modern state-of-the-art weapon systems, including the Israeli Merkava tank[33]. Israel would complain about, indirectly, how they felt the Russian government was complacent in Hezbollah gaining Russian weapons unhindered[34]. This would make Iran and Syria the proxies for Russia, giving the situation a Cold War feel, pitting the United States and Russia in a proxy war. It could be that Israel was not happy with how the Russian weapons performed against their modern weapons. Israel would also add the claim that Syria gave Hezbollah Russian anti-personnel weapons such as 220-millimeter and 302-millimeter missiles with anti-personal warheads on them[35]. Hezbollah would take farther steps to modify the weapons by packing the missiles with ball bearings to inflict even further damage[36]. Tactics used by Hezbollah would get Hezbollah compared to other guerrilla groups such as the Vietcong, because they use flexible tactics and a lack of fear of the Israeli Defense Force[37]. In war fear can be a powerful weapon, but with proper training fear can be over come easily. It is also hard to beat people that believe in a cause or a message. The reason the American army struggled in Vietnam and conflicts since is because an armed force cannot defeat an idea. Hezbollah believes they are the defenders against a foreign invader, that foreign invader being Israel.  

As the conflict progressed Israel tried to inflict as much damage as it could before any cease-fire would take effect. This escalation could be credited for the Israeli’s bombing Qana. As the escalation progressed the world become more outraged, turning to the streets to voice condemnation for Israel. What would help fuel protests and outrage was the impact on the global oil market this conflict had[38]. A increased fear of Iran withdrawing the oil it produces from the global market in protest of Israel was seizing the world with fear that oil prices would skyrocket, with gas prices hitting four dollars a gallon in the United States[39].  Also fueling the fire against Israel was the possibility of war crimes charges against many of the belligerents. Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia said the action of “Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians…[and] is unjustifiable[40].” The International Red Cross, who had two ambulances bombed by Israel, would further that sentiment by saying Israel violated the Geneva Conventions and their protocols of warfare[41]. No matter how negative the views of the conflict were as many as 90% of Israelis supported the conflict, with protests against the war drawing about 2000 people within Tel Aviv[42]. There would also be rallies supporting Israel in England drawing estimated crowds up to 5000 people[43]. However despite the rallies of support there were many more protests against the Israeli action. There would be rallies with as many as 7000 people in cities across the United Kingdom[44]. With the United States House of Representatives voting 410 to 8 in support of Israel, there would be rallies in Washington D.C. against Israel[45]. A protester in Israel summed it up best when he said “the Israeli government thinks bombing Lebanon they will make peace, but they did it many times before and it didn’t work[46].” Iraq still a war zone and the forgotten conflict in Afghanistan waging on the world was getting sick of war, with the many in the world blaming the United States. The protests in Israel were also anti-United States rallies[47]. It was hard for the United States, because of the Bush administration, not to be blamed for the conflict. Israel claiming it was doing its part in the ‘war on terror’ made a direct connection with the United States and the ongoing conflicts of the United States. It would be hard for anyone to argue that there was not an anti-Muslim feel about these conflicts.

In the end the Israeli government agreed to a cease-fire, with an international peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon. After thirty-four long days of fighting Lebanon was reduced to a state of rubble, shattered lives, and a weakened economy. Israel would eventually get the two soldiers back, but did the means justify the end? The conflict changed the way many around the world view Israel. Since the conflict the Lebanese government has struggled mightily, many Arab countries have new governments emerging, and the United States elected a President that does not view Israel the same way as President Bush did. The world is changing also because shortly after the war many countries around the world fell into economic collapse. Israel has had a valued alliance with the United States, but new global powers like China and a couple of old powers like Russia and Germany, Israel may find it hard to find new allies[48]. Importantly peoples views of Israel have changed, Israel is no longer the victim as many are starting to see Israel as the aggressor.  

 

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“CNN.com – Anderson Cooper 360° Blog-Seeing Red in Israel”, July 31, 2006. http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2006/07/seeing-red-in-israel.html.

“Deaths Rise as Israel, Hezbollah Trade Attacks.” Msnbc.com, n.d., sec. Mideast/N. Africa. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13853565/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/deaths-rise-israel-hezbollah-trade-attacks/.

El Husseini, Rola. “Hezbollah and the Axis of Refusal: Hamas, Iran and Syria.” Third World Quarterly 31, no. 5 (July 2010): 803–815.

Erlanger, Steven, and Hassan M. Fattah. “Israel Suspending Lebanon Air Raids After Dozens Die.” The New York Times, July 31, 2006, sec. International / Middle East. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/31/world/middleeast/31mideast.html.

Erlanger, Steven, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons.” The New York Times, August 7, 2006, sec. International / Middle East. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/07/world/middleeast/07hezbollah.html.

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[1] Rola El Husseini, “Hezbollah and the Axis of Refusal: Hamas, Iran and Syria,” Third World Quarterly 31, no. 5 (July 2010): 803–815.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History, 1St ed. (Princeton University Press, 2007), 132.

