By Renée van Diemen (2011)
Fox News: ‘Israeli Ground Forces Push Deeper Into Lebanon’
The 2006 Lebanon War
A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Use of Force
The nature of international conflict is changing. While hostile relations between nations such as the US and Iran continue to pose a serious threat to world stability, there has been a rise in the role of non-state actors. Terrorist organizations are becoming increasingly internationalized, and have started to feature prominently in the foreign and domestic policy agendas of nation states. While the concept of terrorism is not new, it has evolved into a powerful tool employed not only by dissident groups, but also by sovereign states to achieve intended policy objectives. This essay aims to critically analyze Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s operation ‘True Promise’, which is seen as the cause of the 2006 Lebanon War. In its simplest form, this conflict pitted a state, Israel, against a non-state actor, Hezbollah. Further examination, however, demonstrates that the conflict was complex and multi-dimensional, involving not only Israel and Hezbollah, but also Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, Iran and Syria through its sponsorship of the organization. In order to examine the conflict, this essay uses a newspaper article published by Fox News on the 24th of July 2006 as a starting point. After a brief summary of the article and the events of the 34-day war, this essay will analyze Hezbollah’s objectives and whether Israel’s response was a legitimate use of political violence or a case of state terrorism.
On 12 July 2006, Hezbollah launched rockets at several Israeli towns and simultaneously carried out a cross-border raid that killed 3 Israel Defence Force (IDF) soldiers and captured two others. Hezbollah intended to coerce Israel into negotiating a prisoner swap, but instead Israel retaliated by launching a full-scale military operation against Lebanon, stating that Hezbollah’s action was an “act of war” (Fickling, 2006). The chosen Fox News article (see Appendix) was published in the middle of the conflict, and seems to portray Israel’s use of force as a legitimate response to the action of “Hezbollah guerrillas” (Fox News, 2006). The article primarily describes Israeli successes and progress, highlighting the “symbolic location” of the town where clashes between Israel and Hezbollah took place. The description gives the impression that Israel is winning the conflict by quoting the Israeli military claim “that during the past 24 hours its planes had hit… more than 50 Hezbollah buildings and Hezbollah communication lines” (Fox News, 2006). No reference is made to the specific targets hit by Hezbollah fire, or of the ‘successfulness’ of their attacks, instead referring only to generalizations of how many rockets were fired in Hezbollah’s “barrage of rocket attacks” (Fox News, 2006). There is only one sentence regarding the effect of the Israeli offensive on Lebanon, which highlights that “20 soldiers and 11 Hezbollah fighters” were killed, without specifically stating civilian deaths (Fox News, 2006). In contrast, the article describes the amount of Israeli civilians that were injured by the conflict, stating that “255 civilians [were] injured by rocket fire” (Fox News, 2006). These descriptions set the tone for the article, which seems to be in favor of Israel’s retaliation.
Furthermore, the article fails to examine key aspects of the Hezbollah-Israel conflict, and of Israel’s perilous position in the Middle East. Most importantly, it does not explain that Hezbollah abducted the IDF soldiers to coerce Israel into a prisoner swap. Hezbollah has used this tactic in the past, which has proven to be a relatively successful strategy. In 2004, for example, Israel released 30 Lebanese and Arab prisoners, the remains of 60 Lebanese militants and civilians, 420 Palestinian prisoners and maps showing Israeli mines in southern Lebanon in exchange for an Israeli business-man and the remains of 3 IDF soldiers (BBC, 2004). By failing to recognize Hezbollah’s objectives and continuously referring to Hezbollah as “guerrillas”, the article gives the impression that the organization’s operation ‘True Promise’ was irrational and provocative. This portrayal contrasts sharply to Henry Schuster’s article published by the CNN on the same day, which describes the role Hezbollah has on Lebanese civilians as largely positive and filling “the void left by the state” (Schuster, 2006). The difference in the tone and position taken by each journalist demonstrates the difficulty in constructing an objective view of the 2006 July War.
