December 30, 2009

Israeli withdrawal from al-Ghajar - no impact

Click in image for larger view

Israel has announced that it will soon withdraw its forces from the Lebanese half of a village that is located astride the Lebanese-Syrian border. Israeli troops have occupied and administered the city since the area was seized during the Six Day War in June 1967. The northern half of the city is in Lebanon, and the southern half is in Syria adjacent to the Golan Heights.

Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000 after an 18-year occupation. As part of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, Lebanese militias were to disarm once all foreign (read Israeli but not Syrian) forces had pulled out of the country. All of Lebanese various armed factions abided by the agreement with the notable exception of Hizballah. Hizballah maintained that Israel's continued occupation of the northern half of al-Ghajar, clearly in Lebanon, and an area nearby called the Shaba' Farms, constituted a violation of UNSCR 1559 and thus provided legal justification for the Iranian and Syrian-backed Shi'a group to maintain its militia.

The Shaba' Farms claim is ludicrous, but allows Hizballah the myth that Israeli forces are still occupying portions of Lebanon. On virtually any credible map, the Shaba' Farms are clearly part of Syria - occupied since 1967 by Israeli troops, but still part of Syria. Even the United Nations agrees that the Farms are part of Syria.

Syria claims to have ceded the Farms area to Lebanon years ago, yet no reliable documentation exists. In fact, Syrian military maps clearly show the area to be in Syria. The assertion that the area is Lebanese is a charade that allows Hizballah to claim that Israeli troops are still in Lebanon. It's Hizballah's fig leaf - see my earlier article, The Shaba' Farms - Hizballah's Fig Leaf.

The situation with the Shaba' Farms does not change with the Israeli withdrawal from al-Ghajar, but it removes one more excuse that Hizballah uses to maintain its militia. The Lebanese government recently officially authorized Hizballah to use its militia - they use the term "resistance" - against the continued "Israeli occupation" of Lebanese land. Israel should have withdrawn from the Lebanese side of al-Ghajar years ago, as I urged - Hey Israel, give Ghajar back to Lebanon.

Israel's withdrawal also brings them into compliance with UNSCR 1701 (see my earlier article UNSCR 1701 - Deferment of the Problem) which ended the fighting between Hizballah and Israeli forces in 2006. Under that agreement, Lebanese forces were to take up positions in southern Lebanon, and Hizballah was to be disarmed. Neither has happened.

Despite American and UN beliefs that Israel's withdrawal from al-Ghajar will ease tensions between Israel and Lebanon, it will have no real impact. As long as Lebanon and Syria perpetuate the myth that the Israeli-occupied Shaba' Farms are part of Lebanon and not part of Syria, Hizballah will maintain its militia.

Anyone who believes that Hizballah is going to voluntarily disarm does not understand Lebanon. Israel is making a meaningless gesture.