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The Second Lebanese War

The Second Lebanese War is the official name given to the military operation held in the summer of 2006. The war began on July 12th and ended on August 14th, upon the attainment of the United Nations’ sponsored ceasefire agreement. During this period, IDF forces entered Lebanese territory and thousands of rockets were fired from Lebanon onto settlements in northern Israel.

Following the IDF’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, the Hezbollah forces reinforced themselves excessively. With the support and funding of the Syrian and Iranian governments, the organization established a complex infrastructure of arms, including a variety of long range surface-to-surface missiles reaching between 9 and 75 kilometers. Their artillery, aimed towards Israeli territory as a deterrent, restrained Israel’s reaction towards the continuing building of arms. Hezbollah also equipped itself with anti-tank warfare, radio systems, night-vision equipment, anti-ship missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Hezbollah members were trained in progressive fighting techniques by Iranian military and intelligence personnel, who were also responsible for the establishment of bunkers across the Israeli border in South Lebanon. Iran also assisted in forming command headquarters and control and surveillance systems within the organization’s headquarters in the Dahieh Shi’ite quarter in southern Beirut.

In 2004, the United Nations’ Security Council ratified resolution 1559, dealing with Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the dissolving of the armed militias in its territory. Hezbollah, who had also retained a solid political status, prevented the Lebanese government from implementing the resolution. In January 2004 an exchange of prisoners was made between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel retrieved civilian Elchanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers abducted in October 2000. In exchange, Israel released Palestinian and Lebanese detainees, including Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid, who were held in custody for a future exchange deal for the missing navigator Ron Arad.

Despite Hezbollah’s increasing strength, the years 2000 – 2006 were relatively quiet at Israel’s northern border.

Kidnapping and beginning of war
On July 12th 2006, Hezbollah executed a preplanned artillery attack across the northern border. Simultaneously, two IDF patrol vehicles were ambushed. Three soldiers were killed in this attack, two were hurt and two others – Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were taken prisoners.

Following the kidnapping, IDF forces opened a massive attack on Hezbollah posts near the border. An armored force invaded Lebanese territory seeking to retrieve the abducted soldiers, but a short time later it hit a mine and its four crew members were killed. Attempts to extricate the tank back to Israel ended with another soldier dead.

Shortly after the kidnapping, the Israeli Government unanimously authorized to begin the military operation “Adequate Pay” (later renamed “Operation Change of Direction”) against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. This decision was made two weeks after “Operation Summer Rains” began in Gaza, following the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas members in the Gaza Strip.

On July 17th, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented the Knesset with the goals of the military fighting in Lebanon: Return of the kidnapped soldiers; ceasefire; and extraction of Hezbollah from southern Lebanon and enhancing it with the presence of the Lebanese army. The Prime Minister had also said that Israel will hurt every terrorist intending to harm Israeli citizens and destroy all terrorist infrastructures. The Knesset voted with a vast majority in favor of his announcement.

American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on July 24th and remained until July 30th, discussing the need for a long-term political solution with Prime Minister Olmert and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni. The need to halt the fighting and send a multinational task force to the area was also brought up in the Prime and Foreign Ministers’ talks with European diplomats and UN representatives.

The fighting
IDF began the war with an aerial attack on thousands of targets within Lebanon: Hezbollah posts, arms storages, training camps, command headquarters, Beirut Airport, bridges, etc. A specific attack was made on Hezbollah’s rocket system. The Air Force spread pamphlets calling Lebanese citizens of Nabatieh and the rural settlements in southern Lebanon to evacuate their homes. A naval and aerial blockade were placed on Lebanon, preventing freedom of navigation in and out of Lebanese ports, aside for ships delivering supplies for humanitarian aid and ships intended to evacuate refugees.

In response to the IDF’s attack, Hezbollah began firing hundreds of rockets towards populated areas in Israel. The citizens of Haifa and northern Israel had to reside in shelters and protected areas. On July 14th, Hezbollah fired at an Israeli missile boat, on which four naval soldiers were killed.

