Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

A Disproportionate Response? The Case of Israel and Hizballah

Filed under: Hizbullah, International Law, Israel, Israeli Security, Lebanon
Publication: Jerusalem Viewpoints

No. 549   December 2006

  • Hizballah is perhaps the most capable guerilla organization in the world today. This is due to its high level of training, Shiite religious indoctrination and dedication, sophisticated weaponry, strong financial and military support, and years of experience and preparation.
  • Israel’s deterrent capabilities have been eroding at an ever-increasing pace for a number of reasons: hopes of reaching peace agreements with neighboring nations, efforts to help allies, attempts to keep the region relatively calm, and respect for Israeli public opinion.
  • In responding more forcefully to Hizballah’s provocation, Israel not only restored much of its deterrent capability, but did so against a weapon of the Iranian and Syrian militaries, that had purposely fought from civilian areas, often with the consent and support of the local residents.
  • Israel acted only after exhausting a number of other options over the decades, including everything from all-out invasion and regime change to quiet diplomacy and open negotiations.
  • Israel’s overall response was not disproportionate when considering the enemy Israel was fighting, the tactics Hizballah used, and the past unprovoked attacks that had been left unaddressed.
  • Appeasement simply does not work when dealing with terrorist organizations. Hizballah is not interested in gaining a portion of land from Israel, but plans to continue fighting until “all” of “historic Palestine” is “liberated.”

Hizballah Attacks Israel

On July 12, 2006, Hizballah chose to launch one of its boldest offensives yet against the State of Israel. It began its operation by firing Katyusha rockets at towns along Israel’s northern border, causing Israeli security forces to be distracted and spread thin. Simultaneously, a special unit of Hizballah fighters infiltrated across the border, ambushing a patrol on the Israeli side of the border – two wounded IDF reserve soldiers were kidnapped and smuggled into Lebanon. Over 100 Hizballah fighters participated in the kidnapping operation, the vast majority providing cover for the kidnappers.1 By day’s end, eight Israelis had been killed and dozens more were wounded.

Hizballah had been hoping that the operation would show its own public the need for its continued armed presence in Lebanon and result in another prisoner swap with the Israelis. Iran and Syria, Hizballah’s main state sponsors, also had their own interests in the outcome of the war. Iran expected an offensive to deflect world attention away from discussions at the United Nations about its nuclear ambitions as well as increase its legitimacy and popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Syria had sought to show the international community, as well as Israel and the United States in particular, that they needed to pay attention to it and treat it as a serious player in the Middle East if they ever hoped for peace and stability in the region.

Similar operations had been hatched in the past with lethal consequences for Israel, and a simultaneous increase in prominence for Hizballah. On October 7, 2000, less than five months after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 425, Hizballah forces opened fire on IDF soldiers in the Har Dov region of Israel, kidnapping three soldiers and wounding five more.2 On March 5, 2002, Hizballah fighters targeted Israeli civilians in Kibbutz Matzuva in the western Galilee, killing six Israelis and wounding seven more.3 The Har Dov region alone was targeted over 30 times after Israel pulled back from Lebanon in May 2000.4 Additional Israeli positions have been attacked by Hizballah on other occasions, including Ghajar, al-Radar, Rweiset al-Alam, Rweiset al-Qarn, al-Sammaqa, al-Ramtha, and Zibdin.5 Israel’s military responses to all such incidents could be described as negligible at best: no major operations were undertaken, and no Hizballah casualties were reported. These timid responses led to a severe deterioration in Israel’s deterrent capabilities vis-à-vis Hizballah.

According to former senior Israeli officials in service at the time, the logic behind Israel’s restraint was that the situation in the north was still better than it had been prior to the withdrawal in May 2000.6 As a result, Israel chose the diplomatic route on these occasions, hoping with each attack it absorbed that somehow Hizballah would be disarmed by Lebanese and international pressure, as was called for under UNSCR 1559. Neither Hizballah nor Iran or Syria had expected Israel’s relatively strong military response to this latest Hizballah attack.

