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Withdrawing From Gaza and the Lebanon War

The Withdrawal From Gaza

Ariel Sharon's tenure as Prime Minister of Israel was marked by significant and controversial decisions, particularly his push for unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This move was seen as a dramatic shift for Sharon, who had previously been a major proponent of settlement expansion and a hardliner regarding Palestinian negotiations.

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, also known as the “Gaza Disengagement Plan,” was a significant event in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It involved the complete evacuation of Israeli settlements and military presence from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Here is an overview of the withdrawal, including the reasons behind Ariel Sharon's decision, the ramifications of the withdrawal, and the actions taken by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to control Gaza.

Ariel Sharon's Decision & The Ramifications

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, initiated the withdrawal of part of his broader plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip. He believed that the presence of Israeli settlements and military forces in Gaza was unsustainable and hindered the prospects of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Sharon aimed to consolidate Israeli control over major settlement blocs in the West Bank while reducing the burden of defending isolated settlements in Gaza. He also sought to improve Israel's international standing and create conditions for future negotiations.

The withdrawal involved the dismantling of 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza, resulting in the displacement of around 8,000 Israeli settlers. Israeli military forces were also withdrawn from the area. This was met with mixed reactions within Israeli society. Supporters saw it as a step towards peace and a way to reduce tensions, while opponents criticized it as a unilateral move that rewarded Palestinian violence. The withdrawal had significant implications for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. The PA, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, saw the withdrawal as an opportunity to assert control over Gaza and demonstrate its ability to govern effectively. Hamas, a militant group with a strong presence in Gaza, viewed the withdrawal as a victory and an opportunity to expand its influence.

Actions Taken by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas

Following the withdrawal, the Palestinian Authority assumed control over Gaza. It established security forces and began efforts to govern the territory. However, the PA faced challenges maintaining law and order and providing essential services. In the subsequent Palestinian legislative elections held in 2006, Hamas emerged as the victor, winning most seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. This led to a power struggle between Hamas and the PA, which eventually resulted in Hamas taking complete control of Gaza in 2007. Hamas's control of Gaza led to increased tensions with Israel as the group continued to launch rocket attacks and carry out militant activities. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza to restrict the flow of weapons and materials that could be used for military purposes. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza had far-reaching consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians. It reshaped the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and set the stage for future regional challenges and negotiations.

Between Withdrawal and Attack

In 2006, several significant events occurred in Israel, including the transition of power from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert and the subsequent Israeli attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon. Here is a summary of the events:

1)        January 4: Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, suffers a severe hemorrhagic stroke and falls into a coma. Power is transferred to his deputy, Ehud Olmert, who assumes the role of acting Prime Minister. Olmert was officially sworn in as Prime Minister on April 14, 2006.

2)        January 25: Hamas, an Islamist political party, wins the majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority legislative election. This led to the cutting off of aid to the Palestinian Authority by Israel, the United States, the European Union, and several other countries.

3)        July 12: Hezbollah militants launch an attack across the border, capturing two IDF soldiers and killing three others. This incident triggers a more significant conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, known as the 2006 Lebanon War.

4)        July 12 - August 14: Israel launches Operation Just Reward, a military campaign aimed at retrieving the captured soldiers, dismantling Hezbollah's infrastructure, and reducing their military capabilities. The conflict involves airstrikes, artillery barrages, and ground incursions into Lebanon.

5)        August 14: A United Nations-brokered ceasefire goes into effect, ending the 2006 Lebanon War.

It’s worth noting that Sharon's decision-making and approach to military operations were often different from Olmert's. Sharon had a controversial history in Lebanon, mainly due to his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. His focus in later years was more on the Gaza Strip, as demonstrated by the 2005 unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. Perhaps a reaction to the kidnapping of IDF troops would have provoked a different response, but it seems likely he would have pursued a similar attack on Lebanon as Olmert did in 2006.

The Lebanon War – July to August 2006

The 2006 Lebanon War, also known as the Second Lebanon War, was a 34-day military conflict that began on July 12, 2006 and ended on August 14, 2006.  The war was primarily fought in Lebanon, northern Israel, and the Golan Heights between Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It started with a Hezbollah cross-border raid, during which Hezbollah militants killed three Israeli soldiers and abducted two others. This incident prompted a robust military response from Israel, which included airstrikes, a ground invasion of southern Lebanon, and a naval blockade.

Shortly after the two IDF soldiers were kidnapped, Israel launched a military campaign to retrieve the soldiers, dismantling Hezbollah's infrastructure and reducing the group's military capabilities. From Israel's viewpoint, the continuous attacks from Lebanese territory represented a direct threat to its security and sovereignty. The killing and kidnapping were perceived as an act of aggression and a challenge that could not go unanswered without compromising national security. The Israeli response aimed at neutralizing Hezbollah's military capabilities, which were directly enhanced by Iranian and Syrian support.

The Israeli military operation involved a combination of airstrikes, artillery barrages, and ground incursions into Lebanon. Israel aimed to weaken Hezbollah's ground combat capabilities and degrade its rocket-launching infrastructure, which posed a significant threat to Israeli towns and cities. Despite the advantages in air dominance and naval and artillery support,  the Israeli Defense Mechanized Forces met organized Hezbollah resistance that hindered maneuver and the IDF achieving several objectives.

For Hezbollah, the engagement was framed as a resistance against Israeli occupation, aiming to liberate Lebanese territories and prisoners. The presence of Israeli forces in Lebanon, as well as the ongoing occupation of territories like the Shebaa Farms, provided Hezbollah with both a casus belli and a rallying point to maintain support from the Lebanese Shia community and wider Arab audiences. The organization's robust response to the Israeli offense solidifies its domestic and international standing.

