10 years after Israelís withdrawal from south Lebanon
By: Elias Bejjani
* & Charbel Barakat*

May 23/12

There is no question that the withdrawal of a foreign army from any country should be hailed with a sense of relief and joy; even if it was an ally its withdrawal indicates that the country is self-governing and is capable of defending itself independently.      

Meanwhile, the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon on May 23/2000 was not hailed by our people, because practically it was the beginning of a new tragedy that was added to the many Lebanese tragedies. Why was there this bitter feeling and why is it still painful after 10 years?

The other question is why our people who are patriotic and adore their land have decided at that time to leave their beloved country and go into exile in neighbouring Israel? Did they actually follow the withdrawing Israeli army?
The intention of this editorial is not to delve into many analyses, but to summarize the actual reasons that made our people hastily cross the border and seek refuge in Israel: 
1-At that time Lebanon was still under the oppressive Syrian occupation and its mere decision making process was fully controlled by Syria, the occupier.
2- Hezbollah, an armed militia, which is totally affiliated to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was in control of Lebanon's Shiite communities culturally, ideologically, militarily and economically, especially in numerous parts of the south.
3- The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stationed in south Lebanon failed in their duty of reassuring the citizens of their safety, did not show any interest in the outcome of the Israeli withdrawal, did not negotiate with the southern citizens in the absence of the Lebanese authorities or even ask for their opinion or protect them.
While Israel was logistically preparing for the withdrawal, Hezbollah waged a merciless and savage media campaign against the southern Lebanese citizens. The campaign was aired publicly on all local and international TV channels and radio stations. The most frightening threats were uttered personally by Hezbollah's Secretary General, Sheik Nasrallah, who savagely said, �We will enter their bedrooms, pierce their stomachs, slaughter them and slice their throats. 

But Nasrallahís threats did not frighten the South Lebanon Army (SLA), on the contrary this rhetoric was ridiculed on May 18/2000, six days before the Israeli withdrawal, when the Hezbollah militia tried to overcome and control one of  the SLA posts at the "Hamra Bridge". The attack failed badly and Hezbollah suffered huge losses.
Facing this disastrous milieu and all the other uncertainties, southern citizens were left with two bitter options: to militarily defend their land, engage with Hezbollah and repeat the status that prevailed before 1978; or to succumb to Hezbollah, surrender their weapons and live under its authority. Encountering this dilemma, they decided to avoid more Lebanese bloodshed and to leave Lebanon, the country that they cherished, without a fight and take refuge in Israel.

As a result of the Israeli withdrawal, there has been an enormous global escalation of terrorism not only in the Middle East, but in many other countries. Progress of peace efforts suffered a remarkable setback and worldwide violence prevailed leading to the 9/11 attacks and to subsequent acts of terrorism throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
The Free World countries responded by waging a massive global military anti-terrorism campaign that primarily focused on both Iraq and Afghanistan. Subsequently, the international community tried to amend the fatal mistakes that were committed in Lebanon and issued UN Security Council Resolution 1559 that addressed three important issues:
1-Syrian occupation: It called for the immediate withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon.
2-Weapons of terrorism: It called for the disarming of all militias, and in particular, of Hezbollah.
3- Safeguarding Lebanon's democratic system: It called for free parliamentary elections without Syrian interference.
UN Resolution 1559 provided the Lebanese people with the incentives to take action. Accordingly, the Cedar Revolution emerged and the Lebanese people by the hundreds of thousands peacefully took to the streets forcing the withdrawal of the Syrian army.

Unfortunately, this revolution did not finish the job, which gave Hezbollah the route to brazenly escape and instigate a war with Israel in 2006. Sadly, due to the Lebanese authoritiesí and politiciansí hesitation, poor judgment and lack of courage, they did not fully utilize the available circumstances to finish off the Hezbollah phenomenon. Instead Hezbollah besieged the government's headquarters, alleged a divine victory on Israel in the 2006 war, and on May 07 and 11/2008, invaded the western section of the capital Beirut and attempted to conquer the Shouf Mountain, enforcing a new national balance equation in a bid to abort the Cedar Revolution and circumvent and cripple UN Resolution 1559.

The Iranian endeavours for not allowing the disarmament of Hezbollah unveiled the actual elements of her plot:
1-A well set plan to expand Iran's hegemony on the whole Middle East.
2-The establishment of a military base In Eretria and Yemen.
3-The mobilization of the Shiite Houthis tribes on the Saudi -Yemeni border.
4-Supporting and instigation of instability in neighbouring Iraq.
5-The formation of numerous sleeping militant cells among the Shiite Arabian Gulf countries' communities.
6-Keeping Egypt unfocused on the actual Iranian scheme through instigation of strife between Egypt and other African countries that share the Nile River.
7- Playing with and tickling Muslimsí emotions and instigating religious fanaticism to fight Israel through Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

At the same time, Iran has been working day and night to become a nuclear power and  possess a nuclear weapon that is intended to be used for intimidating the Middle East countries, control their resources and wealth and have a monopoly on the region's fate and decisions.

