May 24, 2000
Israelis evacuate southern Lebanon after 22 years of occupation. Margaret Warner leads a discussion with four experts on the effects of the pullout.
MARGARET WARNER: For perspective on the Israeli pullout and what it means, we turn to Nitzan Horowitz, Washington bureau chief for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz; Lebanese-born Mouafac Harb, Washington bureau chief for the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank; and Frederic Hof who served as U.S. Army attaché in Beirut in the early 1980's and the Department of Defense country director for Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestinian affairs in the late 1980's. He's now a partner at Armadaj Associates, a business consulting firm. Welcome, gentlemen. Explain why Israel, after 20 years, two decades in Lebanon, was so eager to get out now.
|Leaving southern Lebanon|
NITZAN HOROWITZ, Ha'aretz: I think the reason is that simply Israelis are fed up with this occupation, what we call in Israel the Lebanese mud. Israel tried all the different approaches to Lebanon. They tried occupation, they tried brutal occupation, they tried to control with a local militia. They tried all sorts of methods. Nothing worked. And so after 22 years of occupation, Prime Minister Barak, this was his number one campaign promise, decided to go out after a year and he did what he did.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, surely he didn't expect this withdrawal to be so messy.
NITZAN HOROWITZ: No. He expected this withdrawal to be much more in order. He thought that an international force will take the place of the Israeli force there and the South Lebanese army. Unfortunately, the South Lebanese army collapsed with...
MARGARET WARNER: They were the allies of the Israelis?
NITZAN HOROWITZ: Yes. ...within a matter of hours. And the Hezbollah fighters, as we saw, took their place. This is unfortunate, but still, we have hope that now we'll have peace along the international border.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, explain what we saw happening in Lebanon. First of all, why did this South Lebanon army collapse? Why was it so apparently chaotic, the whole process?
MOUAFAC HARB, Al-Hayat: We have a new reality today in Lebanon, and we have winners and we have losers. Obviously Hezbollah emerged victorious. Prime Minister Ehud Barak is a temporary winner until things... It depends on how events would unfold in South Lebanon. And you have losers, which is the SLA Army. And you have those who are not happy to see that withdrawal taking place, and I mean by that Syria. What happened today, I disagree that the withdrawal was not orderly. I think it was orderly. And it came as a surprise, that there were no violence. Hezbollah did not storm villages, like most people expected them to do. They behaved as... at their best. They were disciplined, and we did not see any massacre like the ones that took place in Lebanon when the Israelis withdrew in 1984 from the mountains.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, explain to people who don't follow every nuance. Here you've got the government of Lebanon for 20 years has been demanding that Israel leave. Yet when Israel leaves, the force that moves in to fill the vacuum is Hezbollah, this guerrilla group, this resistance group, not Lebanese army troops. Explain that.
MOUAFAC HARB: Sure, I will. The Lebanese government, as everyone knows, is not... takes its cues from Syria, and also as everyone knows, the Lebanese government did not play a key role in the fighting against the Israelis. So today you have three sides in Lebanon: The Lebanese government is not a side. You have Syria, you have Hezbollah and behind it you have Israel. So the Lebanese government is marginal. When you talk about the Lebanese government, you go to Damascus.
|Border disputes and fractious groups|
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Rob Satloff. Now, where do we go from here? Israel went into Lebanon to prevent cross border attacks, among other things. What are the prospects that those are just going to resume?
ROBERT SATLOFF, Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Now we're in a new reality. The Israeli military strategy up till now actually worked fairly well. Very few Israeli civilians actually died in cross border attacks over the last 15 years. But Israelis grew tired of dying in Lebanese territory. Now the new reality is Israel operates from within its borders and promises massive retaliation against any power or any supporting power that fires across the border. That means via air power principally. Israel has promised that Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, will be held responsible principally for the activities of Hezbollah, Palestinian groups or any other force that chooses to violate the border.
