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From: arens@ISI.EDU (Yigal Arens)

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To: bashar@point.cs.uwm.edu

Subject: 132-Lebanon_Security_Zone_1_94

Status: O

 

Report No. 132 Israel Shahak, 9 January 1994

Developments in the Israeli "Security Zone" in South Lebanon

 

Since the "Accountability Operation" in July 1993, the Hebrew

press has devoted very little space to events in the Israeli

"Security Zone" of South Lebanon. Most likely it has been

prevented from devoting more space. After all, since June 1985,

Hebrew press correspondents have been forbidden to enter the

occupied part of Lebanon. They have even been forbidden to

publish information they could obtain from Israeli soldiers

serving there or from the Lebanese employed in Israel. Such

prohibitions have contrasted sharply with the access of

journalists to the Territories or, for that matter, to Lebanon

between June 1982 and June 1985.

 

There is only one correspondent privileged to supply

information relating to the "Zone" to all Israeli media: Menahem

Horovitz, a resident of Kiryat Shmona, who had the established

reputation for relaying only what the "proper authorities" told

him to relay. Other correspondents need special permits to enter

the "Zone" and can meet only individuals designated in advance.

Those rules were enacted in June 1985 by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak

Rabin who then were respectively the Prime Minister and Defense

minister and they have been rigorously enforced since.

 

It was therefore an event when, on December 31, 1993, the

military correspondent of Al Hamishmar, Aharon Klein, was first

allowed to write at some length on the subject of the "Zone", in

the aftermath of Rabin's cursory tour of the area which had taken

place several days earlier. It soon turned out, however, that

Klein's case was no exception. For shortly later, other press

correspondents on Arab affairs were invited to the "Zone" to meet

general Antoine Lahad, the commander of the so-called "South

Lebanese Army" (SLA) and to talk to some high ranking Israeli

officers stationed there. On January 7, 1994, there appeared

articles by Pinhas Inbari in Al Hamishmar and by Dan Avidan in

Davar, discussing the general situation in the "Zone". The

present report is going to convey the limited, and in my view

rather biased, but still valuable information contained in the

three articles referred to.

 

Let me begin with military affairs. For the first time since

the "Accountability Operation" Klein and Avidan were allowed to

say clearly that, in an agreement then reached, Israel had

undertaken to refrain from retaliating against Hizbollah

operations confined to the area of the "Zone", regardless of

whether Hizbollah's targets were Israeli or South Lebanese troops

if stationed there, or fortified positions, or villages. In other

words, Israel undertook to refrain from shelling Lebanese

villages or other inhabited localities indiscriminately, as it

had been routinely doing before. SLA was subject to the same

restrictions. As a quid pro quo, the Hizbollah undertook neither

to shell nor to assault otherwise any target on the Israeli

territory. True, the Israeli and "South Lebanese" armies still

retained the freedom "to fire at" and "to shell" the so-called

"sources of fire", i.e. the attacking Hizbollah forces, and to

bomb military bases in Lebanon. Still, such terms of the

agreement can be seen as clear evidence that Israel was defeated

by the Hizbollah in July 1993, exactly as I assessed the outcome

of the "Accountability Operation" in my report 124.

 

According to Israeli sources, the Hizbollah have kept the

agreement, confining their operations to the "Zone". Avidan

reports that since then, "over 300 assaults have been executed in

the `Zone', most of them by Hizbollah", and that they included

"frequent shelling of local targets from the katyushas". He

evaluates the effectiveness of at least some of these assaults as

gradually improving. He mentions, for instance, the (never

previously reported) frequent use of the "Sager" anti-tank

missiles" against Israeli army targets. By using the `Sagers',

which can easily be launched from an orchard or olive grove, it

is possible to hit a target 2.5 km. distant. By such means the

Hizbollah fighters managed about two weeks ago to kill an Israeli

officer who was just sitting in his tank".