Israel‘s Withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000

In May 2000, Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon after its occupation of a “security zone” it had maintained to shield its citizens from rocket attacks on its northern border. During its years in the security zone, Israel was aligned with the Maronite Christian community and a militia force known as the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA), comprised of a variety of different Lebanese religious and ethnic factions. The SLA acted as a proxy force for the IDF and helped fight against Hizballah and Palestinian groups. Israel maintained the zone for the protection of Israeli citizens. Unlike the Gaza Strip, West Bank, or even Sinai, there were no Israeli civilian settlements, and there was little ideological or religious connection to Lebanon. Israel’s goal was never to remain there indefinitely. With this said, while Israeli casualties caused by Hizballah certainly played a role in having the IDF leave Lebanon, this was not the sole or even the primary reason for Israel’s departure.

The principal motives behind Israel’s withdrawal were twofold: the conclusion that Hizballah now had rockets with a range much farther than the depth of the security zone; and domestic pressure from such groups as the “Four Mothers,” mothers with children in the military who would protest outside the Ministry of Defense every time an Israeli soldier was killed in Lebanon. International pressure also played a role, with demands from the United Nations and specifically through UNSCR 425. Israel was losing on average approximately 20 soldiers a year in fighting in southern Lebanon. It was a price that the country could accept but did not want to bear. As a result of all of these pressures, a strategic decision was made to move back to the internationally recognized border and take up defensive positions, not only for Israel to defend itself in a more conventional manner, but to do so both legally and morally. The belief was that if Hizballah now attacked the Jewish state on its own soil, no nation would be able to claim that Israel was not justified in defending itself.

The withdrawal from Lebanon, announced originally by Ehud Barak during his election campaign for prime minister, was conducted literally in a matter of hours. While the reasoning behind Israel’s quick withdrawal was that it was hoping to surprise Hizballah and prevent it from causing casualties to withdrawing forces (and indeed there were no Israeli deaths during the withdrawal), in hindsight we find that the lightning withdrawal led to the complete disintegration of the SLA, resulting in a huge influx of Christian Lebanese refugees to Israel,7 and the leaving of some military equipment behind – all contributing to a major psychological and propaganda victory for Hizballah and its supporters.

In Israel’s eyes, the withdrawal should have led to the Lebanese government taking control of southern Lebanon in accordance with UNSCR 425, and leading to a disarming of Hizballah. As Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated shortly after the withdrawal: “From now on, the government of Lebanon is accountable for what takes place within its territory, and the Lebanese and Syrian governments are responsible for preventing acts of terror or aggression against Israel, which is from today deployed within its borders.”

However, no real effort was ever made by the Lebanese or Syrian governments to come into conformity with UNSCR 425, and the international community largely ignored the issue altogether. The Lebanese government stated privately that while it may be interested in disarming Hizballah, it could not do so because of Syrian control. Yet even once the Syrians withdrew from Lebanon, Hizballah remained in control of southern Lebanon and its power continued to grow. The Syrians, aligned with Hizballah, had no interest in disarming a thorn in Israel’s side as long as the issue of the Golan Heights was left unresolved. Supporting Hizballah also helped maintain Syria’s grip on power in Lebanon. Therefore, when Israel withdrew in 2000, Hizballah took over the areas and began to amass an incredible arsenal of weaponry for a guerilla organization, with arms coming from Iran and Syria. At the same time, Hizballah sent fighters to Iran to train in more advanced strategies and technologies, while Iranian agents were sent to the Israeli border to assist Hizballah tactically and in gathering intelligence.