[4] Ibid., 133.

[5] Ibid., 132.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 134.

[8] “Hezbollah Seizes Israel Soldiers,” BBC, July 12, 2006, sec. Middle East, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5171616.stm.

[9] “Hezbollah Warns Israel over Raids,” BBC, July 12, 2006, sec. Middle East, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5173078.stm.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Hezbollah Sharply Rejects Cease-Fire, Say It Will Continue Rocket Strikes | Fox News,” Fox News, July 17, 2006, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,203908,00.html.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Rice Urges ‘urgent and Enduring’ Mideast Peace,” Msnbc.com, July 25, 2006, sec. Mideast/N. Africa, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14018618/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/rice-urges-urgent-enduring-mideast-peace/.

[14] “Hezbollah Sharply Rejects Cease-Fire, Say It Will Continue Rocket Strikes | Fox News”; Jim Rutenberg, “Despite Joint Statement on Mideast, Strains Emerge as U.S. Supports Israel’s Campaign,” The New York Times, July 17, 2006, sec. International / Middle East, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/17/world/middleeast/17diplo.html.

[15] Rutenberg, “Despite Joint Statement on Mideast, Strains Emerge as U.S. Supports Israel’s Campaign.”

[16] “Israel Gears up for Massive Ground Assault as World Dithers | Current Affairs | DW.DE | Null”, July 22, 2006, http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,2107137,00.html.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Rutenberg, “Despite Joint Statement on Mideast, Strains Emerge as U.S. Supports Israel’s Campaign.”

[19] Sabrina Tavernise, “A Night of Death and Terror for Lebanese Villagers,” The New York Times, July 31, 2006, sec. International / Middle East, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/31/world/middleeast/31scene.html; “Israeli Warplanes Strike Targets Deep in Lebanon,” Msnbc.com, July 31, 2006, sec. Mideast/N. Africa, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14100258/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/israeli-warplanes-strike-targets-deep-lebanon/.

[20] “Israel Rejects U.N. Involvement in Peacekeeping Force, Probe of Mission Bombing | Fox News”, July 28, 2006, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,206035,00.html.

[21] Tavernise, “A Night of Death and Terror for Lebanese Villagers.”

[22] Ibid.

[23] Steven Erlanger and Hassan M. Fattah, “Israel Suspending Lebanon Air Raids After Dozens Die,” The New York Times, July 31, 2006, sec. International / Middle East, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/31/world/middleeast/31mideast.html.

[24] “CNN.com – Anderson Cooper 360° Blog-Seeing Red in Israel”, July 31, 2006, http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2006/07/seeing-red-in-israel.html.

[25] Erlanger and Fattah, “Israel Suspending Lebanon Air Raids After Dozens Die.”

[26] “Israeli Warplanes Strike Targets Deep in Lebanon.”

[27] “Israel Rejects U.N. Involvement in Peacekeeping Force, Probe of Mission Bombing | Fox News.”

[28] Steven Erlanger and Richard A. Oppel Jr, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons,” The New York Times, August 7, 2006, sec. International / Middle East, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/07/world/middleeast/07hezbollah.html.

[29] “Lebanon’s Two Fighting Forces,” BBC, July 22, 2006, sec. Middle East, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5205930.stm.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Erlanger and Jr, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons”; “Acts of War Raise Risk to Region,” BBC, July 13, 2006, sec. Middle East, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5177346.stm.

[32] Erlanger and Jr, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons”; “Israel Complains Hezbollah Used Russian-Made Missiles | Fox News”, August 18, 2006, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,209162,00.html.

[33] Erlanger and Jr, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons.”

[34] “Israel Complains Hezbollah Used Russian-Made Missiles | Fox News”; Erlanger and Jr, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons.”

[35] Erlanger and Jr, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons.”

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] “Mideast Conflict Impacts Oil Prices Worldwide,” Msnbc.com, July 14, 2006, sec. NBCNightlyNews, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13864423/ns/nbcnightlynews/t/mideast-conflict-impacts-oil-prices-worldwide/.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Warren Hoge, “Attacks Qualify as War Crimes, Officials Say,” The New York Times, July 20, 2006, sec. International / Middle East, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/20/world/middleeast/20nations.html.

[41] Ibid.

[42] “Little Dissent as Israelis Support War,” BBC, July 23, 2006, sec. Middle East, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5208718.stm.

[43] “Rally Offers Support to Israelis,” BBC, July 23, 2006, sec. UK, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/5206954.stm.

[44] “Protests in UK at Israeli Action,” BBC, July 22, 2006, sec. UK, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/5203450.stm.

[45] Robert Pear, “Rally Near White House Protests Violence in Mideast,” The New York Times, August 13, 2006, sec. Washington, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/washington/13protest.html.

[46] “Little Dissent as Israelis Support War.”

[47] Ibid.

[48] Germany is considered by many to be the lone economic power in Europe. Germany also supplies many countries with state-of-the-art German weaponry, one of those countries is the United States.