MARGARET WARNER: But what do you think of the prospects that in fact one of those groups will violate the border?
ROBERT SATLOFF: I think eventually pretty high. I think the Syrians have little interest in maintaining calm over the border. The Syrians weren't happy with the Israeli withdrawal to begin with because it deprives the Syrians of a card in negotiations against Israel. I think it probably might not be Hezbollah right away that does break whatever calm there is over the border, but there's lots of other proxies that Syria had at its disposal, Palestinian rejectionist groups in refugee camps, other terrorist groups in the Bekah Valley. I think the chances are pretty high that there will be a test of Israel's deterrent posture very soon.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you see as the prospects?
FREDERICK HOF, Former Defense Department Official: I agree entirely that, in a matter of... it's only a matter of time before Israel's resolve is tested, and perhaps what's important here is for the Syrian-Israeli track of the peace process to get moving again. We perhaps can look forward to at least a brief period of calm. There is a very important meeting in Damascus next month of the National Command Council, where significant powers may be passed to the president's son, Dr. Bashar Al-Assad. So it's not very likely that the Syrians would try anything major, I would think, between now and then.
MARGARET WARNER: What about Hezbollah?
FREDERICK HOFF: Hezbollah also, I think, has very good motivation to wait and see. One of the most significant things that's been happening over the last 48 hours is the return of literally thousands and thousands of Lebanese to their villages in the South. These are Hezbollah's constituents. For Hezbollah to put them at risk would be very risky indeed politically for Hezbollah.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think is the level of threat to Israel now from Syria, from the Palestinians that are still there and from Hezbollah?
MOUAFAC HARB: Let me explain the political landscape right now in South Lebanon. You have Hezbollah, you have the Palestinian refugees and you have the Lebanese authority, which is not extended to the border. But those are the main armed groups right now in South Lebanon. Hezbollah wants to enjoy and celebrate the victory. For how long? We have to wait and see. The Palestinian refugees are mainly controlled by Yasser Arafat and Yasser Arafat is in peace with Israel. So I cannot see troops loyal to Yasser Arafat attacking Israel from the refugee camps. And you have the factions that Dr. Satloff was talking about - those are the PLFBGC
MARGARET WARNER: Terrorist groups who still operate there.
MOUAFAC HARB: I don't want to use that word, but I would say those factions that are opposed to the peace process that are still operating, but they are not significant. And if those groups were to attack Israel, they are well known to be pro Syria, so it is Syria to be responsible, not Iran, not Arafat. So I think the Syrians would be more careful before giving accuse to cues to those guys to attack Israel.
MARGARET WARNER: How capable is Israel, in your view, if Rob Satloff is right and Israel is tested militarily... to protect its citizens in the North?
NITZAN HOROWITZ: Israel has the capability to do that. Israel is now awaiting a report by the United Nations that will give it international legitimacy to the retreat, and so a report, it will say that Israel did all it should have done.
MARGARET WARNER: Withdrew in...
NITZAN HOROWITZ: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: ...In accordance with the U.N. Resolution.
NITZAN HOROWITZ: Absolutely. And after this report is made, Israel will have the right of self-defense, and Israel as we all know, artillery and air force and all kinds of other means to retaliate. Let's hope that this does not happen. I mean, the whole idea was to go back in order to achieve peace. Let's hope that at least in the coming months, there will be some calm along the border.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, if you're right and there is a test and there is retaliation, how dangerous is that in terms of escalating. I mean if Israel has said Syria is ultimately responsible and you've got Syrian positions in Lebanon...
ROBERT SATLOFF: I think the danger is real. I think there's two dangers of our current situation. One is the immediate danger in the Israel-Lebanon-Syria arena. And the escalation will go very quickly because I think this time the Israelis are not going to make Lebanese pay. I think this time Israelis are going to make the Syrians pay, either Syrian assets in Lebanon or perhaps before long Syrian assets in Syria itself. But there's another danger of the last 72 hours and that's the demonstration effect of all we've seen on what's going on with the Palestinians. We saw last week violence complementing negotiations. I think the effect of this past week in Lebanon will be to confirm to Palestinians, in their own talks with Israel, the utility of violence to complement negotiations. So on both fronts, I think we could see danger and risk over the next several weeks.
