Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Strategic Realities: Lebanon and the Palestinians

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By Ehud Ya’ari 

 

When we talk about Lebanon, the truth is we do not know what the real score of the war was. We don’t know because it is only chapter one of the war that is over, the Israeli-Hezbollah clash over south Lebanon and the Galilee. Chapter two of the war is the battle for Beirut. Who controls Lebanon, who is going to become the king-maker of the Lebanese Third Republic? Is Hezbollah going to be isolated within the fragmented picture of Lebanese politics or is Hezbollah going to be able to mount a putsch?

Only when the battle for Beirut currently now being waged is over will we have an answer and I think the real outcome of the war.

In Lebanon, we have now a situation of a fragile but basically unviolated ceasefire which has been holding ever since the end of the war. One should not underestimate this, whatever our criticisms of our government and our army. We should not forget that Hezbollah were badly beaten. They lost 800 of their military personnel and this is over one third of their standing force. In the north we have a ceasefire now and a decision by the Security Council Resolution 1701 to reinstate the armistice regime that marked the end of the War of Independence in 1949.

With the Palestinians, we now have a similar situation. We have a set of informal understandings between Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abu Mazen, about a ceasefire. It is still violated of course, and so far it is restricted to the Gaza Strip.

Israel can, and as you can see, is, taking the risk that under the cover of ceasefire Hamas will go on arming themselves to a point where they will have similar military capabilities in Gaza to the ones Hezbollah enjoyed in south Lebanon. This includes everything - anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, long range katyushas, etc. This is their plan.

But the main battle is now for the West Bank. The big question is whether Israel will allow itself to be duped into an arrangement which will allow Hamas to re-militarise the West Bank. 

Israeli army preventive activities in the West Bank are really very simple. At night a squad of 10-15 soldiers will go, using whatever intelligence is available, and get the guys who are trying to arrange for the next suicide bombing. The West Bank has been basically exposed to Israeli activity with very small forces ever since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. If the Israelis stop doing that, then give it three to six weeks, no more. They are going to produce in the West Bank homemade Qassams, short range mortars and the lot, and then Jerusalem and cities like Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, will all be within range of whatever terrorist group is in possession of these rockets. The Israelis do not apply the ceasefire to the West Bank for this reason.

Now I would like to take a broader perspective. It has been over 30 years since the Arab world took a silent decision not to take part in an active military clash with Israel. At the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Arab governments with their huge Arab armies, decided that, “we are out, we won’t fight the Israelis any more.” And it has been a consistent policy over 30 years.

Israel has prepared itself and devised a doctrine to respond to the existential threat of a big Arab coalition trying to move against us. That is how the IDF was structured - to respond to this challenge and threat.

All of a sudden you have a situation in which the old threat is no longer immediate and a new threat has developed which is very different.

What we have in fact is the two weakest Arab players, the two Arab players that were never part of the military equation, the Palestinians and the Lebanese, as the only ones on the field still doing battle with us. They are presenting us with a different challenge which is proving much more difficult to respond to. 

They are presenting us with something which I propose to call the doctrine of Muqawama. In Arabic this is how they term it. It translates to “resistance.” But this is not the correct translation. The right translation is the doctrine of persistent combat. Hezbollah and the rest of them - if we go to Iraq, the Sunni insurgent movements in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan - in many ways they are employing the same doctrine which is unique and very different from anything we have known in the past. Let me just go through some points of this doctrine.

One, the doctrine of persistent combat says that they, our adversaries do not seek victory, nor do they seek a decision on the battlefield. Nasrallah says, “it is not my obligation to liberate Jerusalem, this is for a generation, two, three, four, five down the road.” He is saying to his own troops “its not your job, take it easy, no hurry.” I can quote to you many similar statements.

Two, it is an enemy who feels that the only thing it has to do is to deny victory to the adversary.

Three - if so, in order to do battle with Israel or the others, you do not need to achieve what President Assad, Hafez the father, called for, “strategic parity”, a certain balance that makes military sense.

His son, Bashar, has discarded the legacy of his great father and he is saying that we have an option - persistent combat. That means that the other side starts or initiates confrontation from a position of total military inferiority. They give us the advantage from the outset.

Israel is in a position where there is nobody to make peace with because this is out of the question, both for Hamas and Hezbollah. What is possible from their point of view is a sort of truce or armistice. Persistent combat, yes, constant warfare yes, but there can be periods, if it is in the interest of the Muslims, that you declare a truce.

I want to conclude by saying what I think is possible.

On the Lebanese front, whether the Battle of Beirut ends one way or the other, a reinforcement of the armistice regime as re-instated by the Security Council at the end of the last war is possible. I think that we have a fair chance of stabilising the situation along that front.

On the Palestinian side the situation is more complicated. Anybody who dreams that Fatah, the people who signed Oslo are coming back and will regain power in the Palestinian Authority, please believe me, forget about it. Because Fatah are telling me, they are not up to it. They have told me they can hardly hang on as the opposition. So Hamas is there to stay.

Hamas is begging for a ceasefire, they need time to consolidate. They need time to get the government going, they need time to co-opt some of the security organisations of the PA that are still under Fatah influence, to arm themselves and to get to a point where as I said before, they are in a position like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

So what can be done? We need to think in terms of an armistice regime with the Palestinians as well.

Dimension number one is a ceasefire - we don’t shoot, they don’t shoot. Plus a mechanism to supervise that you will not have militarisation of the West Bank and major re-armament in Gaza. With international involvement, it is tricky but it could be worked out. It is not the jungles of Vietnam.

Dimension number two is the change of political reality. For us Israelis, the establishment of a Palestinian state in peace is a strategic asset, but the Palestinians are not going there. I am telling you the Palestinians have reached a silent decision that the mini state, the 1967 borders of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, is not a worthy prize. Certainly not enough to make those sacrifices that are required of them.

If it comes as what I have described as “runaway statehood”, statehood without the obligations of peace, sure they will take it. But Palestinian statehood is fast becoming a battle cry, a slogan, but no longer the political platform. So if we think it is in our interest that there will be a state and if we suspect, as I do, that the Palestinians will never declare a state, then we have to try and move things towards phase two of the Road Map which is internationally accepted as the prescription for peace. Phase two of the Road Map speaks about the establishment of a Palestinian state within provisional boundaries, prior to negotiations of a final status. Let’s have statehood declared.

On what provisional boundaries? Here is dimension number three. Sharon and Olmert were willing to implement a unilateral withdrawal from anything between 60 and 90% of the territory of the West Bank including some 60 settlements for no Palestinian obligation in return. How do I know? They told me. Let’s take whatever territory was destined to become a part of a second disengagement in the West Bank and throw it into the basket. And so we will get a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries. A ceasefire and the territory that we intended to give up anyway in the West Bank - 70 to 80% of the territory, but not Jerusalem.

This is a kind of deal which amounts to a final status or permanent peace minus. It is, in my humble opinion, the only option other than during next month or the month after, going into Gaza with three divisions in order to undertake a “defensive shield” operation like that in the West Bank.

I think within a few months that the Israeli Government will have to pursue this course.

   

Ehud Ya’ari is Arab Affairs Commentator at Israel’s Channel 2 TV. The above is an edited transcript of his remarks at an AIJAC function in Melbourne on Dec. 5.

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