Nearly 75 years ago British and French diplomats, dividing the spoils of a dying Ottoman Empire, drew a line through an area known to geographers as Upper Galilee. Part of that region became southern Lebanon. The other part became northern Israel. Those who drew the boundary in 1922 could not have imagined that it would give rise, years later, to so much grief and bloodshed.
Israel's recent Operation Grapes of Wrath is but the latest in a series of destructive, but inconclusive military campaigns in the south of Lebanon. Israel's artillery attack on a U.N. outpost at Qana, killing a large number of Lebanese refugees, energized the diplomacy of the United States, which in turn led to a ceasefire and agreement between the United States, France, Israel, Lebanon and Syria to establish a "Monitoring Group" to investigate ceasefire violations.
Operation Grapes of Wrath also contributed to the election of a new government in Israel, one which is, to say the least, skeptical about the advisability of Israel's returning the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a peace treaty. Unlike his predecessor, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not appear to view a peaceful Israel-Lebanon border region as the by-product of an Israel-Syria peace, the quid pro quo for the return of the Golan Heights.
Indeed, if Israeli-Syrian peace talks resume in earnest, Lebanon may find it self at the top of the agenda. As important as the Golan Heights might be to the ultimate fulfillment of Arab-Israeli peace, it has barely heard a shot fired in anger for some 22 years. Lebanon is where people are dying. Lebanon might well be the place where-Israeli and Syrian leaders test each other's intentions and lay the basis for whatever comes next in their evolving bilateral relationship.
This essay suggests that Israel and Syria arrive directly at a security regime for southern Lebanon involving themselves and the government of Lebanon. Two assumptions are made: that Israel is interested in ending its costly occupation of Lebanese territory at the earliest practicable date, and that it will want a reliable security regime for southern Lebanon as a prerequisite for its withdrawal.
THE GOLAN-SOUTH LEBANON LINK
In 1974 two sharply contrasting developments unfolded almost side-by-side. Israel, reacting to murderous raids mounted from southern Lebanon, erected a security fence along what had once been the quietest Arab-Israeli border. Almost simultaneously, just a few miles away, a peacekeeping regime was reinstituted (with a revised zone of separation) on the Golan Heights, the scene of bitter fighting in 1967 and 1973.
For 22 years the Golan has been peaceful, while southern Lebanon has been a combat zone. Yet war and peace are not all that differentiate these two plots of land. In terms of topography, military geography and human settlement they have very little in common, and the security challenges for Israel posed by the two places are quite different: across the Golan, a conventional military assault by a modem, fully mechanized national military force; from southern Lebanon, guerrilla raids, terrorist assaults and indirect-fire attacks by individuals or small groups, some or most enjoying state support.
What these two areas have in common is nevertheless important: the centrality of Syria to Israel's security concerns. On the Golan the threat posed by Syrian military forces can be defined through conventional order-of-battle analysis. In southern Lebanon the threat is more subtle, though no less real. Syria all but rules Lebanon. Unless this changes, any security undertakings made to Israel by the government of Lebanon will have to be confirmed by Damascus.
Syrian suzerainty over Lebanon poses some choices for Israel as it contemplates security arrangements that could facilitate its own withdrawal.
(1) Israel can seek to alter the relationship between Syria and Lebanon by trying to link its withdrawal from Lebanon to Syria's. But even if Syria were willing to proceed on this basis (an extremely unlikely occurrence), its departure might not leave behind an effective Lebanese state capable of reliably enforcing a security regime.
(2) Israel can seek to dilute Syrian suzerainty by insisting upon the deployment of a neutral "peacekeeping" force in southern Lebanon all the way to the border. But leaving aside issues such as manpower, funding, authorities, duration, etc., Israel would still face a practical question: Should it entrust its security to any party not exercising decisive political power in Lebanon? Or should it try to deal directly with that decisive party?
(3) Israel can seek to ignore Syrian suzerainty by dealing with the government of Lebanon exclusively, holding it strictly accountable for security breaches. This would be a sound course of action if Israel believed that something might cause Syria to pull back soon from the Lebanese scene. Otherwise Israel would be left to deal with a non-principal, leaving Syria potentially free to pressure Israel through Lebanon and remain immune from the consequences, either by disguising its involvement or relying on Israel to give a higher priority to other equities.