MARGARET WARNER: We are hearing that from several quarters over there, that it may be sending a message that ultimately you can grind down Israel, you can wear out Israel with violence or other tactics.
|A new reality for Israel and Syria?|
FREDERIC HOF: I think everyone would agree here that we have not only a new reality, but we have a new timetable. And whether these sorts of lessons are going to be learned, I think is going to depend largely on what happens next. With the new timetable, it's important for the U.N. to move quickly. U.S. State Department is emphasizing this.
MARGARET WARNER: And you're talking about now moving U.N. troops into this area.
FREDERIC HOF: Moving U.N. troops to accomplish their first mission, according to the secretary-general, which is to mark the line of withdrawal so that the U.N. will be able to certify that Israel is completely out of Lebanon.
MARGARET WARNER: And explain why that isn't happening today.
FREDERIC HOF: There has been a lot of controversy over the precise location of the boundary. Israel, over the years, has adjusted its boundary fence sometimes at Lebanon's expense. So this needs to be defined. The U.N. needs to move very quickly, I think, to do this. The government of Lebanon also needs to move very quickly, moving police and, if necessary, army units into the villages of the South to restore a sense of law and order and to restore the authority of the government, which after all, is one of the key objectives of the U.N. Resolution.
MARGARET WARNER: You're shaking your head.
MOUAFAC HARB: I don't think the Lebanese government will send the Lebanese army to deploy along the border with Israel in the absence of assuming Israel agreement. And let me also go back to the discussion of what you were talking about. I think there is a precedent in the Arab world, which is for the first time there is an Israeli withdrawal as a result of a military campaign. And what we have witnessed also today is also a message to the Lebanese, which is you see those who allied themselves with Israel, and you have seen their fate on television, and you take a look at those who allied themselves with Syria, those who allied themselves with Syria are presidents, members of cabinets, businessmen. And look at those who joined the SLA and took the Israelis. So this is a message to the Lebanese people, and I think it would resonate for years.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that... briefly because I want to get back to Rob Satloff. Do you think that this withdrawal, when you look at it from Lebanon's perspective that Lebanon is going to be more or less at peace now?
MOUAFAC HARB: I think Hezbollah would now want to translate what they have achieved on the battleground into Lebanese politics. They want more power-sharing, and when we talk about Hezbollah, Hezbollah is made up of two components, the resistance and the political group and this security apparatus that wants something else. You should ask them what they want.
MARGARET WARNER: What's your assessment of the Lebanese government's likely next steps in this whole issue?
ROBERT SATLOFF: The Lebanese government is a complete subservient to the Syrians. If the Syrians decide they'll move, they'll move. If they won't, they won't. I think inside Lebanon, we're starting to hear brave voices from patriotic Lebanese who say, "now that Israel is out, maybe it's time Syrian troops should leave Lebanon, as well." And I think that will be an important issue on the regional agenda over the next several months.
MARGARET WARNER: But it sounds as if you agree with Mr. Hof here that, really until there is a Syrian-Israeli deal, this is going to remain a very, very unsettled situation.
ROBERT SATLOFF: Of course that's correct.
FREDERIC HOF: Yeah, it's going to be difficult. And it's not going to be easy. Everybody is worrying. But there is something big happened today, and I think the overall impression in Israel is relief and almost even joy.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you agree with Rob Satloff that there now... we may see in Lebanon a feeling of, now that Israel's gone, why not the Syrians?
MOUAFAC HARB: Yeah, certainly the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon has created an anti-Syrian presence momentum. But how would this momentum take shape is to be seen.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay, thank you all four very much.