 

It does not come as a surprise that Klein and Avidan describe

the SLA as being in poor shape, with its Shi'ite soldiers (as

well as Shi'ite civilian residents of the "Zone") increasingly

attracted toward Hizbollah. (But the two correspondents say

nothing about the Maronite soldiers). Avidan says that "the

Shi'ite soldiers are losing motivation to go on fighting. About

two months ago, 17 Shi'ite soldiers encamped in a SLA stronghold

surrendered to Hizbollah without firing a single bullet. Using

loudspeakers, the latter simply called upon the former to

surrender, and the appeal was instantly complied with. But when

several weeks later, the Hizbollah used the same method again in

another stronghold, they failed. This stronghold happened to be

commanded by a more loyal officer who called the Israeli army to

the rescue. The Israelis arrived so fast that the soldiers did

not have time to surrender even if they wanted to. The speed with

which the Israeli troops can under such circumstances appear on

the scene, encourages the SLA fighters decisively". (This is

asserted in all seriousness). Klein adds that the Israeli army

"makes tremendous efforts to keep the power of the SLA

undiminished, despite the problems which that army has in finding

new recruits".

 

Klein says that high ranking officers of the Israeli army are

far from pleased with this situation. They asked Rabin to

authorize "a whole lot of initiated operations against

Hizbollah". The "top comanders of the Northern Command"

(responsible for the "Zone") told Rabin that "frequent katyusha

shelling within the `Security Zone' had become a routine. Some of

them said that this amounted to a risk to Israel's security,

because what was going on there was a real war of attrition".

Rabin refrained from responding, however, whereupon the

disgruntled officers told Klein that "Rabin's reaction did not

help safeguard this unit of valiant mercenaries who had chosen to

share their fate with that of Israel, and who had contributed so

much to defending Israel's northern border". More soberly, Avidan

says that all inhabitants of the "Zone", soldiers and civilians

alike, "are tired of serving as Israel's boxing bag".

 

All three correspondents dwell at great length upon the threats

of general Antoine Lahad to "disobey Israel" and to shell

Lebanese villages on his own. Such threats are a transparent

bluff and can be dismissed without a word of comment. But Avidan

and even more clearly Inbari also deal with Israeli proposals to

solve the SLA predicament. Inbari says that "Israeli sources told

me that Israel was interested in changing the situation, provided

it would be for the better. It is not enough to keep Hizbollah

under control. There must be a period during which no single

bullet is fired. Only after such a period may Israel be ready to

reassess other arrangements, provided the changes are backed by

guarantees of Syria and other states. This means that Israel

cares about more than its own security. It is willing to

recognize Syria as a permanent factor in stabilizing Lebanon,

provided Syria first proves itself by its treatment of Hizbollah

and other terrorist organizations. Of course, for that Lebanon

will have to pay the price, in the form of its permanent

subservience to Syria, which for the Lebanese cannot be a

pleasing prospect. But Lebanon will also have to pay another

price. It will have to let its Palestinian residents remain in

that country for ever". As is well known, the Lebanese

government, with the backing of nearly all Lebanese political

parties, would like to expel the Palestinian refugees from

Lebanon. Israel firmly opposes this idea. Both Inbari and Avidan

also name two additional Israeli demands. One is that Syria

reduce the "Iranian influence in Lebanon". The other is that,

prior to any Israeli withdrawal, SLA and its intelligence be

integrated within the Lebanese army and intelligence. Once those

demands are met, says Inbari, Israel would be ready to withdraw

from the entire "Security Zone" and allow the Lebanese army in

it.

 

Obviously, such proposals are intended for Syria's consumption.

They mean that Israel would be ready to let Syria dominate

Lebanon, probably in exchange for some Syrian concessions in the

Golan Heights. I refrain from conjecturing whether Hafez Assad

may or may not accept those conditions. Let me observe instead

that the Israeli offer goes together with a threat. In effect,

Israel says that it will not put up with the present situation in

the "Zone" for much longer, because the SLA, which still is a

factor in Israeli political calculations, may eventually

collapse, in which case the Hizbollah will triumph, with the

effect of engendering unpredictable repercussions far beyond the

borders of the "Zone".