The Outcome of War

The outcome of the conflict was complex and multifaceted. While Israel did not achieve all of its military objectives, it did succeed in significantly degrading Hezbollah's military infrastructure and capabilities. The conflict also highlighted the limitations of Israel's military power and the resilience of Hezbollah as a non-state actor.

For Lebanon, the conflict resulted in significant damage to infrastructure and a humanitarian crisis. The conflict further polarized Lebanese society and deepened political divisions, with some factions supporting Hezbollah's resistance against Israel and others criticizing the group's actions. Hezbollah, despite the destruction and casualties, claimed a symbolic victory by presenting itself as a resistance force against Israeli aggression.

While it succeeded in weakening Hezbollah's military capabilities, Israel did not achieve all of its objectives. The conflict also highlighted the limitations of Israel's military power and the resilience of Hezbollah as a non-state actor. The conflict had a profound impact on Lebanon, causing extensive damage and deepening political divisions within the country. Overall, the conflict demonstrated the complexities and challenges of the Israeli-Hezbollah dynamic and the enduring nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the region.

Throughout the conflict, Israel targeted both Hezbollah’s military assets and Lebanese civilian infrastructure, aiming to weaken Hezbollah's military capabilities. Hezbollah retaliated with rocket attacks on northern Israel and engaged Israeli forces using guerrilla tactics. The war resulted in significant casualties and displacement, with estimates suggesting between 1,191 and 1,300 Lebanese and 165 Israelis killed. The Lebanese infrastructure suffered extensive damage, and the conflict displaced around one million Lebanese and 300,000 to 500,000 Israelis.

The war did not yield a clear victor. While Israel inflicted significant damage on Hezbollah's infrastructure and military capabilities, it failed to prevent Hezbollah from continuing to launch rockets into northern Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) faced challenges such as unpreparedness for large-scale conventional warfare, logistical failures, and the robust defense mounted by Hezbollah fighters. Despite extensive air and ground operations, Israel could not achieve a decisive military victory or fulfill its strategic objectives completely.

The war concluded with the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 on August 11, 2006, which called for a ceasefire, the disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of IDF from Lebanon, and the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces and an expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south. Although the resolution led to a cessation of hostilities, it did not achieve the disarmament of Hezbollah. The conflict is widely regarded as a failure for Israel, given its inability to secure a decisive military victory or stop Hezbollah's rocket attacks, and a "Divine Victory" by Hezbollah, which claimed it had successfully withstood one of the region's most powerful armies.

Iran’s Role in Gaza and Lebanon

Iran played a significant role in both the 2005 to 2006 withdrawal from Gaza and the July 2006 Lebanon war. In the case of the Gaza withdrawal, Iran provided support to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group controlling Gaza, which played a crucial role in the Israeli disengagement. Iran's support for Hamas included financial aid, weapons, and training. This support empowered Hamas and gave it the resources to wage militant strikes against Israeli targets. The withdrawal from Gaza allowed Hamas to establish a stronger foothold in the region and further its agenda.

Iran's involvement in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 was substantial and multi-faceted, reflecting Tehran's strategic objectives in the region. Here's a detailed breakdown of Iran's support for Hezbollah and the central aspects of its involvement:

Nature and Extent of Iranian Support to Hezbollah
  • Establishment and Sustenance: Iran played a critical role in Hezbollah's establishment and ongoing support. This included funding, arming, and training Hezbollah fighters. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was deeply involved in providing military training and strategic guidance.

  • Weapons Supply: Iran supplied Hezbollah with a wide range of weaponry, including long-range missiles and rockets, which were used extensively against Israel during the conflict.

  • Strategic and Operational Guidance: Senior IRGC commanders were reportedly present in Lebanon, offering direct operational planning and support during the conflict.

Central Role of Iranian Involvement
  • Strategic Diversion: Iran's primary motivation behind its involvement was to create a regional crisis to divert international attention from its nuclear program. The conflict relieved pressure on Iran from the international community, particularly concerning sanctions and nuclear inspections.

  • Projection of Power: By actively supporting Hezbollah, Iran aimed to project its power and influence in the Middle East, reinforcing its position as a regional power and defender of Shia communities.

Regional Implications

Israel responded with a full-scale military operation in Lebanon, targeting Hezbollah strongholds but also facing criticism for the broad impact on civilian areas. Concurrently, Israel engaged in diplomatic efforts to pressure Iran through international channels to curb its nuclear ambitions and support for Hezbollah. The war underscored the volatile nature of Iran-Israel relations and the broader regional dynamics involving multiple state and non-state actors. The conflict highlighted ongoing security concerns for Israel regarding Iran's regional ambitions and the capability and reach of Iran-backed groups like Hezbollah.

The 2006 Lebanon War thus served as a significant episode in the complex web of Middle Eastern geopolitics, with Iran's involvement central to the conflict's initiation and escalation. Israel's military and diplomatic response reflected its acute awareness of the strategic challenges posed by Iran's regional policies and the direct threats from Hezbollah. Overall, Iran's support for Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon played a significant role in both the 2005 to 2006 withdrawal from Gaza and the July 2006 Lebanon war. Iran's assistance provided these militant groups with the resources and capabilities to challenge Israeli security and engage in military activities that pushed the regional powers to respond and manage a possible full-scale war. The proxy war has continued, and once again, Israel and Iran are near a direct confrontation.



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1 Comment

An excellent summary of a pivotal moment in the Iran-Israeli War. Yes, it’s no longer a dancing around with proxies after the full barrage from Iranian soil. This is metaphorically called “unleashing the dogs of war”. We can expect a tightening of the Sino-Russian-Iranian axis. Russia needs mutual assistance from China satellite DPRK in Ukraine. China needs assistance in pursuing the last mile in the revolution with Taiwan. Iran needs nuclear weapons and alliances in Syria (Russia) and Iraq.

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