The Israeli-Hizbullah 34-day war: causes and consequences.

AuthorAlagha, Joseph
PositionEvent overview


HOW COULD ONE EXPLAIN THE outburst of violence that consumed Lebanon for 34 days from 12 July till 14 August 2006? How could Hizbullah's increased participation in the political process turn into an almost full-scale war which ended up with more participation and integration? Hizbullah made it clear that the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers on 12 July 2006 in a cross border raid, not only aimed at liberating the Lebanese prisoners of war in Israeli jails, but also, more importantly, was regarded as a gesture of support to the Intifada after the 25 June 2006 Israeli incursion into Gaza. Hizbullah never anticipated such an action would spark a large-scale conflict that would ultimately lead to the destruction of almost all of Lebanon's post-war achievements. Although some Lebanese question the wisdom of Hizbullah's action that was used by Israel as a pretext to inflict so much damage on Lebanon, Hizbullah emerged from this crisis enjoying, among its constituency, much more popularity than before. As a political remuneration for its acclaimed "divine victory" in the "Second Lebanon War" with Israel, Hizbullah asked for the formation of a national unity Cabinet, where the party and its Christian allies, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), wield the one-third veto power, thus attempting to dominate the national political arena, after wielding power over the Legislature and the Presidency. The tug of war between the Hizbullah-led opposition (March 8 Group), on the one hand, and the Lebanese Cabinet and its supporters (March 14 Trend), on the other, led to a bitter polarization, which plunged Lebanon into a stalemate and political deadlock, effective 1 December 2006.


Hizbullah seemed to misjudge the intensity of the Israeli response believing that kidnapping the two soldiers would result in a limited Israeli aerial bombardment, and would ultimately lead to a swap operation with Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. (1) It is most likely that by such an action Hizbullah sought more legitimacy after integration in the political process undermined its status as an Islamic jihad (struggle, resistance) movement. Hizbullah repeatedly and consistently stated that resisting occupation and integration in the Lebanese public sphere are closely associated. In its political program, Hizbullah affirms: "political, socio-economic, intellectual, and cultural work is concomitant with resistance and should go hand in hand." Hizbullah's identity and raison d'etre as an Islamic jihadi movement warrants such a precept of practice. Hizbullah also needed to boost its pan-Arab and pan-Islamic credentials, which have been on the wane since its accredited role in the liberation of Lebanese soil from Israeli occupation in May 2000.

Thus, Hizbullah needed a bold action to regain respect among its domestic, regional, and international supporters. Although there is growing speculation that the abduction might have been the result of internal power struggles or a split in the Hizbullah leadership where, supposedly more radical branches of the movement gained temporary control, there is no hard evidence to support such a claim, especially since Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's Secretary General, remains the head of the Jihadi Council, which orders such operations. Nasrallah made a "Faithful Promise" seven years ago: "We are people who don't leave our prisoners behind." As soon as the opportunity loomed to deliver on his promise, he grabbed it. Another possibility is that being part of the political process and capitalizing on the Lebanese government's support for such actions that serve national interest, Hizbullah kidnapped the two soldiers. (2) However, contrary to Hizbullah's expectations, the Lebanese Cabinet, which included two Hizbullah ministers, said that it had no knowledge of such an action and it did not endorse it. Other Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia criticized Hizbullah's "dangerous-rash adventure." (3) Hizbullah's frustration with the pace of reform and the inability of the Lebanese government to stamp out corruption might also have led to such an option, specially after the regular political process did not offer enough possibilities for the party to reach its goals, thus the recourse to military resistance was a logical next step.

The Israeli response was based on "crushing" Hizbullah and the establishing a security zone in southern Lebanon manned by NATO troops in order to ban Hizbullah from future attacks. Israel also grabbed the golden opportunity presented to it by the circumstance and manipulated it to render legitimacy to its offensive, especially since it perceives Hizbullah's threat as an ordinary political power integrating in the system far greater that its contested terrorist label.