(4) Israel can seek, by linking the Golan Heights to southern Lebanon and by encouraging a direct Syrian security role in the south, to convert Syrian suzerainty from a liability (which it is at present) to an asset. It is this fourth option that is the focus of this paper.
THE SOUTHERN LEBANON COMBAT ZONE
Longstanding neglect of the south by the Lebanese government permitted the area to become, after the June 1967 War, a security vacuum filled by armed elements hostile to Israel. The Arafat-led Palestinian resistance made Lebanon its home after it was routed from Jordan in 19701971, only to be ejected from southern Lebanon and Beirut by Israel in 1982 and from northern Lebanon by Syria in 1983. By the mid-1980s, however, Israel faced a new problem: Hizbollah, a Lebanese Shiite organization backed by Iran and Syria.
Having fenced its border with Lebanon in 1974, Israel later established a "security zone" on a strip of Lebanese territory contiguous to Israel. In 1978 Israel's first large-scale military effort to push armed Palestinians away from the border brought the United Nations Interim Force m Lebanon (UNIFIL) into the picture. Created by: Security Council Resolution 425, this 'interim" force has been a permanent part of the southern Lebanese landscape for 18 years. Its ultimate mission is to "confirm the withdrawal" of Israeli forces from Lebanon.
The security zone has been a magnet for violence over the years, prompting a “chicken and egg” debate over its usefulness in shielding northern Israel from attack. For a brief moment in the recent history of this unfortunate region it seemed that Lebanon and Israel might liquidate the zone and jointly impose a security regime. But the agreement of May 17, 1983, a product of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, was eventually renounced by the government of Lebanon as a result of Syrian pressure.
An unintended effect of Israel's 1982 invasion was the substitution of one threat for another equally or more dangerous. Before the invasion Israel had successfully fanned the flames of resentment against the Palestinians among southern Lebanon's majority Shiite population. Militant Shiites, angered by the destruction raining down on them because of the Palestinian military presence, turned against their erstwhile allies and cheered when Israel invaded. But relations between Israel and the Shiites soon soured, and Israel found itself with an enemy well-rooted in the population of southern Lebanon.
What made matters worse was that Hizbollah had important sources of support and encouragement in Iran and Syria. From the perspective of Iran's revolutionary leaders, Shiite southern Lebanon was a fertile breeding ground for their brand of political Islam. Syria, having survived what it considered to be an Israeli-American military and diplomatic onslaught in Lebanon, found the Iranian connection useful in terms of ensuring that Israel's only residual role in Lebanon would be to absorb casualties defending its security zone. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy recently reported that “attacks on the security zone resulted in 13 Israelis killed in 1992, 12 in 1993, 21 in 1994, 23 in 1995 and 7 for the first quarter of 1996.” There were, according to the same report, 344 attacks on the security zone in 1995 alone.
According to press reports, some Hizbollah officials have (unlike their Palestinian predecessors) suggested that at tacks on Israelis will cease once all Lebanese territory is "liberated." Others have said that Jerusalem is the object of "liberation." Yet even if Israel's evacuation were enough for the main stream of Hizbollah, there would still be Lebanese and anti-Arafat Palestinians available for anti-Israeli operations, either on their own or directed and financed by others.
Given the turbulent recent history of this volatile region, it would be difficult for any Israeli prime minister simply to order the Israel Defense Forces to retire south of the international boundary. Israel would most likely insist on a special security regime for the south of Lebanon and would reserve the right to intervene in Lebanon should that regime fail. One approach to minimizing the risk of failure would be to link the security situation in southern Lebanon to the disposition of the Golan Heights and require the active collaboration of Israel's principal nemesis, Syria.
A POTENTIAL PEACEKEEPING ROLE FOR SYRIA
Syria has been the decisive political military force in Lebanon since 1976 and has exercised suzerainty since 1990, when it ousted General Michel Aoun. In the south, however, Syria has influenced events without having an actual presence. Soon after it intervened in Lebanon in 1976 Syria was warned by Israel to refrain from approaching the Lebanon Israel border. Israel's 'red line" policy has been a constant for some 20 years.
