Today's date:
Fall 2006

The Lessons of War with Hezbollah

Shimon Peres is the vice prime minister of Israel and a Nobel Laureate for Peace.

Jerusalem — The charge that Israel’s response to Hezbollah in Lebanon was disproportionate is a bitter one. The firing of thousands of missiles over the skies and houses of the Israelis—missiles that didn’t discriminate on whom they fell—is proportionate? They fell on schools and restaurants and people walking down the street.

What was behind all this? We are in a situation today where there are four entities that are immune to any diplomatic or political considerations: Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah—two countries and two terrorist organizations.

Nobody can influence them. They won’t listen to anybody, not to the United Nations, not the United States, not to the European Union, not to Russia—not even to the Arab states or the leader of the Lebanese government.

This is the first time we can see the whole world standing helpless in the face of Iran and Syria trying to make a mockery of the international community by sending arms and money to Hamas and Hezbollah to instigate a war.

So, Israel is really alone. No one else can stop them. And, on the other hand, no one can defend us. We have to defend ourselves in a world in which international diplomacy is at such a low point that the Iranians can mock everyone; a dangerous world in which borders are of little use against missiles.

This is why we acted in Lebanon. And maybe we can give a little hope to the Lebanese people because until now the Lebanese army—70,000 strong—could not play a role with Hezbollah in the way. And maybe we can give some influence back to the international community.

If Israel were to submit, no one is there to stand up to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas and their kind.

We don’t want anything from Lebanon. Lebanon can want nothing from us. All we want is to see Lebanon united with territorial integrity and prosperous and free of the foreign body in their own country—Hezbollah—which is endangering their destiny and their lives.

We were attacked for no reason. We withdrew from Lebanon and gave back all the land and all the water in accordance with the UN resolutions. We gave back all of Gaza to the Palestinians.

Iran and Syria felt they had a golden opportunity because of the paralysis of the international community. They felt they could have their way to increase their influence by creating turmoil in the region and no one could stop them. This happened at the same time Iran refused to come to terms with the US, Europe, China and Russia on its nuclear program.

Our objective was to stop the missile attacks by Hezbollah and enable the Lebanese military to take over and prevent Hezbollah from ever again returning to the border of Israel—as the UN resolution stipulates.

Lebanon Lessons | Now that this war is over, what are the lessons? In Lebanon, we experienced a new form of battle: Terrorist organizations are armed with a wide range of missiles and rockets that enable them to bypass front lines and give them the capacity to hit tanks, planes and concentrations of soldiers.

This type of war is more ballistic in nature than territorial. It is more fueled by a religious ideology than by nationalistic motivation, seeking to target populations wherever possible, even before trying to control territory.

This war was not conducted by an organized army but was led by disseminated units (and at times by single individuals) that concealed themselves among civilian populations and used them as human shields. They were prepared to attack civilians indiscriminately. As a result, the line of division between the battlefront and the home front was largely blurred.

This was a war without a fixed battlefield, fought in the media as well as on the ground. This battlefield was teeming with television lenses whose projection of the war’s image was no less important than the war per se, making the struggle for legitimacy in the mind of public opinion and the morale of one’s own soldiers as central to the conflict as military success.

Clearly, it is no longer possible to plan a military operation without a media operation as well. There is no point in explaining situations after the fact. It is necessary to take into account the images broadcast on television screens in real time.

The terrorists do not confine themselves to political boundaries. They exist like parasites in countries that are not theirs, and turn into an army within an army, with the freedom to don army uniforms or take them off, as they please.

The arms that a country like Israel has at its disposal are not designed for wars of this nature. It would be senseless to use a plane or helicopter that has cost millions of dollars for the purpose of chasing a lone terrorist, or a small group of terrorists, at high risk. Nor would it be reasonable for a tank, which is no less costly, to seek out a handful of disguised terrorists, armed with night-vision devices and sophisticated anti-tank weapons and hiding among the crevices of a rocky terrain and in fortified hiding places.

The homeland, also unprepared for this new kind of war, is not sufficiently protected. The population, concentrated in a limited area, constitutes an easy target for missiles.

Just as it is hard to distinguish between the front and the homeland on the side that is under attack, it is also not so easy to disentangle the governance structure in the territories from which the attacks are launched, to see the distinction between a weak government and rogue aggressors who do not respect its authority.

What are the lessons to be drawn from these changes? No deterrent weapon is everlasting. The form of deterrent must be in accordance with the changes on the battlefield. David’s slingshot was a deterrent good for only one battle. Everything has changed since.

Clearly, Israel must continue to maintain defense forces (including aircraft, paratroopers, infantry, armored corps and naval fleets) in the eventuality that it is attacked by classical armies. Yet it must develop a new strategic deterrent that rests on weapons and an organizational structure appropriate for this new era in which terrorists are equipped with missiles and media.