Following Israel’s withdrawal in May 2000, Hizballah went from possessing dozens of mainly short-range, low-explosive Katyusha rockets, to having some 15-20,000 short- and medium-range Russian, Chinese, Syrian, and Iranian-made missiles and rockets at the commencement of hostilities in July 2006.8 Between 2000 and 2006, Hizballah built up its military positions and arsenals in cities and towns throughout Lebanon. It developed Vietcong-like tunnels for supplies, transport and communications, and acquired additional guerilla warfare tactics, all done while incorporating advanced weaponry such as anti-ship missiles,9 sophisticated night-vision goggles,10 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs),11 and anti-tank missiles.12

This was conducted under the watchful eye of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese government, with the financial and military assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard13 and often times with the support of the civilian population. Additionally, Hizballah spent those years recruiting and training new fighters, developing intelligence,14 fundraising extensively worldwide, building overlapping command and control centers, and developing and reinforcing bunkers scattered throughout the country including in and around hospitals, schools, mosques, and United Nations facilities.15

Israel suffered a severe loss to its deterrent capability shortly after its 2000 withdrawal to the internationally recognized border when, in an operation similar to its more recent one, Hizballah militants kidnapped three Israeli soldiers, who were killed during the kidnapping.16 Hizballah also lured an Israeli businessman (and former IDF colonel) into what he had hoped was a promising business venture. He was kidnapped and held in captivity for three years, before Israel agreed under German mediation to release over 400 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, in return for him and the bodies of the three soldiers. These kidnappings and the subsequent prisoner exchange, coupled with the lack of response to previous attacks on Israeli positions, as well as allowing Hizballah to amass arms and develop facilities throughout Lebanon, all combined in a severe blow to Israel’s deterrent capabilities.

There have been many theories and explanations as to why Israel did not respond to the immense buildup of arms and military know-how by Hizballah. Some would argue that it was due to a lack of preparedness or intelligence on the part of the Israelis.17 A more critical factor, however, was that Israel could not act against Hizballah during its buildup without first being provoked, since the international and domestic communities would not have accepted such a move.

Hizballah’s Guerilla and Insurgency Tactics

As any student of Mao or Che Guevara knows, without the support and sympathy of the domestic population, one cannot win a guerilla war. A fervent student of revolutions and insurgencies, Hizballah is well aware of this principle. It has made sure to use its resources not only to build up its military capabilities, but also to finance a social welfare system to gain the support of the Lebanese population (to the point of being elected to national public office). Aside from the funding it receives from state sponsors, Hizballah conducts extensive fundraising throughout the Middle East, East Asia, South America, and even Europe. Many of these countries distinguish between Hizballah’s military branch, and its “political” branch, and as a result, Hizballah has been able to acquire top-of-the-line military hardware while also providing education, healthcare and religious studies in parts of Shiite Lebanon where the government has failed to provide services.

Hizballah, like Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations targeting Israel, is incapable of launching a conventional attack against the Jewish state. However, it is perhaps the most capable guerilla organization in the world today due to its high level of training, Shiite religious indoctrination and dedication, sophisticated weaponry, strong financial and military support, years of experience and preparation, and tolerance for its existence by both the international and domestic communities. In the six years since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizballah has amassed an enormous number of armaments, networks and defenses under a veil of relative secrecy. While this buildup was tracked by a number of intelligence agencies, particularly the Israeli Mossad and Military Intelligence, the extent of the defenses and armaments came as a surprise to almost everyone. With the assistance of Iranian and Syrian intelligence, Hizballah observed Israeli forces, monitored their transmissions and activities, and exposed their weaknesses.

Hizballah and its sponsors were not expecting the response that Israel gave in the summer of 2006.18 They expected Israel to launch a nominal reply at best, before returning to negotiations for a prisoner exchange as had been done in the past. Nevertheless, when it became clear that Israel was planning to launch a more severe attack than on previous occasions, Hizballah proved both prepared and capable. Using its comprehensive tunnels, network of informers, disguised ammunition depots, and mobile rocket launchers hidden in civilian areas as well as next to or underneath UN facilities,19 and dressed as ordinary civilians, Hizballah managed to surprise the Israelis in many instances.

While Arab forces that Israel had encountered in the past were relatively quick to flee under the conventional might of the IDF, Hizballah fighters stood their ground, often willing to die and be “martyred” rather than surrender to the “infidel.”20 Insurgencies, guerilla warfare, and acts of terrorism are all especially effective against Western democratic nations such as Israel, which are sensitive to civilian casualties.21 Hizballah used all of the above.