Hezbollah is pivotal for all of the above Iranian schemes and a primary source of manpower. Its militant members who number in the tens of  thousands speak the Arabic language, are ideologically and religiously well prepared, and more than ready to carry out missions in any country as instructed.

There is no doubt that the current situation in the whole Middle East in general, and in Israel and Lebanon in particular, is much worse from the day the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon was implemented 10 years ago. The Iranian danger to both Israel and Lebanon is escalating. Lebanon did not enjoy any kind of stability despite the UN Resolutions, the bitter events' experience, the great sacrifices and the presence of new players (powers) on its arena.

Sadly, Lebanon is now living a repeat of same ghastly milieu that prevailed in 1982: tension, instability, chaos, and forced absence of any input on what goes on its land. The war-peace decision making process is again in the hands of Syria and Iran, while weapons of all kinds are smuggled to Hezbollah and to other Lebanese - Palestinian armed terrorist groups via Syria without any kind of control or impunity.

Based on all of the above, we request:
1- Lebanese officials to be prudent, patient, thoughtful and not to fall prey to the axis of evilís schemes, terrorism, fanaticism, violence, intimidation, and whims of sabotage. Their patriotic duties and obligations as responsible Lebanese officials and leaders are to help in making Lebanon a country of peace, prosperity, freedom and stability in the region and not to be an arena and battlefield for Iran, Syria and their armed proxies. They must be aware that for the past 30 years, our Lebanese people have endured much more than they can tolerate, and as the saying goes: "He who does not learn from the past cannot make the future."

2- The  Cedar Revolutionís masses to hold dearly to their solid faith in a free, sovereign and independent Lebanon that should not under any circumstances be an aggressor, but a peace maker and an advocate for human rights and democracy. We encourage the masses to actively help in preserving the historic Lebanese role in hailing the right of all countries and people in the region to live freely without any kind of oppression. Lebanon's mission and message are to protect the weak and the oppressed and not to hail the conceited and arrogant.

3- Neighbouring Syria to overcome its ongoing expansionism schemes and accept once and forever the reality that Lebanon is an independent and sovereign country and not a Syrian territory or satellite. Accordingly, the joint borders must be patrolled and all kinds of infiltration and smuggling permanently stopped.

4- Israel to re-evaluate the achievements and setbacks of her withdrawal decision; meanwhile, We agree fully with Moshe Arens's analysis of May 17/10, which stated: "Chief among the assumptions underlying the decision to withdraw unilaterally was that once Hezbollah had achieved its stated goal of freeing southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation, it would restrict its activities to the Lebanese political arena and abandon further military operations against Israel. Secondly, should Hezbollah, nevertheless, continue military actions against Israeli targets after the withdrawal, Israel believed it would then be free to respond with drastic military actions that would dissuade Hezbollah from engaging in further military activities against Israel. Well, wrong on both counts. After the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah not only did not disband its militia but intensively armed itself, including the acquisition of large numbers of long-range rockets, and developed from a guerrilla band into a well-trained and -equipped military force." 

5-The Free World and Arab countries to completely support a free and democratic Lebanon and take a courageous stance in this regard before it is too late. A regime in Lebanon fully under the direct control of Syria or Iran or through their armed proxies is a dire threat to peace and stability to not only the Middle East but to the whole world.

6- Our people, the southern Lebanese citizens, who have been living a forced exile in Israel since May 2000 to remain as tall as Lebanon's Holy Cedars. They should know that the free Lebanese people hail their heroism, courage, peaceful inclinations, acceptance of others, tolerance, patriotism, sacrifices, love  of their homeland and deeply rooted faith. We know that they have proudly, honourably and courageously defended their beloved land and rights and never attacked others. We assure them that Lebanon wonít have long lasting stability until their honoured and dignified unconditional return is achieved. 

Elias Bejjani
*Canadian-Lebanese Human Rights activist, journalist and political commentator
*Email phoenicia@hotmail.com
*Web sites http://www.10452lccc.com & http://www.clhrf.com
*Mailing phoenicia group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Phoenicia/
*LCCC Face Book

Charbel Barakat
*Retired Lebanese army officer
*Renowned worldwide expert on terrorism.
*Human Rights Activist
*Author, analyst & political commentator

*Colonel Charbel Baraket's full English text testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Near Eastern & South Asian Affairs Subcommittee/14/6/2000/

*Colonel Charbel Baraket's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Near Eastern & South Asian Affairs Subcommittee  June 7/1997/

N.B: This study was first published on 23.05.10