Simultaneous to the IDF’s aerial and artillery attacks, it also performed ground operations on focused targets. The northern part of Ghajar was conquered on July 14th, after being split by the borderline since the IDF’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. On July 17th, combat engineering forces were sent into Lebanon in shielded bulldozers to clear mines, destroy Hezbollah posts and expose the bare ground around the border. The ground activity was expanded in accordance with a government decision in light of the continuing rocket firing.

The IDF commenced in “Operation Web of Steel,” during which the Hezbollah posts and Shiite settlements near the border were raided by infantry and armed forces. The operation sought to take control over a land strip in proximity to the border, cleanse it of terrorists and destroy all Hezbollah infrastructures within. The Israeli forces faced fierce objection. Further troops were sent into Lebanon, also combined with reserve forces. The fights in Ayta ash Shab, Maroun al Ras, Bint Jbeil, Taibeh and other Lebanese towns resulted in many casualties. The operation failed to clear the territory of the terrorist infrastructure and fighters, and it not gain complete control over the Hezbollah’s command posts. It did, however, severely damage the infrastructure.

Some actions were also taken within the depths of Lebanese territory, mostly executed by special military units. The General Staff Reconnaissance Unit raided Hezbollah headquarters in a hospital at Baalbek on August 1st. Four days later, a naval commando unit (S-13) was sent to Tyre in order to impair the facilities used for rocket launching.

The Knesset convened during this time for several special recess sittings to discuss affairs relating to the war, to governmental preparedness, and to political attempts to reach a ceasefire agreement. Ten Knesset Members were sent by Speaker Dalia Itzik to European capitals on a public relations mission to defend Israel’s stand towards the aggression.

Home front
During the 33 days of fighting, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets and missiles at Israeli settlements in the north. Approximately 4,000 missile attacks were made, 901 of which landed in populated areas. Kiryat Shmona suffered most of the hits – 520; and 3,530 hits were made across the Galilee (from Acre to Kiryat Shmona); 221 hit the coastal line between Hadera and Acre; 217 hit the different valleys (near Tiberias, Beit Shean and Afula); and two rockets hit the areas of Judea and Samaria. The city of Hadera was the southernmost area hit, and it came under several attacks on August 4th, all landing in open fields. On August 6th, 12 reserve soldiers were killed from Katyusha rockets launched at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi.

The rocket shooting disrupted normal life in the north and caused economic and humanitarian difficulties for many of its citizens. In settlements near the border, citizens were forced to live in shelters and protected areas. Many left their homes and found refuge in the center and south. Some of these were municipal employees entrusted with supplying the displaced citizens with emergency services and to coordinate between the community and public institutions.

On July 18th, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved the declaration of a “special status” in the home front for an indefinite period. This decision bestowed IDF Chief of Staff and Commanders of the four regional commands with the authority to do what is needed to keep public order.

Crisis in Lebanon
Life in south Lebanon and other areas were nearly paralyzed due to the IDF’s actions in Lebanon, and in particular the artillery bombing. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens fled from their homes and sought refuge. Many homes were demolished and the civil authorities in south Lebanon were not able to deal efficiently with the growing number of refugees.

The IDF’s operations resulted in the harming and killing of Lebanese citizens not directly involved with the Hezbollah. The main factor for this was the entrenching of Hezbollah’s infrastructure (facilities, warehouses and launching areas) within the civil population. Several Arab and Western countries worked to promote assistance to the wounded and refugees and delivered shipments of aid to Lebanon. However, the blockade kept by Israel and the demolishing of infrastructures of transportation and communication made it difficult to deliver the aid to those in need.

On July 30th, Israeli fighter planes bombarded the village Qana in south Lebanon, which was used for launching rockets towards Israel. The following morning a building in the village collapsed and killed dozens of refugees. This event brought Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to accept the United States’ request for halting all aerial bombings for 48 hours and allow humanitarian aid to the refugees. Further implications were visible as international support in Israel was reduced and demands for a ceasefire were increased.

Final stages of combat
On August 9th, the government authorized an extensive ground operation in Lebanon. Its aim was to take hold of the territory north of the border, up to the Litani River. It was also aimed to advance the conclusion of the fighting with an Israeli advantage, to decrease the rocket firing towards Israel, and to improve the Israeli stand in future international negotiations.