In what is better known as the “democratic dilemma,” democracies have to fight an enemy that is difficult to obliterate without causing civilian casualties. The heavy use of infantry in house-to-house fighting inevitably results in resentment among the targeted civilian population, and high casualties for the counter-insurgency force. Add to this the Shiite notion of martyrdom and the situation becomes even more complicated and deadly. The democratic dilemma explains why countries such as Syria don’t face the same type of terrorism that we have seen in places such as Israel and the United Kingdom. When autocratic regimes face threats, they simply use their full military might against anyone and everyone that threatens them, in order to crush any resistance. Civilian casualties or other “collateral damage” are of little consequence or concern to these states, and often take place with little international attention. Examples of this include what was done by Syria in Hama to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood,22 or by the Jordanians during “Black September” against the PLO.23

Hizballah is quite open about not playing by the normal rules of engagement. As Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated in early August, “We are not a regular army, and we don’t fight like a regular army.”24 Hizballah very clearly operates out of heavily populated civilian areas, and its fighters are often outwardly innocent-looking workers during the day and warriors at night, making the distinction between civilian and combatant even more difficult. Their offices and infrastructure are often in the midst of, below, or inside residential apartment buildings, usually within a sympathetic city or suburb.

Hizballah also makes very good use of psychological warfare and all types of propaganda. It operates its own television, radio, and Internet stations, and has a Foreign Relations Unit.25 It takes every opportunity to highlight Lebanese civilian casualties and Israeli casualties, while making little mention of its own casualties. Hizballah has even gone so far as to send in agents to literally parade bodies before the media.26 Furthermore, doctored photographs by photographers sympathetic to Hizballah have been used by major media outlets around the world.27 This is not the first time that such activities have taken place – Israelis have been complaining for years that some journalists are coerced and others volunteer to paint Israelis in a poor light.28

During and immediately following hostilities between Israel and Hizballah, there was a flood of news reports related to the war, yet a relatively small amount of coverage was given to the Israeli victims or to the highly skilled use of propaganda by Hizballah.29 All of these elements assisted Hizballah greatly, and allowed it to gain support in both the Lebanese community and in the international community as well. As a result, instead of a unanimous condemnation of Hizballah’s tactics, Israel was the side continuously censured by the international community, media and human rights organizations. The Lebanese population clearly suffered a major blow as a result of the war between Israel and Hizballah. The problem was in properly identifying Hizballah as the culprit.

A Double Standard? Israel Charged with Targeting Civilians

Considering Israel’s small size in both population and territory, no other state captures so much of the world’s attention on a daily basis. There are literally hundreds of organizations dedicated to both the support and opposition of the establishment of Israel and its policies. Israel itself is home to numerous, vibrant, and opinionated media outlets.30 While everybody has the right to critique Israel and its policies, the disproportional amounts of negative media attention, condemnations, and special campaigns against it lead many to conclude that Israel faces a double standard in the international community as well as in academia.31 This double standard has only encouraged Hizballah’s actions.

Groups and individuals critical of Israel charged during the war that Israel was purposely targeting non-Hizballah targets, such as Lebanese civilians, UN personnel, and national infrastructure. Two of the more prominent claims were that Israel was deliberately targeting Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructure and that it was “carpet bombing” southern Lebanon. These claims were made across the media’s political spectrum, from Fox News Channel, to the British Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera. With one of the most powerful air forces in the world, Israel is more than capable of truly carpet bombing Lebanon. Yet it did not – despite the daily news reports of Israeli forces “massively” and “deliberately” “carpet bombing” parts of Lebanon, especially in and around civilian areas. These reports were usually supplemented with footage of sounds of between 2 to 10 Israeli missiles striking a given area within an hour. When comparing this to the literally hundreds or thousands of bombs and missiles that were fired at the enemy during conflicts such as World War II, the Vietnam War, and the more recent wars in Iraq and Chechnya, these claims of carpet bombings seem rather outlandish.32

In truth, systems used by Lebanese civilians such as bridges and roads were bombed by the Israelis. However, these targets became legitimate when they were used by Hizballah forces. Destroying your enemy’s electrical and communications networks is one of the first objectives of most major military operations. As Alan Dershowitz has argued, if such action is considered a war crime (as some have claimed), than “modern warfare is entirely impermissible and terrorists have a free hand in attacking democracies and hiding from retaliation.”33

