What happened between Israel and the Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon since 1991?
After Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the PLO were driven out and had to relocate to Tunisia. After Israel’s withdrawal of its main body of forces from Lebanon in June 1985, a small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported Lebanese militia were left in a “security zone,” a 15 km wide strip of land paralleling the border, a necessary buffer for Israel against attacks on its northern territory.
The situation in Lebanon is closely tied to Israel’s ongoing dispute with Syria. About 35,000 Syrian troops, ubiquitous spies and interference in domestic affairs made Syria the de facto ruler of the area after the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990. The guerrilla war waged by Hezbollah against Israel in southern Lebanon is the heart of Syria’s strategy to reclaim the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that overlooks the Sea of Galilee, under Israeli control since the end of the Six Day War in 1967. Syria hoped that Israel would tire of trying to control Hezbollah’s attacks and would eventually agree to return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace on its northern border. Israel also envisioned a withdrawal from Lebanon within the framework of a peace agreement with Syria. In mid-2000 Israel withdrew its troops from the security zone in South Lebanon, ending the almost 20-year operation there. Hezbollah guerrillas then turned their attention to the disputed claim for the area called the Sheba’a farms (or Shaba or Chebaa) at the junction of the borders of Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah renewed attacks on Israel over their contention that the area belongs to Lebanon. Israeli maps, verified by the United Nations, show the territory as part of Syria which lost it along with the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War. Using the Sheba’a farms dispute as a pretext, Hezbollah continues to attack Israel across the northern border. In March 2002, Hezbollah terrorists used a collapsible ladder to get over the electronic security fence on the Lebanon border without tripping any alarms. They then carried out a murderous shooting attack against motorists near Kibbutz Matzuva in the western Galilee, in which six Israelis were killed and seven wounded. After the start of the Israeli Operation Defensive Shield (“Homat Magen” in Israel) against Palestinian Arab terrorists in March 2002, Hezbollah increased cross-border attacks against Israeli positions along its northern border with Lebanon and near Sheba’a farms.