Syria's absence from southern Lebanon has given it a freedom of action against Israel which it does not enjoy on the Golan Heights. That the Golan has been quiet for over 20 years is due in part to the fact that artillery shells falling on Israel's settlements or military installations would prompt direct Israeli military retribution against Syria. Furthermore, the "red line" policy has helped to establish southern Lebanon as the place where Syria and Israel wage war, albeit mostly by proxy. Actual combat between Israel and Syria in Lebanon has been rare. Syria has often sponsored (or allowed Iran to sponsor) anti-Israeli operations knowing that the inevitable retaliation would be directed at others. Yet it has literally complied with Israel's red line policy.
It is hard, under current circumstances, to imagine that either of the parties sees continued utility in using southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone. Israel's reputation was badly tarnished by Operation Grapes of Wrath, and it still faces a persistent enemy which, unlike the Palestinian military apparatus of bygone days, cannot simply be expelled from the country. Syria escaped (as usual) virtually unscathed from the recent unpleasantness. But it now faces, without the benefit of superpower backing, a government of Israel perhaps less inclined than its predecessor to vent its frustration on civilian targets in Lebanon and more inclined to strike at what it may regard as the root cause of its difficulties. Instead of a playground for proxies, southern Lebanon has become, in the wake of Operation Grapes of Wrath, a tinderbox that can bring Israel and Syria into direct combat. A reliable security regime for southern Lebanon can no longer be seen as the product of a successful peace process, but as a precondition.
Syrian suzerainty in Lebanon explains why an Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty can only follow a treaty between Israel and Syria. Yet the bitterness engendered by Operation Grapes of Wrath and the continued possibility of violence, notwithstanding the Monitoring Group, might (and perhaps should) introduce a corollary to the assumed sequence of peace negotiations: The withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, accompanied by a security regime for the Lebanese sector of Upper Galilee, will precede any movement on the Golan heights.
Were it simply a matter of bloody-minded logic, Israel could probably link its withdrawal from the Golan to peace and quiet in southern Lebanon by insisting that the Syrian army take direct responsibility for securing the Lebanese side of the boundary from acts of anti-Israeli violence. By coordinating directly with the Syrian army, Israel would be replacing the red line policy with a no-excuses policy, one with would hold Syria directly responsible for security in southern Lebanon.
Yet the idea that Syria might garrison southern Lebanon right up to the border with Israel would be correctly seen by Israelis as the opposite of what has occurred on the Golan Heights: the separation of Israeli and Syrian force. In face separation is entirely the right approach for the Golan, whose topography makes it ideal for rapid, armor-heavy thrusts. But the twisted topography and checkered human settlement pattern in southern Lebanon call not for separation, but for the convergence of security forces on the border itself. If domestic Israeli political factors – the legacy of the red line policy and a general distrust of Syria – make it impossible to invite Syria to take a border-guard role, whose forces (beside Israel’s) can do the converging, and what, if anything, should be required of Syria?
POSSIBLE ISRAELI OBJECTIVES
If and when Syrian-Israeli talks renew in earnest, Israel might set forth a statement of principle: that the issue of border security is, on the Golan Heights and in Lebanon, indivisible; that for Israel to consider withdrawing from the Golan, Syria will first be required to demonstrate that Israel can safely retire from Lebanon.
Israel could seek to bind Syria to a security regime for southern Lebanon while at the same time keeping the essence of the re line policy. Again, Israel has the option of asking intermediaries to police southern Lebanon. It can even try to link the disposition of the Golan Heights to Syrian cooperation with the intermediaries. Yet to do so would be to blur the issue of responsibility in a way that could produce two bad results: continued clandestine Syrian or Iranian support for attacks on Israel; or Syrian’s being blamed for operations mounted entirely by others, who succeed despite the best efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces, the United nations or whomever. Maximum engagement of Syria in a manner consistent with the re line policy might permit Damascus to act in a manner consistent with the understanding that the disposition of the Golan will depend largely on Syrian behavior and performance in Lebanon.
What might Israel seek in term of a security regime for a post-withdrawal southern Lebanon?
(1) Immediate liquidation of UNIFIL and all U.N. residue from the 1949 armistice regime.
(2) Integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for those of its southern Lebanese collaborators who do not choose residence in Israel or make other arrangements.
(3) Deployment to southern Lebanon, in accordance with a plan fully coordinated with the IDF, of a sizable, well-armed and equipped LAF contingent whose principal mission will be to secure the Lebanese side of the border. This force could come under the authority of a joint Lebanese-Syrian military committee, a precedent for which exists in the 1989 Taif Accord.