Israel’s Defense Minister justified its campaign by arguing that Israel “will no longer put up with a terrorist organisation threatening residents in northern Israel” (BBC, 2006). The purpose of its military reaction was to “defang the Hezbollah so that they will not have the capabilities to launch their rockets” (Starr and Vause, 2006). Whether the military campaign in Lebanon was a legitimate use of political violence or an act of state terrorism depends on how the term ‘terrorism’ is interpreted. The following sections will examine Israel’s claim that it was employing legal counterterrorist methods by analyzing the threat Hezbollah poses as a terrorist organization.
The classification of an act as a ‘terrorist’ one is open to interpretation as “terrorism is an ambiguous variable not easily measured or quantified, in part because there are multiple forms of terrorism, and they are easily confused with other styles of violence” (Crenshaw, 1995: 13). This dilemma is complicated further by the negative connotations the media and politicians have placed on the term ‘terrorism’. Organizations rarely refer to themselves as employing terrorist tactics, instead believing that they are “bringing about a better society for all, thus acting in the interest of a collective good” (Crenshaw, 1995: 15). The identification of an act of political violence as ‘terrorism’ relies on the different history, culture, political stance, and personal viewpoints of the perpetrators and victims of the act. While Israel (along with the US and several other ‘Western’ countries) labels Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, many Arab countries claim that Hezbollah is a legitimate resistance movement that defends Lebanon and its citizens against Israeli state terror (Harik, 2005: 165). Hezbollah enjoys a large amount of popular support in part because of how it
“presents itself to various audiences: to Lebanese Shiites, Hezbollah is an Islamist organization waging Jihad against Israelis; to other Lebanese, Hezbollah is defending national honor; to Arab audiences, Hezbollah is protecting the Arab homeland against Western imperialism; and to an international audience, Hezbollah is practicing the internationally recognized legal right to self-defense” (Habshi, 2007: 212).
Hezbollah is also more than just a resistance movement, functioning as a ‘state within a state’ in southern Lebanon by providing services such as education and healthcare to its supporters (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 43).
Gus Martin, however, outlines several categories of terrorist action and groups. When applying these categories of terrorism on the 2006 July War, Hezbollah can be classified as a religious dissident group that is, to a degree, a proxy for state-sponsored terrorism. Revolutionary dissidents attempt to “destroy an existing order through armed conflict and to build a relatively well-designed new society” (Martin, 2010: 145). This definition clearly fits with Hezbollah’s aims to “save Lebanon from its dependence upon East and West, to put an end to foreign occupation and to adopt a regime freely wanted by the people of Lebanon” (Hizballah, 1985). It sees Israel as an illegitimate and aggressive actor that embodies Western influence in the Middle East (Hizballah, 1985). At its roots, it is a religious movement that aims to “create an Islamic republic in Lebanon and they consider… Iran a “big brother” for its movement” (Martin, 2010: 188). Hezbollah openly supports the Islamic Revolution and desires to build a nation based on its ideals (Martin, 2010: 188). Hezbollah also receives large amounts of political and logistical support from Iran and Syria. In fact, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps trained Hezbollah fighters in the 1980s in Syria’s Beka’a Valley, transforming it into the effective military force it is today (Martin, 2010: 188). This sponsorship, therefore, makes Hezbollah a proxy for state terrorism.
Hezbollah frequently employs “asymmetrical methods such as high-profile kidnappings and suicide bombings” (Martin, 2010: 187-188). Its tactics are arguably very effective, with its biggest victory being the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000. The cross-border raid on the 12th of July, therefore, represents a rational choice to employ a terrorist method in order to put “pressure on the Israeli government… to move it toward the negotiating table” (Harik, 2005: 168). From May 2000, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, to the start of the 2006 war, Hezbollah carried out twenty-one operations against Israel (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2006). Israel’s decision to conduct such an extensive and destructive campaign against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 was not only based on operation ‘True Justice’, but took into account the damage Hezbollah caused to Israel over those six years. Thus, Israel believes that it was acting in self-defense, and that its military operation in Lebanon was a punitive strike and a legitimate counterterrorist action against Hezbollah’s raid on the 12th of Jyly and the attacks before this event (Martin, 2010: 470). Article 51 of the UN Charter seems to justify Israel’s response by outlining the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations (Charter of the United Nations, 2011). According to this view, Israel (a recognized Member of the UN, even though nations like Syria reject its right to exist) was repeatedly subjected to armed attacks, and so had the right to self-defense by employing any means necessary to stop the aggression.
