Analysis: Israel still paying for Lebanon pull-out

Israel ultimately gave Iran their first victory.

hizbullah mughniyeh border 311 (photo credit: AP)
hizbullah mughniyeh border 311
(photo credit: AP)
Ten years ago, on May 24, 2000, the IDF completed its unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon. This year on May 24, the IDF, some might say, was busy paying the price for its rushed pullout, as some 40 local councils ran civil defense drills to prepare for the next war with Hizbullah.
Back in 2000, very few politicians or military officers argued against the withdrawal. The consensus was then, and appears to still be today, that Ehud Barak made the right move by pulling Israel out of Lebanon and ending the IDF’s costly 18-year presence in the security zone there.
Those who did argue against the pullout at the time foresaw what eventually happened. They did not argue against the actual withdrawal but were more opposed to the way it was done – hastily and in the middle of the night. Israel, these officials argue, was perceived as running away from Lebanon due to its military losses and ultimately gave Iran – and its number one proxy Hizbullah – their first victory in an ongoing war between Israel and the Iranian-led axis of evil.
The price for the pullout was paid fairly quickly when in October 2000 three soldiers were kidnapped at Mt. Dov, their bodies only returned over three years later. Israel’s policy of restraint – or “containment” as it was later called – allowed Hizbullah to continue building up an army and rocket arsenal that it would later face off against in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Disregarding who is right in the argument of what should have happened 10 years ago, the fact of the matter is that today Israel is facing a growing threat in Lebanon. Hizbullah has tens of thousands more rockets today than it had in 2000 and in 2006. In 2000 it did not have a single rocket that could hit Tel Aviv. Today it has hundreds.
Hizbullah’s purpose for existence before the 2000 pullout was to fight against the Israeli occupation. Since Israel’s withdrawal, while Hizbullah might say publicly that it is still fighting against the IDF presence in the Sheba Farms and in the northern section of Ghajar, in reality it continues to exist because Syria and Iran want it to.
Both countries are Hizbullah’s patrons and primary supporters. The Scud missiles recently transferred to Hizbullah came from Syria. The M600 missiles were manufactured in Syria and based on an Iranian design.
Turning Point 4, the civil defense exercise that Israel is holding this week, is not based on scenarios including threats that could materialize in the future but rather is meant to prepare the public for threats it faces today.
All of Israel’s enemies, including Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, have significantly increased production and procurement over the past year of long-range missiles capable of striking the center of the country and Tel Aviv. If war were to break out tomorrow, all assessments are that Israel would come under an unprecedented rain of missiles mostly aimed at Tel Aviv.
In recent weeks there has been talk about the possibility of a renewed conflict with Hizbullah sometime this summer. The catalyst for such a war is likely one of the following three scenarios – either Hizbullah attacks Israel in response to an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities; Hizbullah succeeds in exacting revenge for the 2008 assassination of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh; or Israel decides to attack a weapons convoy like it reportedly almost did last month when Syria was transferring Scuds to Hizbullah.
At the moment, neither side appears to be interested in a renewed conflict. Israel prefers quiet, particularly now that it has just renewed peace talks with the Palestinians. Hizbullah is interested in continuing its rearmament and at the same time at bolstering its political power in Beirut.