Why did Israel withdraw from the security zone in Lebanon in May 2000?
In 1982 Israel launched an offensive into southern Lebanon in order to suppress the PLO entrenced there. In June 1985, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres ordered a unilateral withdrawal of most of Israel’s troops from Lebanon, leaving only a small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported Lebanese militia in a “security zone,” a 15 km wide strip of land paralleling the border.
The May 2000 decision to unilaterally end control of the Lebanon security zone was forced on Israel by the relentless stream of casualties inflicted on its forces by Hezbollah’s low-intensity guerrilla campaign. When then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak gave the order to withdraw, in line with a campaign promise to pull out within a year of his election, he was expressing the will of some 70 percent of Israeli voters, who could no longer see any valid purpose in sending their sons and daughters to die in Lebanon in the vain pursuit of security for Israel’s northernmost towns. Despite the occupation, Hezbollah had still managed to periodically rain Katyusha rockets on those towns. Israel completed the withdrawal in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426, which required Israel to withdraw to the internationally recognized boundary. UN inspectors from UNIFIL surveyed the border (the “Blue Line”) and certified Israel’s compliance. UN cartographers marked the line in accordance with the 1923 border drawn by the British and French and other available documentation and historical records. The Israeli withdrawal sent a message to Hezbollah and to other terrorist groups that Israel could be forced out. The al-Aqsa intifada started a few months later, in September 2000, perhaps because Yasser Arafat was encouraged to use violence by Israel’s pull-out from Lebanon. Hezbollah has continued to attack Israeli forces in the Shaaba Farms district, which the Lebanese militia claims as part of Lebanon but the United Nations recognizes as part of the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel. Hezbollah also claims it is fighting on to press for the release of Lebanese and Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. But the fact that Syria is the de facto military power in Lebanon and sets the rules within which Lebanese groups operate, Hezbollah’s continued campaign has been widely interpreted as an expression by proxy of Syria’s desire to maintain pressure on Israel’s northern flank in pursuit of its goal of reclaiming the Golan Heights. Israel constructed five-meter high fences designed to protect against anti-tank missiles and other weapons around some front-line communities, as well as concrete blast walls, a border fence, stepped up patrols and border outposts, improved observation and listening devices, surveillance devices, and other measures. These have only been partially successful in stemming Hezbollah attacks.