The argument of self-defense, however, can also be applied to Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel. The Geneva Convention of 1949 outlines that when an area is illegally occupied by a foreign power, “the civilians can announce civil disobedience. If further provoked they may use military force… in the spirit of self-defence” (Harik, 2005: 166). Although Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah claims that its presence on the Sheba’a Farms is illegal. Additionally, Israel frequently targets suspected Hezbollah bases in Lebanon as preemptive counterterrorist strikes, but injures civilians in the process (Martin, 2010: 470). Therefore, in their eyes, its own violent tactics, such as the 12 July raid, are in line with Geneva Convention 4 and not acts of terrorism. Furthermore, Article 2 of the UN Charter states that “no state is permitted to use force against the political independence or territorial integrity of another state. Defending against such an act is therefore considered a legitimate use of violence” (Harik, 2005: 165). In the summer of 2006, Israel applied force against Lebanon, who claimed it was “not aware of and does not take responsibility for, nor endorses what happened on the international border” (Myre and Erlanger, 2006). Although Lebanon had no prior knowledge of the Hezbollah attack and immediately called for a ceasefire, it became an unwilling participant in the conflict, as it was in 1982. This conflict between Isreal and the PLO “was the first where Israel was not fighting the armed forces of another sovereign state. Lebanon has been described as an ‘involuntary open society’, since it had no effective government for seven years before the 1982 invasion” (Mughham in Harb, 2011: 79). Although the strength of the Lebanese government has significantly grown over the years, Hezbollah remains the dominant force in southern Lebanon, functioning as a “quasimilitary force within its populace” (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 46). Israel, therefore, has frequently targeted southern Lebanon and subjected the population to political violence because it is seen as Hezbollah territory. In its attempts to eliminate Hezbollah, however, Israel clearly used force against “political independence or territorial integrity of another state”, a definite violation of the Geneva Convention. Hezbollah’s subsequent attacks on Israel, therefore, can be viewed as legitimate political violence of a resistance movement to defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression.
The scale of violence Israel employed received much criticism from the international community. It has been argued that “even if Israel did not start the war… it responded to Hezbollah’s opening raid with a disproportionate display of military strength, wrecking Lebanon’s economy, destroying its infrastructure, inflaming political passions, and killing civilians with reckless abandon” (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 47). Israeli forces attacked various Lebanese cities, including Beirut, and an estimated 1,181 Lebanese were killed in the campaign, with approximately one-third of this figure being children (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 49). Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of launching “artillery and air attacks with limited or dubious military gain but excessive civilian cost” (Human Rights Watch, 2006: 3). Lustick argues
“if the innocence or noncombatant status of the specific targets of threats or violence are used at the main criteria for identifying terrorism, this will tend to cast states in the main terrorist role – states that, because they operate on a larger scale and employ armies and air forces… wreak “accidental” havoc as an inevitable corollary of their use” (Lustick, 1995: 515).
The Fox News article outlines how Israel attacked Hezbollah strongholds, but the large death toll of Lebanon suggests that the ‘collateral damage’ as a result of these air strikes was significant, and that the 2006 July War was actually an example of Israeli state terrorism. The “terrorist… provocation strategy is an attempt to induce the enemy to respond to terrorism with indiscriminate violence, which radicalizes the population and moves them to support the terrorists” (Kydd and Walter, 2006: 56). Israel has employed this method before in 1993 and 1996 (Operation Accountability and Operation Graphes of Wrath, respectively), when it tried to create refugee flows to put pressure on the Lebanese government and to turn public opinion against Hezbollah (Byman, 2005: 112). In these cases and in 2006, however, Israel’s “attacks on Hizballah’s humanitarian and infrastructure… were viewed as illegitimate” (Byman, 2005: 112). Targeting such services is (arguably) an act of terrorism as the innocent civilian population suffers the most when such facilities are destroyed, even though these services contribute to the strength of Hezbollah’s terrorist activities (Byman, 2005: 112). In all of these cases, attempts to reduce popular support for Hezbollah in Lebanon failed and backfired, further damaging the view Lebanese have of Israel.