Whatever the case, Lebanon paid a heavy price. Israel imposed an air, land, and sea blockade almost completely severing the country from the outside world for approximately eight weeks--from 13 July to 8 September 2006. Lebanon's infrastructure and economy were destroyed. Its industries and exports were curtailed, and foreign investments ceased. Israel dismembered Lebanon by the systematic destruction of its roads, bridges, airports, harbors, telecommunication facilities, fuel supplies and reservoirs, electricity facilities, factories, etc. As a result, Lebanon incurred over $15 billion in damage and lost revenues. (4) In terms of human resources, the war resulted in more than one million displaced; 1,200 dead, one-third of whom were children under the age of 12; and over 4,000 who were wounded and handicapped. (5) Hizbullah fired 4,000 rockets into Israel. 158 Israelis died, more than two-thirds (119) of whom were soldiers: 5,000 Israelis were wounded, and Israel incurred financial losses of around $6 billion. (6)


Israeli PM Olmert appointed the Winograd Commission (7) in September 2006 in order to "objectively" access what went wrong in the Second Lebanon War. In his testimony to the Commission, Olmert conceded that, as soon he took office, he was seriously planning on attacking Hizbullah, and he had made a decision to wage the Lebanon War in March 2006, four months before it actually took place. In turn, Shimon Peres said in his testimony to Winograd: "I would not have gone to war in Lebanon." He admonished against over estimating Israel's power, adding that the war plan recommended by Dan Halutz, the Israeli Army Chief of Staff, was "myopic, routine and expected" by Hizbullah. (8) Halutz admitted that the IDF planned to finish its mission in a few days; however, due to intelligence failure, the situation on the ground proved difficult. The GOC Northern Command Major General Gadi Eisenkott concessions on 25 April 2007; the resignation of Brigadier General Erez Zuckerman on 31 May 2007 after the former division commander Brigadier General Gal Hirsch resigned in December 2006; and most notably the resignation of Halutz as a price for the "failures" in the war, seem to substantiate Hizbullah's claims of victory and the party's contention that the war was premeditated and planned way in advance. So does, Bolton's admittance that the US was blocking the Lebanon truce in the UNSC in order to give Israel all the time it needed to "wipe out" Hizbullah. (9) As Nasrallah argued, the Winograd report buttressed Hizbullah's claim of victory since it mentioned the word "failure" more than 100 times. (10)

Israel conceded that one of the main reasons for conducting the war was the implementation of the 2 September 2005 UNSC Resolution 1559, which calls, among other things, for the disarming of Hizbullah. Hizbullah claimed that the Israeli offensive was premeditated awaiting the right pretext. Nasrallah admitted that if he would have known the scale and magnitude of the Israeli response, he would not have kidnapped the two soldiers. He expected that Israel would retaliate for a few days. So, it seems it was a miscalculation on both sides: Israel and Hizbullah.


In its 320-page report entitled, The Fiascos of the Second Lebanon War, the five-member Commission blasted Dan Halutz, Olmert, and the Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz. Halutz was accused of negligence and was criticized for downplaying the threat of Hizbullah's Katyusha rockets, considering it only a secondary issue in the war although it eventually forced around one million Israelis to move southward or leave. Further, he was charged with muffling dissident voices in the military establishment without offering Olmert's government any viable alternatives. In short, Halutz was blamed with imposing his opinion on the government and the military. Also, Olmert was censured in his capacity as the Commander in Chief of the army for his "severe failures," his hasty decision to launch the war, and for having no long term strategy to conduct it. His declared objectives of the war were "over ambitious and not plausible." Section seven of the report, entitled Conclusions and Lessons stressed that, contrary to what Olmert claimed, his decisions during the war where imbalanced and his estimations were wrong, conflated, and hasty. The Commission emphasized that Olmert did not properly estimate the war, leaving himself to be manipulated by the military establishment, rather than being the actual leader of the war. Peretz was accused of being inexperienced in the art of war, which made him make emotionally charged allegations such as "Nasrallah won't forget my face." The Commission insisted that Peretz's lack of expertise was an excuse for failing to get opinions from well qualified personnel in the military establishment. (12)

In short, although Winograd accused the military and political leaders of fiascos, it did not go to the extent of asking Olmert to step down. (13) However, the final report might give...

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