Hizbollah: “Israel’s response is disproportionate…”

Published: 18 July 2006
Briefing Number 179

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Claim: “It was wrong of Hizbollah to kidnap the two Israeli soldiers. But Israel's military response has been wildly disproportionate. Israel is ruthlessly attacking civilians in Lebanon , and its attacks are unjustified……”

The Israel-Hizbollah-Lebanon escalation July 2006

The scenes have been terrible. Many Lebanese civilians have died. Thousands have fled their homes. And so have foreign nationals residing in Lebanon . And all because of Israel 's military response to Hizbollah's kidnapping of its soldiers.

While Israelis in Northern Israel are also living in fear and uncertainty, and dozens of Israeli civilians have also been killed by Hizbollah rocket attacks, the dominant impression is of Israel fiercely over-reacting to Hizbollah's actions, and terrorising the whole of Lebanese society, because of the reckless actions of Hizbollah hotheads.

Here are some key points which place Israel 's actions in context:

Hizbollah attacked Israel across internationally recognised borders – the issue at stake is not territory but Israel 's legitimacy

•  Hizbollah kidnapped the Israeli soldiers on 12 July in an unprovoked and premeditated attack

•  The attack also took the lives of eight Israeli soldiers and took place under cover of a barrage of Hezbollah rocket fire

•  The attack was carried out across the internationally recognised northern border between Lebanon and Israel

•  Hizbollah is part of Lebanon 's Government. Even if the Lebanese Government did not know the attack was planned, Hizbollah's action constituted an act of war by one sovereign country against another

•  Hizbollah's very existence violates international law. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1559 of 2005, The Lebanon Government was obliged to disarm and disband Hizbollah. But it has not done so

•  Neither Hizbollah nor Lebanon have a legitimate territorial claim against Israel . Israeli withdrew completely from South Lebanon in May 2000

•  Israel has to respond strongly because what is at stake in the conflict is not territory but Israel 's legitimacy

•  Hizbollah rejects Israel 's right to exist. If Hizbollah or other groups believe that they can use the territory they control to attack Israel with impunity inside Israel 's recognised borders, there will never be peace. There will never be coexistence. And there will never be a two-state solution

•  Israel 's response seems fierce. But Israel did not wish to see this escalation. It has been forced upon Israel . And while Israel wishes to free the kidnapped soldiers, it is not responding to the kidnapping alone. It is responding to the rejectionist ideology which underlies the kidnapping

Since the kidnapping Hizbollah has fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli population centres – a strong response is required to this

•  Hizbollah is a heavily-armed, fanatical fighting force which holds an estimated stockpile of 13,000 missiles and rockets, mainly supplied by Syria and Iran

•  Since Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in May 2000, Hizbollah has steadily built up this arsenal, immediately across the border with Israel . Europe and other outside powers have been passive as this build-up has taken place

•  Hizbollah has previously tried to capture Israeli soldiers

•  Since the kidnapping and Israel 's military operations began, Hizbollah has fired hundreds of missiles into Israel

•  Several have struck Haifa and other towns deep inside Israeli territory, such as Safed and Afula, killing many Israelis

•  Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are taking shelter in bomb shelters. Civilian life has been turned upside down inside Israel

•  Foreign nationals inside Israel – tourists, students, business travellers and others – are within Hizbollah's line of fire, and in danger

•  Since the conflict escalated, Hizbollah has also attacked an Israeli naval ship, killing several Israeli crew

•  Hizbollah is using Katyusha rockets as well as newer types of rockets, with increased range and firepower (for example in its strikes against Haifa )

•  No sovereign country would be willing passively to tolerate such a situation. Israel is exercising its right of self-defence by taking all possible steps to defend its citizens and their right to live without being subject to rocket attack

•  Israel's military strikes in Lebanon are intended to prevent future Hizbollah rocket attacks, and push Hizbollah away from Israel's borders, or neutralise the organisation altogether, as was previously required by the United Nations Security Council

Israel 's air strikes have been carried out against Hizbollah targets and the infrastructure that supports them, not against random Lebanese targets

•  Israel 's military attacks since the kidnapping have taken hundreds of Lebanese lives, and injured and traumatised thousands of others

•  The images of Lebanese civilian suffering have been terrible, the cries of anguish heart-rending.

•  But contrary to the impression given, Israel has not been “bombarding Lebanon ” in the sense of attacking Lebanese society generally. Its actions – harsh as they appear – are directed against Hizbollah targets and against the infrastructure which Hizbollah use to sustain their activities

•  Responsibility for civilian Lebanese suffering ultimately lies with Hizbollah, and for the states which have encouraged them to attack Israel

•  Bridges and roads: Israel 's attacks on bridges and roads are intended to prevent Hizbollah from resupplying the south of Lebanon with rockets and other arms, and to make it harder for Hizbollah units to relocate elsewhere in the country

•  Beirut International Airport : Israel has bombed the runways of Beirut International Airport , and airport fuel tanks, in order to prevent Hizbollah flying in missile reinforcements, and to prevent them flying the kidnapped soldiers out to Iran or elsewhere. The central facilities of the airport – including the control tower - are completely intact

•  Suburbs of Beirut : Israel has not bombed Beirut randomly. It has targeted Hizbollah offices in South Beirut , which are located in crowded residential areas. Hizbollah's nerve centre and the base of its leader Sheikh Nasrallah, is in south Beirut . Israel 's strikes have been fierce, but preceded by explicit warnings to the surrounding civilian population

•  Villages and homes in the south of Lebanon : Hizbollah routinely conceals its rocket in underground bunkers, often situated in the middle of villages and even underneath civilian homes. Israel has targeted these bunkers, once again preceding its attacks with warnings to civilians

•  Broadcasting stations: Hizbollah broadcasting facilities have been targeted, to prevent the organisation rallying its fighters, and to reduce the output of propaganda against Israel

•  The reason why Lebanon 's civilian infrastructure has been so heavily attacked is because of the abuse of that civilian infrastructure by Hizbollah to sustain its illegal and dangerous military build-up. Lebanese civilian society is paying a tragic price for the brinkmanship of Hizbollah and its sponsors Iran and Syria

•  It is Hizbollah which is sabotaging Lebanese hopes for a future of democracy and prosperity

Iran and Syria are Hizbollah's sponsors, and Israel 's actions are a signal to those states

•  Iran and Syria back Hizbollah and have supplied it with arms

•  It is almost certain that the kidnapping which triggered the crisis was given the green light by Iran

•  Many believe that Iran may have been seeking to deflect attention from the build-up of its nuclear programme, and make it harder for the international community to prevent is nuclear activities

•  Hizbollah shares Iran 's belief that Israel should be “wiped off the map”

•  Israel 's strong military response is designed to signal to Iran that it cannot build up a proxy military presence on Israel 's border and then think it can engineer attacks on Israel in the pursuit of wider strategic objectives

•  That is what Israel means when it says that its actions are to “restore deterrence” and to “shift the balance of power” in the region.