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Tuesday, February 13 2007
Middle East/ The Hezbollah War
" The destruction of Israel is to Arab or Islamic totalitarian regimes like Syria and Iran what the destruction of the Jews was to Nazi Germany or the destruction of West was to Soviet Russia : the drug that holds the whole operation together. "
Is Israel right in calling Hezbollah’s attacks an act of war by Lebanon? More generally, should an attack by a non-state actor be considered an act of war by its host state?
MICHEL GURFINKIEL. Lebanon as a State is responsible for whatever military or terrorist operation undertaken by any Lebanese group against Israel or any other country. All the more so when Hezbollah actually sits in the cabinet.
In order to alleviate its responsability, Lebanon should either take steps to curb Hezbollah or exclude it from the cabinet. Neither step has been taken as of last July.
The fact that Hezbollah threatens and blackmails the Lebanese government is no excuse. Either a government is a functioning government, i. e. can enforce its decisions over at least part of the territory, or it is not. If it is not, it is not responsible. However, it should be ignored as an international player by the same token, suspended from the UN, etc.
This is true of course of any other country in the world beside Lebanon. If a government acts as a " host " to a non-State military or terrorist organization, either by tolerating its activities or by including it in the cabinet, it is responsible for this group’s operation. If it denounces the non-State organization as a rebel and an alien intruder, then the State is responsible only for that part of the territory which it still controls.
International law is a bit unclear about " acts of war " and whether they imply only governments or non-States organizations as well. By and large, there is an understanding that one defines war by the nature of the combat, rather than by the identity of the combattants, and that any party, either State or non-State, which engages in war activities is ipso facto subjected to the international conventions that regulate military conflict. Being a de facto war party, Hezbollah is responsible for its activities, and can be targeted for relaliation by any enemy party within any part of Lebanon that it controls. Any Lebanese institution (as the army) or facility (as roads, airports, harbors, power facilities) that is used by Hezbollah or supports Hezbollah is deemed to be under Hezbollah control as well.
Was Hezbollah’s entrenched position in Lebanon a sign of failed Israeli strategy and foresight since the May 2000 troop pullout from Lebanon?
MG. Israel knew about Hezbollah’s entrenched position and its growing military potential. It clearly characterized Hezbollah as a major strategic threat. The IDF was briefing foreign strategic experts about it. It had drawn contingency plans for sweeping anti-Hezbollah operations.
Why did Israel wait until July, 2006, to act ? Until then, it was simply busy with the Palestinian front (the Second Intifada, Operation Defensive Shield, building the security fence, withdrawing from Gaza) and reluctant to open a second front.
What is a striking failure for Israel, however, is the whole management of the July-August war.
What are Syria’s and Iran’s goals in supporting Hezbollah? Is their main aim the ultimate destruction of Israel or is it a more complex political goal?
MG. The destruction of Israel is to Arab or Islamic totalitarian regimes like Syria and Iran what the destruction of the Jews was to Nazi Germany or the destruction of West was to Soviet Russia : the drug that holds the whole operation together.
Still, both Syria and Iran have more complex goals in supporting Hezbollah (and Hamas) against Israel :
- being established as the leaders of the Islamic camp against Israel and the Christian West, and thus achieving regional supremacy ;
- inasmuch as Israel will react, casting it as a villain again, and deleting the impact of Sharon’s far-reaching concessions ;
- protecting themselves against US or international intervention related to Lebanon or the nuclear build-up, since such intervention would appear as merely acting in the interest of Israel ;
- winning a further delay regarding the Iranian nuclear buildup ;
- helping Russia to earn much more oil-related money and getting more Russian weapons or systems.
How should nations deal with states that fund non-state terrorist entities? For example, how should the US respond to Iran’s funding of Hezbollah, which enabled it to attack Israel, a vital regional ally, and cause major destabilization in Lebanon?
MG. Support for non-State entities engaging in terrorist or military activities should be characterized as an act of war.
It is highly revealing that President Ahmadinejad of Iran is explicitly threatening the European Union countries as well as Israel.
Should Israel be satisfied with the contents of UN Resolution 1701 and the deployment of a larger UNIFIL force? What additional strategies should Israel pursue against Hezbollah’s main backers and to ensure Hezbollah doesn’t threaten Israel again?
MG. UN Resolution 1701 is probably Israel’s worst diplomatic disaster. It turns the previously irrelevant Unifil into a huge stumbling block for any Israeli self defence operation in the future, without providing any measure of security. In addition, it turns the Sheba Farms issue as an international law problem, something it was not until now.
Israel’s priority is to get rid of the incompetent political and military leadership that has emerged after Sharon’s illness and the 2006 election.
No competent leadership ? No strategy to speak about.
(New Haven, October 23, 2006.)
© Michel Gurfinkiel & Yale Israel Journal, Winter 2007
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Interesting article although I don't agree with your analysis on the lebanese responsibility of Hizbullah's acts. It is clear that the Lebanese government neither could counter nor did know about Hizbullah's operation, but do you think that, as you suggested, ignoring it as an international player could solve any problem ? Personnally I don't since this is what has been done concretely for the past fifteen years and it did not prevent the situation from degenerating. A true solution could be to treat the problem from the source : Syria and Iran. This is why I was shocked and became sceptical about Israel's true intentions concerning the operation when I saw an Israeli official state, the first day of the operation that Syria was not going to be targeted. If the goal was to neutralize Hizbullah, Syria should have been the only target.