(4) Assignment to every LAF unit, down to company level, of Syrian Army liaison officers with two principal duties: to help their LAF counterparts take politically sensitive actions against threats to the peace, and to participate with their LAF counterparts in liaison functions involving the IDF.
(5) Establishment (perhaps at the former UNIFIL headquarters) of a multilateral frontier-security organization staffed by IDF, LAF and Syrian officers. This organization would be a coordination and information center authorized to conduct patrols and security investigations on both sides of the border.
(6) Agreement that the provisions of the security regime would remain in effect so long as Syrian military units remain in Lebanon and would, upon the departure of Syrian forces, be subject to renegotiation between Israel and Lebanon.
There could also be a separate undertaking by Syria to bar transit through its territory to Lebanon to any Iranian official engaged in activities inimical to Israel's security.
LIKELY SYRIAN RESPONSES
Syria will not welcome any direct responsibility for securing the Israel-Lebanon border. It would prefer to focus on the Golan Heights without any preconditions linked to Lebanon. It may also wish to retain the option of using Lebanon as a pressure point on Israel should the regional situation not evolve to its liking, another reason to avoid explicit security responsibilities.
Syria might agree, in the context of an Israeli withdrawal, to the deployment of the LAF to the south, either alone or in the company of an international force. Syria might also agree that responsibility for southern Lebanon's security regime be lodged with a multinational or international peacekeeping force. Finally, Damascus might agree to language indicating its willingness to cooperate with the peacekeeping force and to deny transit through Syria to Lebanon of undesirable elements.
If, however, the new government of Israel indicates its willingness to countenance the return of the Golan Heights in the context of a peace treaty once it has, with Syrian cooperation, safely retired from Lebanon, Syria may see the virtue of full, active cooperation. For Syria to accept this responsibility it will undoubtedly want people on the ground capable of reporting and enforcing. Although Israel can maintain the essence of its red line policy through the exclusion of Syrian units from the border area, it will not be able to assure itself of the fact or efficacy of Syrian cooperation if Syria lacks the means to oversee security measures in southern Lebanon.
Absent Syria's cooperation Israel might still withdraw from Lebanon unilaterally. It could, for example, warn Syria that any acts of violence directed at Israel from Lebanon would make Syrian military units stationed in Lebanon-not Lebanese people, population centers and power stations subject to retaliation. Yet a unilateral withdrawal accompanied by dire warnings, even if it succeeds in bringing a tense quiet to southern Lebanon and northern Israel, would leave the peace process frozen. It is in the interests of both parties that peace in Galilee be accomplished through cooperation rather than the threat of general war.
Southern Lebanon has been a combat zone and even a free-fire zone for over two decades. Israel, with plenty of "help" from outsiders such as Iran and Syria, has alienated many of southern Lebanon's inhabitants. Although Israel may welcome an opportunity to remove its forces from Lebanon, it will also want to assure itself that a practical and effective security regime for southern Lebanon is in place when it leaves.
Since 1990 Syria has all but ruled Lebanon. This fact should be reflected in whatever security regime emerges in southern Lebanon. If it is not, then great responsibilities will be vested in parties not accountable for actual results.
It has been suggested in this paper that the most straightforward and effective way to secure Syria's cooperation is through Syria's active participation in the security regime, albeit within limits consistent with Israeli domestic political considerations. By focusing first on Lebanon before tackling the Golan Heights and the parameters of a formal peace, Israel and Syria can together make a practical demonstration of their commitment to peace itself in a place that has suffered immeasurably in terms of death, damage and destruction over the years.
The creation, largely through American diplomatic efforts, of a Monitoring Group co-chaired by the United States and France may prove to be a significant development if it encourages Syria and Israel to interact directly, cooperatively and constructively.
An unstable, festering situation in southern Lebanon places the entire Arab Israeli peace process at risk. In the con text of the Syria-Israel track, no longer is it possible to have one set of “rules” for the Golan and another for southern Lebanon. Security arrangements governing the Israel-Lebanon border must, unlike the ill-fated May 17, 1983, accord, reflect facts, the most salient of which is that the ultimate governing authority for Lebanon resides, at present, in Damascus.