The United Nations played a prominent role in criticizing Israel. Following an Israeli bombardment during the war of a United Nations facility in Khiam, Lebanon, which led to the death of four UNIFIL observers, Secretary General Kofi Annan released a statement on July 25, 2006, stating: “I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces of a United Nations observer post in southern Lebanon that has killed two United Nations military observers, with two more feared dead.”34 Within hours of the attack, prior to even a cursory investigation, the Secretary General of the United Nations had stood before the international community and declared that he believed Israel purposely targeted UN observers. It was later revealed that one of the UN observers killed, Canadian Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, had sent an email from his position in Khiam to the Canadian television station CTV. In the email he revealingly wrote:

What I can tell you is this: we have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both artillery and aerial bombing. The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters of our position and the closest 1000 lb. aerial bomb has landed 100 meters from our patrol base….This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity.35

Lewis MacKenzie, a former Canadian major general who led the Canadian UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, later observed: “What tactical necessity would indicate – and I would say strongly indicate, almost beyond any doubt whatsoever – is the fact that tactical necessity was the Israelis engaging Hizballah, who were around or on [Hess-von Kruedener’s] position and using it as cover, and using [the observers] as shields.” Despite Annan’s statements, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that he doubted Israel’s attacks were deliberate.36

When reviewing the statistics, it becomes clear that the United Nations has a clear double standard against the State of Israel – a fact not lost on Hizballah and its supporters. While at least one Arab nation has nearly continuously sat on the Security Council since its inception in 1946, Israel has never sat on the Security Council.37 In fact, until recently Israel was not even a member of any of the five regional groups because no region would accept it, and was thus prohibited from participating in any of the UN committees. While Israel has been condemned by the Security Council over 100 times, until recently the Arab party in a given conflict with Israel had never been expressly condemned. This is despite the fact that the United States has used its veto power on numerous occasions in defense of Israel.38 While millions have been killed in wars in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel is the only nation consistently debated and condemned.39

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have displayed similar carelessness in biasing themselves against Israel. Amnesty International reported on August 23, 2006, that Israel had a policy of “deliberate destruction of Lebanese civilian infrastructure, which included war crimes.”40 Human Rights Watch reported that there were “no cases in which Hizballah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack….In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hizballah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack.”41

Alan Dershowitz has responded to these charges, writing in the Jerusalem Post: “Amnesty’s evidence that Israel’s attacks on infrastructure constitute war crimes comes from its own idiosyncratic interpretation of the already-vague word ‘disproportionate.’ Unfortunately for Amnesty, no other country in any sort of armed conflict has ever adopted such a narrow definition of the term.”42 A New York Sun article by the same author cites a report from the (Melbourne) Sunday Mail about an Australian who witnessed firsthand the deliberate use by Hizballah of civilian neighborhoods and infrastructure for their military purposes.43

The Melbourne man who smuggled the [photographic] shots out of Beirut told how he was less than 400 meters from the block when it was obliterated. “Hizballah came in to launch their rockets, then within minutes the area was blasted by Israeli jets,” he said. “Until the Hizballah fighters arrived, it had not been touched by the Israelis. Then it was devastated. After the attacks they didn’t even allow the ambulances or the Lebanese Army to come in until they had cleaned the area, removing their rockets and hiding other evidence.”44

These prejudices directly contribute not only to Hizballah and its sponsors’ will to attack Israel, but also to the way in which they go about carrying out their mission to eradicate the Jewish state. Never has a country that was attacked been expected to reply with only an equal amount of force. As Jonathan Chait pointed out in the Los Angeles Times, during World War II the damage the U.S. inflicted on Nazi Germany was far greater than the initial attacks and declaration of war that Germany meted out on the U.S.45

Israel’s Deterrent Capabilities

Israel’s deterrent capabilities relate not only to the security of the State of Israel, but also to the likelihood of there being another Arab-Israeli war. When Israel’s deterrence has been high, leadership in neighboring countries have recognized their inability to cause sufficient damage to the Jewish state to warrant the injury Israel was sure to bring upon them in return – and thus quiet prevailed in the region. When Israel’s deterrence was lower, situations such as the July 2006 attacks by Hizballah have occurred. On some occasions, such as immediately prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israelis had felt their deterrence was high, when in fact its neighbors had not believed so. These misunderstandings of enemy perceptions have led to some of the worst disasters in Israeli history.

