14 years after 33 days of war

August 14, 2020 - 21:53

TEHRAN - This year’s 14th of August marks the 14th anniversary of the July War between the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and Israel in 2006, which led to Israel withdrawing its troops from southern Lebanese territories.

 A Lebanon expert tells the Tehran Times that the war has established a long-lasting deterrence between Lebanon and Israel.

Since the early years of the 1990s, Israel and Hezbollah have reached many deals to swap prisoners. The first prisoner exchange took place in January 1991, which saw the release of dozens of Lebanese prisoners. In the following years, the two sides continued to swap prisoners, with the biggest prisoner swap took place in late January 2004, nearly two years before the 33-day war. The 2004 prisoner swap involved a large number of prisoners, including Sheikh Abdulkarim Ubeid, who was abducted by the Israeli forces from Lebanon on July 28, 1989.

However, Israel refused to release some of the long-time prisoners such as Samir al-Quntar, even though Hezbollah had called for the release of al-Quntar.  In an attempt to get Israel to release al-Quntar, Hezbollah launched “Operation Truthful Promise” on July 12, 2006, during which it captivated two Israeli soldiers.

Israeli forces immediately attacked the Lebanese territories, a move that prompted Hezbollah to take measures to prevent Israeli forces from advancing into Lebanon. One day later, Israeli air forces targeted Lebanese infrastructure including power plants, Beirut Airport, roads and, bridges, killing dozens of Lebanese people. On the same day, Hezbollah Secretary-General Seyed Hassan Nasrallah held a press conference calling on Israel to engage in indirect negotiations over a possible swap of prisoners.

However, the war didn’t stop in the early days and lasted for 33 days. On August 14, the warring sides agreed to a UN-brokered ceasefire in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was unanimously approved by the Security Council on August 11, 2006.

As the war ended, Lebanon declared victory over Israel. In a televised speech at the time, Nasrallah congratulated the Lebanese on “the strategic and divine victory” over Israel. Similarly, regional leaders, including the Emir of Qatar and the then-president of Iran congratulated the Lebanese leaders on their victory over Israel.  

The war had many ramifications for Lebanon and the entire region, with analysts saying that the July War significantly contributed to the Hezbollah rise in Lebanon and the region. It significantly increased the popularity of Hezbollah in Lebanon and beyond, according to Mohammad Khajouei, a Lebanon expert.

“The Lebanese people have deeply tasted the bitter taste of Israel’s occupation. The Lebanese army, you know, was unable to confront Israel, and that the Resistance [movement] was made up of the core of the Lebanese society. The Lebanese people, who have gone through the Israeli occupation, favor the Resistance because they believe that it had forced Israel to retreat from the Lebanese territories. The people see that today Israel is unable to commit any act against Lebanon. The Lebanese people feel this deterrence.” Khajouei told the Tehran Times.

He added that Hezbollah has also established deterrence against ISIS in Syria, a move that earned it popularity among the Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites in Lebanon.

Khajouei, who was the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) bureau chief in Beirut as recently as 2017, also said that the most consequential implication of the July War was the change of military situation between Lebanon and Israel.

“The most important effect of the war was the establishment of a sort of deterrence in Lebanon against Israel. In fact, Lebanon was under Israeli occupation for nearly 18 years, from 1982 to 2000. Israeli soldiers have been easily roaming Lebanon. The first step toward establishing deterrence was taken in 2000 when the Resistance forced Israel to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after 18 years of occupation. The July War has finally strengthened this deterrence,” Khajouei said, underlining that today, there is a widespread deterrence between Lebanon and Israel.

According to Khajouei, the calm that prevailed on the Lebanon-Israel border since the 2006 war is another sign that a long-lasting deterrence has been established between the two sides.

14 years after the war

The UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was intended to end the July War, called for the implementation of previous resolutions whose aim was to disarm Hezbollah. The resolution called for “full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.”

However, Nasrallah said on al-Manar TV that Hezbollah fighters would not be forced to disarm through intimidation or pressure, calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah to be discussed through official channels instead of pursuing it at the media level.

Ever since the international pressures to disarm Hezbollah continued unabated. The August 4 massive blast at the Beirut port has only exacerbated these pressures, shining the light on Hezbollah’s arms, especially after some Lebanese political factions managed to blame the blast on the group.

As French President Emanuel Macron proposed a new initiative to contain the Lebanon crisis, the calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah resurfaced, with some even calling for the expulsion of Hezbollah from the Lebanese government. President Macron paid a visit to Beirut, shortly after the August 4 blast razed the Beirut port to the ground. The president held meetings with Lebanese political leaders, urging them to form a national unity government in the aftermath of the blast.

However, Macron’s efforts have yet to come to fruition. In a bid to secure international support for his efforts, the French president also called many leaders around the world including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Lebanon after the phone conversation between Macron and Rouhani. Zarif told reporters in Beirut that Lebanon is going through a “very worrying circumstances,” and that Iran will support “any decision” the Lebanese government makes.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Zarif said that no international party has the right to exploit Lebanon’s needs to dictate its demands to the country.

Zarif’s visit came at a time when France and the U.S. intensified their efforts to secure their interests in Lebanon. While Zarif was busy holding talks with the Lebanese officials, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale was also meeting with the Lebanese political leaders and civil society activists. Simultaneously, French Defense Minister Florence Parly also met with Lebanese officials including Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

It’s not clear yet whether the U.S. and French officials discussed disarming Hezbollah. However, analysts believe that Hezbollah and Iran could find it better to support the French effort rather than the U.S.’s.

“The French view of Lebanon is somehow balanced compared to the United States. Unlike the French, the Americans want to remove Hezbollah from power. The French don’t pursue a zero-sum approach toward Lebanon. Hezbollah’s representative was present at the meeting held between Macron and the Lebanese leaders, and according to media reports, the French president refused to consider the disarmament of Hezbollah as a top priority,” Khajouei told the Tehran Times, noting that the French want a sort of political balance in Lebanon.

Khajouei went further to say, “The French may also want to moderate Hezbollah’s power. However, the French believe that Hezbollah is a political reality that can’t be ignored. Therefore, the French willing to form a balanced national unity government in Lebanon has created a common ground between France and Iran, though the two countries have some differences over the role of Hezbollah and the way it uses its arms.”

“Hezbollah sees the French as less dangerous than the Americans,” Khajouei added.

During his visit to Lebanon, Zarif also said that the Lebanese should be the only party who should decide on the future of their country, underlining the need to avoid imposing dictates on Lebanon.

“There should be international efforts to help Lebanon, not to impose anything on it,” the foreign minister said in televised comments.

Some analysts believe that any foreign efforts to impose certain conditions on Lebanon could further destabilize the country. Therefore, the Lebanese should have other options to tackle the challenges facing their country. Creating appropriate circumstances for the Lebanese to independently form a national unity government could be one proper option.

SM/PA

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