The Israeli Withdrawal from Southern Lebanon
(May 24, 2000)
Israel pulled all its troops out of southern Lebanon on May 24, 2000, ending a 22-year military presence there. All Israel Defense Force and South Lebanon Army outposts were evacuated and many were blown up. No Israeli soldiers were hurt, despite fire from Hezbollah at different stages of the operation. The following background paper was issued by the Israeli government.
On May 24, 2000, the Government of Israel completed the withdrawal of its forces from southern Lebanon to the international border, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425. The primary objective of this action is to ensure the security of Israel and its citizens, and to promote stability and peace in the region. Israel has no territorial aspirations in Lebanon, and hopes to see the Lebanese government restore and exercise its sovereignty and authority throughout the border region from which Israeli forces have left.
This background paper is meant to provide an overview of the various aspects of the Israeli withdrawal, the implementation of Resolution 425, and the ramifications for the region.
The implementation of Resolution 425 constitutes an important step forward, meant to bring about an end to the on-going terrorism and confrontation on the northern border, and to facilitate further progress in the peace process. Israel has reiterated that it remains committed to its goal of concluding peace treaties with Syria and Lebanon, and will continue in its efforts to achieve this.
Following the withdrawal, Israel hopes that peace and security will be restored to both sides of the international border. Israel further expects that the Government of Lebanon will take effective control of southern Lebanon, confident that the UN and the international community as a whole will undertake an effort to promote this goal.
Israel endeavored to carry out the withdrawal and the full implementation of Resolution 425 in cooperation with Lebanon. However, this option was not available, due to pressure brought to bear against Lebanon by external parties. Israel then chose to carry out the withdrawal unilaterally, rather than allowing its policy to be held hostage to the will of these parties.
Israel is aware of the intention of various parties to continue to wield the 'terrorist weapon' in Lebanon, even after Israel's withdrawal.
If, after the withdrawal, terrorism continues, Israel will react forcefully, in keeping with its legitimate and internationally recognized right of self-defense. This reaction will be directed against both the terrorist organizations and those parties which extend aid to these organizations.
If any party encourages, aids or facilitates terrorism against Israel from Lebanon following the withdrawal, Israel will view this as a clear act of aggression, and will respond in the appropriate manner. Any other country would act similarly under such circumstances.
2. The Implementation of 425:
Israel has announced that its withdrawal of forces from Lebanon has been undertaken in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 (1978).
In keeping with Resolution 425, Israel has redeployed its forces along the recognized international border between the two countries.
According to Resolution 425, the UN will take action to fill the vacuum that is created following the withdrawal of Israeli forces, and will deploy appropriate armed forces with the capacity to ensure the return of Lebanon's "effective authority" in the area.
Israel expects that, subsequent to its withdrawal from Lebanon and the restoration of Lebanese authority, the Government of Lebanon will fulfill the remaining obligations of Resolution 425, primary among them, the restoration of "international peace and security" to both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.
As part of its obligations under 425, the Government of Lebanon will bear the responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks against Israel from within its borders, as well as terrorist reprisals against individuals in those areas from which Israel has withdrawn. Furthermore, as long as other parties maintain presence and control in Lebanon, they also bear responsibility for events in the area.
Following the stalemate of the Israeli-Syrian peace talks, Syria is now conducting a diplomatic campaign to obstruct the full implementation of Resolution 425, while continuing to view Lebanon as a 'bargaining chip' to further Syrian interests in its conflict with Israel.
Syria has been laying the groundwork for continued attacks against Israel even after the withdrawal. To this end, Syria has been preparing Palestinian terrorist groups for armed operations, and has given free rein to Iran and its Hezbollah proxy, to establish and maintain an infrastructure meant to undermine stability and bring about escalation and violence in the area.
Similarly, Syria is pressuring the Lebanese government to raise a variety of objections as a pretext to obstruct and prevent a successful implementation of 425. An example of this would be linking 425 with an implementation of the "Right of Return" for Palestinian 'refugees' in Lebanon.
The Syrian objection to the implementation of Resolution 425 independently of Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) (claiming that this would violate the 'unity of the negotiating tracks') is unfounded. Resolution 425 was adopted in the limited context of the 'Litani Operation' of 1978, and not as part of the overall settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is to be based upon 242 and 338. Lebanese Foreign Minister Bouez confirmed this in his address to the 1991 Madrid Conference, in which he stated that 425 is to be considered a "separate and complete resolution".
The implementation of Resolution 425 has been a long-standing goal of Lebanese policy.
A large segment of the Lebanese public and leadership, from all of the country's various communities, opposes the Syrian attempt to subjugate Lebanese national interests to the Syrian political agenda.
5. The International Community:
The Israeli withdrawal is being conducted in full coordination with the UN, and constitutes an Israeli fulfillment of its obligations under Security Council Resolution 425 (1978).
With this in mind, Israel has worked closely with the UN, coordinating the withdrawal, marking the border and determining the character of the future role of the UN Interim Force (UNIFIL) which is active in the area.
Israel greatly appreciates the actions taken by the UN prior to the withdrawal, and is confident that the Security Council will act quickly to expand UNIFIL as called for by the Secretary General.
Israel has also briefed and coordinated its actions with world leaders, in order to make clear its intentions regarding the withdrawal and its future security options.
In discussions held with the highest political echelons in the United States, Europe, Russia and Asia, Israel's positions were well received, understood and supported.
Israel has made its position clear to all regional actors, both directly and through third parties. Today, there should be no room for misunderstandings or lack of clarity surrounding possible Israeli actions and reactions stemming from events in the north.
6. The Population of Southern Lebanon:
Israel is morally and politically committed to the safety and security of the soldiers of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) and the civil administration officials who worked alongside Israel for many years to protect the southern Lebanese population from the encroachment of terrorist organizations. This commitment forms an integral part of the Israeli government's March 5 decision to withdraw from Lebanon.
In this context, Israel is prepared to absorb any SLA soldiers or civil officials who choose to relocate to Israel, together with their families.
Israel is working closely with elements in the international community in order to promote the welfare and safety of those who decide to remain in southern Lebanon.
The restoration of peace and security to both sides of the border requires the Lebanese government to move beyond the events of the past, and to reintegrate the soldiers and citizens of southern Lebanon into the fabric of Lebanese life.
The oft-repeated declarations of Hezbollah leaders, stating their intention to 'execute' SLA soldiers following the withdrawal, are intended primarily to obstruct the full implementation of 425. These declarations stand in stark contrast to the feelings of the great majority of the Lebanese public and leadership which strive for national reconciliation after the Israeli withdrawal.
Together with its goal of achieving calm and tranquility along its northern border, Israel also views this withdrawal as being a catalyst for the achievement of peace with all of its northern neighbors.
All parties who are interested in promoting Arab-Israeli reconciliation must remember that a stable Lebanon is an indispensable element of a comprehensive Middle East Peace. Lebanon and Israel desire this peace and the people of the region deserve it.
Source: Israeli Government Press Office