Since shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel’s deterrent capabilities have been eroding at an ever-increasing pace. This has occurred for a number of reasons: hopes of reaching peace agreements with neighboring nations, efforts to help allies, attempts to keep the region relatively calm, and respect for Israeli public opinion. Yet all of these efforts, regardless of the intentions or the end results, have led to a lowering of Israel’s deterrence.

In responding more forcefully to Hizballah’s provocation, Israel not only restored much of its deterrent capability, but did so against a weapon of the Iranian and Syrian militaries, that had purposely fought from civilian areas, often with the consent and support of the local residents. Israel acted only after exhausting a number of other options over the decades, including everything from all-out invasion and regime change to quiet diplomacy and open negotiations. Israel’s overall response was not disproportionate when considering the enemy it was fighting, the tactics Hizballah used, and the past unprovoked attacks against it that had been left unaddressed.

While the wisdom of extensive air attacks and relatively short-term use of ground forces can be argued, the air attacks were employed in a manner similar to NATO operations in the Balkans: with the hope of saving the lives of ground forces while bombing the enemy into submission. However, certain Israeli actions were serious mistakes, including the massive use of inaccurate cluster bombs and phosphorous rounds that were largely ineffective and counterproductive. Furthermore, in a war where public opinion counts as much as actual military maneuvers the use of such munitions was counterproductive.46

In the likely event of a future conflict with Hizballah or other groups that use similar methods, Israel must make a number of changes. In the fighting in the summer of 2006, Hizballah’s use of advanced anti-tank missiles, short-range Katyusha rockets, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) led to the majority of Israeli deaths. New technology is quickly being introduced to respond to Hizballah’s anti-tank capabilities. However, short-range Katyushas will continue to remain a problem.

Additionally, the intelligence gap must be filled expeditiously and effectively, both in terms of collection and analysis of information on Hizballah actions on the strategic and operational levels, and in terms of tactical intelligence needed by commanders on the ground.47 The IDF became bogged down in the monumental task of cleaning out Hizballah fighters village by village, resulting in static fighting for which the IDF was not well trained. As a result, the Israelis missed the opportunity to rush northward quickly and efficiently, which could have then allowed them to sweep down and begin cleaning out Hizballah positions while simultaneously cutting off their supply and transportation routes. Such a move could have resulted in greater psychological and military gains.

As Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yoram Yair argued at a conference after the war, “in this war, we didn’t advance, we just inserted ground forces, but didn’t advance. If they had implemented the principle of land advancement, there would have been no problem.”48 Israel must not only prepare for any future potential conflict with Hizballah, but also for the possibility of Syria or even Iran entering the equation.49 If and when future hostilities do arise, Israeli forces must be quick to declare reasonable goals. In July 2006, Prime Minister Olmert set two conditions for an end to the Israeli operation: the disarming of Hizballah and the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Neither of these goals was met.

Israel will need to continue to work both militarily and diplomatically to shut down all financial and military lines used to resupply Hizballah from Iran and Syria. Whereas al-Qaeda is recognized and hunted the world over, Hizballah still enjoys state sponsorship and direct military and financial aid from Iran and Syria, and it is quickly being resupplied both militarily and monetarily. This leads to an increase in prestige both for Hizballah and Iran as well. A weakened or destroyed Hizballah would have removed a major weapon in the hands of both Iran and Syria that now threatens the international community, and this past summer Israel failed to achieve that goal.

In the aftermath of the recent war, there is a small potential for a new and more amicable posture by the Syrian government, which may find the timing is ripe to renew more amicable ties with the U.S. and the West. However, the situation right now is more likely a temporary break before another showdown that may include more parties and non-conventional warfare in the future.

