Marking the third anniversary of the July War
Lebanon remembers as Israeli official says war planned in advance
By NOW Staff, NOW Lebanon, July 12, 2009
Today marks the third anniversary of the outbreak of the 2006 July War. The 34-day conflict killed over 1000 Lebanese civilians, forced nearly one million from their homes and left swathes of the country in ruins.
Three years on, an Israeli official used the occasion to admit the country had planned war against Lebanon prior to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and that it was intended to eliminate Hezbollah. A former head of the National Security Council also warned of future conflict if Hezbollah is included in the next cabinet.
Within Lebanon, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri used the occasion to emphasize the need for a national-unity cabinet, while opposition politicians called for unity in the face of Israeli threats and de-mining teams continue to remove unexploded cluster bombs in the South.
The 2006 War
On June 12, 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and killed three during an assault on a patrol on the Israeli side of Lebanon’s southern border.
Israel, which was already involved in a military operation in the Gaza Strip to free another captured soldier, immediately responded by sending ground forces into southern Lebanon for the first time since its 2000 withdrawal.
The Israeli Defense Force carried out massive airstrikes against Lebanon, paralyzing major points of infrastructure such as the country’s only international airport, bridges and power plants, and subjected it to a punishing air and naval blockade.
Hezbollah strongholds in the South, the Bekaa Valley and Dahiyeh in southern Beirut were particularly targeted by Israeli strikes.
Hezbollah responded by engaging in guerilla battles against advancing Israeli units and fired approximately 4,000 unguided rockets into northern Israel.
According to AFP reports, the 34-day Israeli offensive left at least 1,287 Lebanese dead and 4,054 wounded. Four UN observers and one UNIFIL member were also killed by Israeli strikes. The UNHCR estimates nearly one million Lebanese were displaced by the war.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said 119 Israeli soldiers and 44 civilians were killed during the conflict. Hezbollah and Amal announced they lost 91 combatants.
A ceasefire came into effect on August 14 after UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council on August 11, and by the Lebanese and Israeli governments the following days. The resolution called for a full Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarmament of Hezbollah.
In the final stages of the conflict, Israel rained millions of cluster bomblets on southern Lebanon, many of which failed to detonate on impact and have killed and injured dozens of civilians in the last three years, despite ongoing de-mining efforts. After considerable international pressure, Israel handed maps of the locations of the cluster bombs to UNIFIL in May this year.
The conflict cost Lebanon billions of dollars. At the 2006 Stockholm and 2007 Paris III donor conferences, governments and organizations pledged close to 8.5 billion dollars in grants and loans to help Lebanon rebuild and recover from the devastating war.
Hezbollah returned the bodies of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers on July 16, 2008, in return for the release of Palestinian Liberation Front member Samir Kuntar, who was convicted of murder by an Israeli court, four Hezbollah members and the bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinians.
The 2009 Israeli response
Former and current Israeli officials used the anniversary to warn of future attacks against Lebanon if Hezbollah is legitimized by being included in the cabinet. They also acknowledged the 2006 attack had been planned well in advance and was intended to destroy Hezbollah.
NOW Lebanon’s correspondent in South Lebanon also reported on Sunday that Israeli fighter jets conducted low flights over Nabatiyeh, Marjayoun and Hasbaya and launched mock air raids against southern areas.
Israeli Brigadier General Dan Halutz, IDF Chief of Staff during the 2006 July War, told a conference at Tel Aviv University's Center for Strategic Research on Sunday that Israel had planned for war against Lebanon long before Hezbollah abducted the two IDF soldiers and its principle aim was “the total elimination of Hezbollah.”
He said former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz had erred when they refused his proposal to attack the Lebanese cabinet and infrastructure during the war, which he said paved the way for Hezbollah to later strengthen its military capabilities.
Former head of the Israeli National Security Council, Giyora Giora Eiland, also warned on Sunday that Israel will wage war against Lebanon, its infrastructure and all those who support Hezbollah, if the new Lebanese cabinet legitimizes the party.
He warned that Israel will wage in the future a stronger offensive than that witnessed during the 2006 July War.
Eiland called on the Israeli cabinet to urge the international community, particularly the United States, France and Saudi Arabia, to put pressure on the Lebanese cabinet in order to change its policy toward Hezbollah.
An Israeli official preempted the anniversary on Saturday by warning Hezbollah had expanded its arsenal after the 2006 war, and cautioned the militant group against carrying out further acts of sabotage against Israel or abducting its citizens and soldiers.
“After 2006, Hezbollah has not attempted to attack northern Israel, which proves that the party incurred heavy losses during the war and the Israeli Defense Forces were capable of restoring their deterrent capacity,” Israeli Northern Command chief Alon Friedman told Israeli public radio.
The Lebanese commemoration
Lebanese politicians praised the unity and courage of the Lebanese people during the July War, and used the occasion to emphasize the importance of a national unity government.
Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah met on Sunday with Vice President of the Higher Shia Islamic Council Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan to commemorate the anniversary, saying it is “necessary to confront Israeli aggression against domestic Lebanese affairs with a unified national front.”
They also discussed the ongoing threat posed by Israel, referring to its ongoing occupation of Lebanese land, its violations of Lebanese sovereignty by land, air and sea, as well as the establishment of spy networks that threatened Lebanon’s stability and security.
Speaker Nabih Berri used the occasion to call for all compensation issues related to the conflict to be finalized and said Lebanon defeated Israel in 2006 because of national unity.
“The Resistance and the army’s martyrs achieved something glorious for the Lebanese people,” Berri said.
Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said the conflict had destroyed Israel’s deterrent force. He called for the cabinet to be formed quickly, so the country can confront Israel’s “threats and intimidation, in addition to its daily violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and UN Security Council Resolution 1701.”
Speaking on Saturday after meeting President Sleiman at Baabda, Prime Minister-elect Saad Hariri said the occasion had prompted the president and himself to stress the importance of forming a national-unity cabinet.
In a statement issued earlier on Saturday, Sleiman praised the “victorious” efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Resistance and ordinary civilians during the conflict.
“Israel learned a tough lesson after the war, which led them to resort to threats and intimidation instead of the attacks that have proceeded each summer,” the president added.
He also criticized Israel for continuing to violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701 on a daily basis.