Organizations and states that carry out terrorist action often argue that the ‘ends justify the means’. In the case of the 2006 Lebanon War, however, neither side of the conflict achieved their policy objectives. Israel failed to “defang” Hezbollah. UN Resolution 1701, which resulted in the ceasefire in August 2006, calls for the “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon so that… there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state” (UN Security Council Resolutions, 2006). To this day Hezbollah has still not disarmed, receives weapons from Syria and Iran, and continues to be supported by large portions of the Lebanese population (BBC, 2006). In fact, the threat Israel faces from Hezbollah is even greater today, as Israeli government officials believe that Hezbollah has the military capability to harm around 6 million Israeli citizens (Fox News, 2009). Israel’s intent to destroy Hezbollah through its campaign in Lebanon clearly failed, and it was also unsuccessful in liberating the IDF soldiers captured in the 12 July raid. The other participant in the conflict, Hezbollah, did not intend to cause a full-scale military confrontation, as portrayed by Nasrallah’s statement that “if someone had said in July 2011 that there was a ‘one percent’ possibility that Israel’s military response would be as extensive as it turned out to be…. ‘I would not have entered this for many reasons – military, political, economic’” (CNN, 2006). The 2006 Lebanon War was an unintended outcome of their cross border raid; Hezbollah did not succeed in negotiating a prisoner swap or to withdraw from the Sheba’a farms. Thus, in strictly technical terms “during the Lebanon war, neither side lost, nor won” (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 48).
Due to the complexity of the international system, however, determining who the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of a conflict are requires more than an assessment of technical terms and military achievements. Terrorism is a form of “costly signaling”, that plays “to two key audiences: the governments whose policies they wish to influence and individuals on the terrorists’ own side whose support or obedience they seek to gain” (Kydd and Walter, 2006:58). Although Hezbollah did not achieve their intended outcome of the cross-border raid, their reputation as a powerful anti-Israel movement was enhanced by the conflict as it fought Israel to a standstill (Martin, 2010: 469). Nasrallah claimed that this achievement was a bigger victory than the withdrawal of Israeli troops in 2000, as Hezbollah proved it was strong enough to resist Israel (CNN, 2006). Indeed, in “strictly military terms, Israel did not lose to Hezbollah in this war, but it clearly did not win. In the war of information, news, propaganda, the battlefield central to Hezbollah’s strategy, Israel lost the war” (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 52). The international condemnation of Israel’s ‘disproportionate’ use of violence presents the popular view that Lebanon was terrorized by this excessive use of force. The violent techniques employed by Israel overshadowed its right to self-defense and oriented attention away from why Israel reacted so violently (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 51, and Martin, 2010: 380).
The 2006 Lebanon war is an interesting case study of the “new prototype of Middle East conflict, between a state (Israel) and a militant, secretive, religiously fundamentalist sect or faction” (Kalb and Saivetz, 2007: 43). Such conflict is increasingly present in the contemporary world arena, where states (such as the US) fight irregular forces operating from other nation states (such as the Taliban in Pakistan). The war and its aftermath did not end hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, but is part of the much larger struggle between Israel and the Arab world. Crenshaw argues that “responsibility for violence in political conflict can be and often is shared” (Crenshaw, 1995: 6). This is certainly the case in the 2006 Lebanon War, where the deaths of both Lebanese and Israeli civilians can be attributed to the actions of the religious dissident terrorist group, Hezbollah, and state terrorist, Israel. By not examining the motivation of both parties of the conflict, the Fox News article fails to present an accurate account of the 2006 Lebanon War.
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