Appeasement Does Not Work

Appeasement simply does not work when dealing with terrorist organizations. Hizballah is not interested in simply gaining a portion of land from Israel, but plans to continue fighting until “all” of “historic Palestine” is “liberated.” As Nasrallah stated following Israel’s withdrawal in 2000, “we can make sure that there are other issues [aside from the contested Sheba’a Farms] that concern us and that we have other files to keep us in the conflict.”50

In the immediate short-term, there have been some benefits seen for Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. Yet the end result of the war should by no means be seen as a defeat for Israel, as Hizballah is trying to present it. It is without question that Olmert’s overall decision to respond forcefully to Hizballah was the right one, and that it came as a surprise not only to Hizballah, but to Syria and Iran as well. However, the timing and extent of Israel’s response should have been more seriously debated, considering the fact that the IDF was already engaged in military activity in the Gaza Strip and that its reserve forces were unprepared.

Lebanese public opinion is more critical of Hizballah since the war’s end, as the Lebanese return to their homes and ask themselves and their government why Hizballah was allowed to bring such destruction upon the country. Hizballah has been unable to return to its southern strongholds in its previous capacity. Perhaps Hassan Nasrallah’s own analysis of the war was most telling. In an interview with a Lebanese television station, he stated, “You ask me, if I had known on July 11…that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not.”51

Much of the outcome of the war remains in the hands of the international community, as Israel for the first time put its security in the hands of the outside world; something it has been reluctant to do in the past after decades of ineffectiveness. At the very least, however, governments in the Middle East and the Western world are now truly interested in disarming Hizballah and weakening Syria and Iran. None of this could have been achieved without the strong Israeli response.

Iran also quietly expressed dissatisfaction with Hizballah since such a large portion of its arsenal was expended or destroyed in a relatively minor war with Israel – making it more difficult to use Hizballah as an effective form of deterrence in a possible future confrontation with the United States or Israel over its nuclear weapons program.

Furthermore, Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are looking to increase their own military arsenals to meet any potential Iranian threats,52 and are likely to continue to support initiatives attempting to weaken Iran, Hizballah, and Syria. Finally, we see an increase in talk by the Arab League and led by the Saudis for a comprehensive peace agreement between the Arab world and Israel to prevent violence in the region in the future – especially in countries with large Shiite minorities.

In the future, the international community and particularly the Western world must recognize that allowing groups such as Hizballah to operate unrestrained, and failing to provide Israel with support to severely weaken Hizballah and its sponsors, are acts of appeasement. They may benefit some nations in the short term, but in the long term it will lead to an even more disastrous situation, not only for Israel and the United States, but for many other nations as well.

*     *     *

Joshua Gleis is a Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Studies at Harvard University and a Ph.D. Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. As an analyst at the Jebsen Center for Counter Terrorism Studies, his areas of focus are counterterrorism, counterinsurgencies, and the Middle East.

*     *     *


1. Yaakov Katz, “IDF ire at victory denied,” Jerusalem Post, August 11, 2006, p. 1.

2. “Hizballah attacks IDF at Har Dov (Sheba’a Farms) since Israeli pull-out from Lebanon (May 2000) in violation of Security Council resolution and the position of the international community,”

3. “What is the current status between Israel and Lebanon?”

4. “Hizballah attacks IDF at Har Dov.”

5. These are the Arab names of the villages. Information can be found at “Fighting on Lebanon-Israel borders,”

6. These officials included former cabinet minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who was interviewed by the author during the summer of 2006 in Israel.

7. Thousands of Lebanese Christians continue to live in Israel since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. See “Lebanese family asks for Israeli asylum,”; and “SLA: War price for leaving Lebanon,”,7340,L-3280894,00.html.

8. From an email by the Department of Public Diplomacy of the Consulate General of Israel to New England, August 17, 2006.

9. “Hizballah’s transformation is a case study,”

10. Yaakov Katz, “IDF displays weapons captured from Hizbullah,” Jerusalem Post, August 10, 2006, p. 3.

11. “Iranian-made Ababil-T Hizballah UAV shot down by Israeli fighter in Lebanon crisis,”

12. “Hizballah’s transformation is a case study.”