A terrorist might be deterred by the knowledge that new surveillance tools have been developed that could identify him, even in a large crowd; that his weapon could be detected without his knowledge. This kind of deterrent could be based on miniaturized arms or on remote-control robots operating on the battlefield. Perhaps, even a type of intelligence hitherto unknown grounded in revolutionary nanotechnology?

Luckily for us, Israel already has an excellent group of high-tech scientists capable of developing detection and defense devices that have the capacity to target the enemy individually and give personal protection to the person being attacked. Fifty years ago, I had the privilege of introducing newly developed arms systems to the Israel Defense Forces that provided Israel with a powerful deterrent that is still valid today. I am persuaded that it is possible to do this again, by means of innovative and daring technology, for the long term. [Editor’s note: Peres is referring obliquely to Israel’s officially unacknowledged nuclear deterrent.]

Israel’s technological advances were initiated in the past by the Defense Ministry, and served as the foundation for today’s high-tech industries in Israel. The new generation of defense technology may well serve as the foundation for advanced technological applications in wide-ranging domains: health care, transportation, communications, the environment, agriculture, water and energy. It can furthermore serve as building material for the new and wide empty spaces of Israel (particularly the Negev).

Further, Israel should pursue a policy of decentralization of the population inside Israel and support the legitimization of one single authority in the whole of Lebanon—indeed, in all of the countries of the region.

The deployment of the UN forces, with their European core, and the Lebanese army in the south of Lebanon, is a development that cannot be discounted.

The Lebanese government and the Palestinian Authority lost control over their territories and armed forces. They stopped representing peace and security in the territories for which they are responsible. Israel must support the struggle of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s government for exclusive territorial and military control over its land, and support the struggle of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for establishing one authority and one gun in his area of responsibility.

A war deterrent is supposed to prevent war. The goal is peace. Despite all the resentment in Israeli public opinion of Palestinian terrorism and terror emanating from Lebanon, attaining peace as an objective has not diminished.

In peace, as in war, the paths change even if the objective does not. The notion of trading “territory for peace” was successful in two instances—Egypt and Jordan. It failed in two other cases—Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. We withdrew from Lebanon, in keeping with UN resolution 1559, but did not receive full peace in return. We unilaterally withdrew from all the areas of the Gaza Strip, but, despite this move, attacks continued to be launched on Israel from that territory.

The deployment of UN troops in southern Lebanon (where the Hezbollah had concentrated its forces) as a result of the new UN resolution has given rise to renewed hope that the other half of the equation will be implemented: full peace with Lebanon, which Prime Minister Siniora has publicly called for. Israel’s response must be positive, public and unequivocal: yes to peace with Lebanon.

I am aware that alongside Lebanon is the Syrian question mark. Syria’s current policy is distinguished by mood swings. The declaration from Damascus that it was incumbent on Israel to accept all of Syria’s conditions before it would consider meeting with us is a ridiculous proposal. Our response to Syria should be that if it wants peace, then it must come to the negotiating table openly, straightforwardly, with no ultimatums. That is the way it was with Egypt. That is the way it was with Jordan. This is how it started with the Palestinians. This is how it started even with Lebanon.

The failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians was not due to the ill will of Israel, but because of the lack of unity among the Palestinians. The Palestinians who wish for peace do not have the power to advance it. And the ones among them who do not want to come to an agreement have the power to prevent it. As things stand today, policy will be replaced by tragedy.

The initiative to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank has lost its attraction in the eyes of the Israeli public due to the aftereffects of withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. I cannot envision a situation today in which the majority will support such a withdrawal. We were prepared to enter into bilateral negotiations on the basis of the road map, but to date Hamas has prevented the Palestinian side from following through. Israel will continue proposing bilateral negotiations, despite Hamas’ refusal.

An additional alternative could take the form of a triad partnership involving Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. It would take an economic route rather than a political one. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have already agreed to turn the whole border region between the Red Sea and the Jordan River into a joint economic peace corridor, along which industrial plants, tourism and agriculture will be developed. It would also enable water to be brought in from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea in the foreseeable future. This approach has worked elsewhere. Most of the important changes that have occurred in the world since World War II were derived from economic advance, not the outcome of military interventions.

The three entities that agreed on this initiative lack the necessary means to implement the plan. However, international funds that seek new markets and new opportunities, despite the risk involved, tend to be attracted to a regional development project such as this. If we can privatize part of the economy, why not privatize part of peace?

Therefore, we must propose to the Palestinians to enter into political/diplomatic negotiations on the only basis acceptable to the international community and to the Palestinians themselves—the already extant “road map”—and at the same time remove the yoke of economic distress through the development triangle.

No longer is the adage “a people will reside alone” valid. There are no front lines anymore, in war or peace.