The United Nations’ Security Council convened on August 11th for a special discussion approving the ceasefire agreement achieved with the mediation of France and the United States. The agreement was ratified unanimously. Several hours prior to its approval, Prime Minister Olmert ordered to proceed with the execution of a preplanned operation, which was not changed after the ceasefire was agreed on. The operation included expansion of ground fighting up to the Litani and many forces were sent deep into Lebanese territory. Armored forces were ambushed in Wadi Saluki and several Israeli tanks were damaged by anti-tank warfare and improvised explosive devices. The ground operations held in the last two days of the war ended with 33 casualties and the interception of a Sikorsky (CH-53 Sea Stallion) helicopter.

The ceasefire went into effect on August 14th, 48 hours after the adoption of resolution 1701 of the UN Security Council, and the war officially ended. The IDF began removing troops from Lebanon while the Lebanese Army and international forces were stationed in south Lebanon. Israel removed the naval and aerial blockade on Lebanon in early September, and all IDF forces were extracted from its territory on October 1st, as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) took control of the border.

In the 33 days of the war, its toll of lives stood at 164 Israeli citizens (119 soldiers and 45 civilians) and hundreds injured. Approximately 4,000 rockets were fires towards the north and significant economic damages were incurred. Hezbollah had also lost hundreds of its members and the organization’s strategic fighting ability was hurt. Its headquarters in Dahieh quarter of Beirut was destroyed.

UN Resolution
On August 11th, the United Nations’ Security Council issued resolution 1701 for an armistice between Israel and Lebanon. It called for “a complete halt of acts of aggression, and especially those committed by Hezbollah and the military actions on behalf of Israel.”

The resolution also announced the dispatch of 15,000 UN inspectors to south Lebanon, simultaneous to the Israeli withdrawal. The inspectors were authorized to use arms and instructed to vouch for “a complete stop of aggressive acts,” as well as aiding the South Lebanon Army in taking over the territory and to “protect civilians from any threats of physical violence.” Lebanon was asked to implement resolution 1559 dealing with disarmament of armed militias. The foreword to resolution 1701 also called for an unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers imprisoned.

Further articles of the resolution included the following: IDF’s withdrawal from Lebanon and applying control to South Lebanon Army and UNIFIL; prohibition of carrying arms without consent of the Lebanese government; and the prohibition of the trade or transfer of arms to Hezbollah.

Criticism and protest
In its early stages, the war was supported by a wide range of public and political support, which decreased gradually. The outcomes of the war brought forward political and public protests calling for the resignation of the political and military command and for the establishment of a national inquiry commission to investigate the war.

Criticism was expressed regarding the decision to commence war, on its timing, on the function filled by the political leadership – focusing on the lack of military experience of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, on the unsatisfactory treatment towards the civil home front and the insufficient aid given to it, on the function of the military command (on that of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Commander of the North Command Udi Adam (who was accompanied from August 9th by Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky)), on the lack of military preparations for a state of war (in training and in gear), on the commencement of a wide-ranged ground operation during the war’s final hours, and – in contrast to these – on ending the fighting without achieving its intended goals.

Chief of Staff Dan Halutz consulted with former high-ranking officers and declared his intention to hold several inquiries on the military’s role in the war. Minister of Defense Amir Peretz also appointed an investigating committee, headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, to look into the military’s function.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared publicly that the war was run properly, by both the political and military leadership, and its outcomes were positive. He asked that time will be given to the government and the military to attend to those malfunctions which surfaced. However, moves of protest including reserve soldiers and grieving families, supported by coalition and opposition Knesset Members, brought about the establishment of an “external” inquiry commission. The government preferred to establish a governmental inquiry commission headed by a court Justice, rather than a national inquiry commission, and it was installed following the resignation of the Lipkin-Shahak Committee in September 2006. The commission, headed by former Justice Eliyahu Winograd, was asked to look into the conduct of both political and military commands. It was given the authority similar to that of a national inquiry commission.

In March 2007, the government issued its decision to acknowledge the military operations in Lebanon in July – August 2006 as the “Second Lebanese War.”

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