13. Ibid.

14. “Hizbullah’s intelligence apparatus,” See also “How hi-tech Hizballah called the shots,”

15. Felix Frish, “Deep in the Ground,” Maariv, September 1, 2006 (Hebrew). See also “Israel captures guerrillas in Hizballah hospital raid,”; and “Ex-observers divided on why Israel bombed UN post,” See also “Canadian killed from UN force complained his position shielding Hizbullah,”

16. Yaakov Katz, “2000 kidnapping and new Ron Arad footage aired for first time,” Jerusalem Post, September 6, 2006, p. 1.

17. “Kidnap of soldiers in July was Hizballah’s fifth attempt,” See also “Hizballah’s transformation is a case study,”

18. “Nasrallah’s mea culpa,”

19. Frish, “Deep in the Ground.”

20. Anthony Shadid, “Hizballah Fighters Emerge From the Rubble,” Washington Post, August 15, 2006, A01.

21. Moshe Yaalon, “The Rules of War,” Washington Post, August 3, 2006, p. A27.

22. Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p. 77. As a side note, Syria was not condemned by the United Nations or the Arab League after the attacks in Hama, which killed thousands of innocent civilians.

23. William Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 2nd ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000), pp. 352-3.

24. Edward Cody, “Hizballah Threatens Tel Aviv; Chief’s Statement Clarifies Strategy,” Washington Post, August 4, 2006, p. A13.

25. Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Hizbu’llah Politics and Religion (London: Pluto Press, 2002), p. 4.


27. “The first Photoshop war,”,7340,L-3292509,00.html.

28. At a Hamas rally in May 2001, BBC correspondent Fayad Abu Shamala declared: “Journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people.” See also “The Photo that Started It All,”

29. “Covering the Conflict in the North,” See also “Red Cross Ambulance Libel Exposed,”

30. “Culture-Media,”

31. “Political and Religious Belief Discrimination on Campus,”

32. For comparative reports of casualties in conflicts such as Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, and the Balkans, see the reports below. In none of these cases was international criticism nearly as palpable or prominent as it was against Israel, despite the fact that in many cases the legal right to carry out such attacks was much less obvious and the number of civilian casualties was significantly higher. See, for example, Afghanistan: “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting,” Balkans: “In the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia,” Chechnya: “Civil and military casualties of the wars in Chechnya,” Iraq: “Iraq Body Count,”

33. “Canadian killed from UN force complained his position shielding Hizbullah.”

34. “Secretary-General Shocked By Coordinated Israeli Attack on United Nations Observer Post in Lebanon, Which Killed Two Peacekeepers,”

35. “Ex-observers divided on why Israel bombed UN post.”

36. “Harper doubts UN post deliberately targeted,”

37. “The U.N.’s Record Vis-a-Vis Israel,”

38. Ibid.

39. In fact, the UN Human Rights Council has only condemned one country in its history: Israel. To date, it has done so seven times.

40. “Israel/Lebanon: Evidence indicates deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure,”

41. “Fatal Strikes, Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon,”

42. “Canadian killed from UN force complained his position shielding Hizbullah.”

43. Alan Dershowitz, “What Are They Watching?,” New York Sun, August 23, 2006, p. 8.

44. See Editorial, “Hizballah’s War Crimes,” Investor’s Business Daily, August 3, 2006, A14, and Alan Dershowitz, “What Are They Watching?” For photos, see “Photos that Damn Hizballah,”

45. Jonathan Chait, “Who says war has to be proportional?,” Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2006, p. 5.

46. “IDF commander: We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon,”

47. “IDF official: Hizbullah jumped the gun,”

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. “Israeli Gambit,” by Daniel Sobelman, under “Changing the rules of the game” by Anders Strindberg, Jane’s Intelligence Review, January 1, 2004.

51. “Nasrallah’s mea culpa.”

52. “Saudi Arabia buys 72 Eurofighters,” BBC News, August 18, 2006,