In the past month Israel confronted Hezbollah’s fanatical terrorism with the aim of removing the terrorist threat from its northern border. Israel’s military campaign was launched in response to a series of unprovoked, cross-border attacks from Lebanese territory, carried out by Hezbollah on July 12. Israel had no choice but to do what Lebanon has failed to do over the past six years, ever since Israel’s complete withdrawal to the international border — safeguard the border from a terrorist takeover.
As a result of Israel’s military operations, Hezbollah’s lethal capabilities have been dealt a major blow. Its fortifications were dismantled and stockpiles of Iranian and Syrian missiles have been destroyed, including about 80 per cent of the long- range missiles. Southern Lebanon has been substantially cleared of the infrastructure of terrorism. Hezbollah infrastructure all over Lebanon — command and control, communications, arms depots etc. — were all crippled. There is no doubt that Hezbollah, which has been secretive about its losses, has been hurt much more severely than it is willing to admit. The most conservative estimates of Hezbollah casualties stand at around 500 militants — based on names of dead militants known to Israel. The ceasefire of August 13 saw Israeli troops along the banks of the Litani river, about 35 km from the international border — a line which marks the southern sector of Lebanon where Hezbollah had established itself for years as a State within a State.
A ceasefire now in place, the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted on August 11, provides that the Israel Defence Forces in southern Lebanon will withdraw only parallel to the deployment of the Lebanese army and enhanced UNIFIL units, in order to prevent Hezbollah from retaking control.
The new military realities on the ground are a critical element in the emerging overall situation between Lebanon and Israel, but not the only one. Resolution 1701 provides an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past and to create a genuine new reality in our region. It establishes a binding arms embargo requiring all States to prevent the supply of arms and weapons to militias and terrorists in Lebanon. It provides for a radically different international force with a mandate and capabilities to ensure that Hezbollah will not be rearmed and South Lebanon will be free of armed militias and weapons. Not less important is the fact that the resolution gives the government of Lebanon a real opportunity to finally assert its sovereignty throughout the entire Lebanese territory, including along the border with Israel.
A resolution alone will do nothing if the tools set out in it are not utilised with resolve and decisiveness. The resolution brings to an end 33 days of intensive fighting, on one hand, and of diplomatic negotiations on the other. But it is only the beginning. It presents Lebanon with a clear choice between opening a new chapter or sliding back on the slippery slope of terrorism and violence.
One has to look at the strategic horizon to realise how significant Israel’s gains are in this conflict that was imposed on Israel.
Israel’s unexpected large-scale military response was not anticipated by the aggressor and its patrons in Tehran and Damascus. Hezbollah’s military muscle was built up, discreetly and efficiently, with a view to a more critical crisis, at a timing more suitable to Syria and Iran. The Hezbollah military card and its capabilities are now in ruins. Any effort by Iran and Syria to replenish Hezbollah’s stockpiles will now be dealt with as a violation of Resolution 1701. Moreover, the presence of UNIFIL forces, which under the new resolution have real powers, further diminishes the prospect that Hezbollah may directly attack Israel and start a war for Syria and Iran.
Beyond Hezbollah’s bravado and inflammatory declarations, no neighbouring country will lose sight of Israel’s determination in the defence of the nation and its people. The fact that only a fraction of Israel’s military might was deployed in Lebanon and that it continued to act with restraint and chose not to escalate the conflict, is also not lost. The Israeli society has shown yet again its resolve to stand up against fanatic terrorism which is being waged in the name of a skewed ideology.
The other lesson learnt from this crisis is that the world is facing a dangerous escalation by extremists who are the self-proclaimed enemies of the free and democratic family of nations. Hezbollah’s war of terror against Israel is an attempt by Iran, which does not conceal its intentions and hostility towards Israel, to destabilise West Asia. Not coincidently, the crisis in Lebanon comes at a time when Iran is embroiled in a row with the international community over its nuclear ambitions. The key for world peace and security cannot be left in the hands of terrorist organisations and their sponsor States who publicly proclaim their evil strategy. It is time to call things by their names.
Israel has paid a heavy price to bring about a real opportunity for a better future for Lebanon, Israel and the region. The way the international community handles the implementation of Resolution 1701 is a test case, being watched worldwide by terrorist organisations and their patrons.
The writer is Ambassador of Israel to India