Secrets behind Israel’s historic withdrawal from Lebanon


by Ronen Bergman

In May 2000, Israeli PM Barak made a brave decision that surprised the world to pull the IDF out of southern Lebanon after 18 years. Behind the scenes was a fierce battle of ambitions and intrigue between Barak, the former IDF chief, and the IDF commanders at the time, who were strongly against the unilateral withdrawal. A new book by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilboa, based on secret internal research he did at the time for the intelligence community, reveals the decision-making process behind one of the most dramatic decision made by the Israeli government in recent decades.

A soldier delivered a sealed letter in a manila envelope, decorated with notes and warnings of its highly sensitive and classified nature, from the Military Intelligence chief’s office to the defense minister’s office, on February 27, 2000. The letter was addressed to “Ehud Barak, the prime minister and defense minister,” and stated, “The fact AMAN (Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate) was not asked to provide a focused intelligence assessment ahead of government discussions on the withdrawal from Lebanon constitutes a flaw in the process, denies government members of information and estimates (needed to make the decision) and undermines the role of AMAN as a national assessor.”

The head of AMAN at that time, Maj.-Gen. Amos Malka, scolds Barak in the letter, “For the first time since the formation of the current government, a significant discussion about the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon is taking place. The IDF and AMAN were not invited to this discussion in order to provide our assessments. I consider it very strange that AMAN was not asked to give its assessment and this, in my opinion, undermines the upcoming discussion about the matter. The different forums of the political echelon – the prime minister and defense minister, the cabinet and the government – have not been privy to an in-depth intelligence assessment on this central issue.

“…It is clear to me as it is to you that AMAN’s assessment on the issue of a unilateral withdrawal does not exactly match that of some members of government. Yet we must insist that this assessment be presented. You can contradict this assessment, you can accept it, you can also criticize it, but it is inappropriate to prevent its delivery.”

The letter was a part of the growing tensions between Barak and Malka, and essentially between Barak and the IDF’s top command. The existence of letter and its contents comprise selected excerpts from Amos Gilboa’s new book “The true story of how Israel left Lebanon (May 2000) codenamed: ‘Dawn.’” The letter highlights one of the crises, but not necessarily the most severe, between the IDF and Barak over the withdrawal from Lebanon. Barak had promised the public that he would leave, while most generals intensely opposed such a move if it is not part of an agreement with Syria.

Gilboa was the head of the Research Division of AMAN in the early 1980s and is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable minds in the intelligence community’s history. He doesn’t remember many incidents of this sort either. “It seems to me that Malka’s letter is unprecedented, and serves as a rebuke of the political establishment by the military establishment over incorrect conduct,” he said. “This is the first manifestation of the disconnect between the political and military establishments, which would only become deeper and take the ugly form of leaks to the press.”

In the past 15 years, Gilboa has authored a number of internal investigative reports for AMAN, referred to as “methodological discussions,” whose aim was to draw lessons from historical events – some successful, most not very much so – from the annals of the State of Israel and its intelligence community.

For his research of the exit from Lebanon, Gilboa received access to all the relevant documents, recordings, transcripts, and discussion summaries (including the detailed personal diary of then-IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz). He also interviewed all parties involved. While the military censor has classified most studies, it approved the study on the withdrawal from Lebanon for publication, and this is what Gilboa’s book is based on.

The book is fascinating. The unprecedented access given to Gilboa, as well as his time-honed research abilities, make it read like both a suspense story and an important – and sometimes quite grim – documentation of the Israeli decision-making process. Gilboa spares no one, and few people come out unscathed. Barak comes across as a groundbreaking and visionary statesman, but also as one who adopted a disorderly decision-making process in addition to being indifferent to the suffering of the soldiers of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) – the militias Israel established to aid it in its fight against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon – and their families.

The top IDF command at the time is portrayed as being closed-minded for its continued opposition to a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, despite emerging realities, but also as more sensitive to important and human issues than Barak.

The names of the players in this story are quite interesting: Ehud Barak stars alongside Gabi Ashkenazi, Gadi Eisenkot, Benny Gantz, Amos Gilad, Amos Malka and many other senior figures who continue to play a major role in Israel’s history.

Preventing a public panic

Gilboa deals with the withdrawal from Lebanon and not the IDF’s 18 years in the area that preceded it, but he employs data that indicates the cost, power, and magnitude of the Israeli presences there: From June 1985 until the beginning of 2000, the IDF sustained 235 fatalities in Lebanon (not including the 73 who died in 1997 when two helicopters crashed). The number of SLA fatalities reached more than 500.

“It is hard to understand, hard to believe,” says Gilboa, “you can’t help but raise a few troubling questions: Why did it take so long to reach the decision to leave Lebanon once and for all? Why wasn’t it decided by prime ministers that came before Barak?”

Barak was the first to escape the mental stagnation. In his view, as presented in the remarks he made to the General Staff on March 9, 2000, for which Gilboa has the transcript, “for the past 18 years, Israel has been in Lebanon, ‘surrendering’ to the Syrians, giving them an unusual opportunity to constantly draw the blood of its soldiers. What is our interest in this? What does Israel gain from the fact that it continues to hold the security zone in southern Lebanon? Nothing! Only casualties, only an internal split. Why should we give Hezbollah the legitimacy to lead the Lebanese fight against us, attack the IDF, and make the entire north of Israel a constant target for their rockets? Is the security zone really providing security for Israel?”

Gabi Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak before the decision to create the security zone (Photo: Yaakov Ben Alfi/GPO)

Gabi Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak before the decision to create the security zone (Photo: Yaakov Ben Alfi/GPO)

On March 1, 1999, the day after the top IDF commander in southern Lebanon, Brig.-Gen. Erez Gerstein, was killed in an ambush in Lebanon, Barak promised that if he wins the election and forms a government, the IDF will withdraw from Lebanon within a year and Israel will be “deep in discussions with Syria on a permanent settlement.” When he won the election, he quickly worked to fulfill this promise.

Barak gave priority to conducting secret negotiations with Syria over the Palestinian issue because he believed it was simpler. He believed he would succeed in reaching a comprehensive agreement with Syria, which would also include the question of the IDF’s presence in Lebanon and the disarmament of Hezbollah – or at least secure a Syrian commitment to stop the organization’s activities against Israel.

Here was the central fallacy behind the Israeli preparations, especially the military’s, for the withdrawal. Gilboa says that “Barak ordered the IDF to prepare for the evacuation from Lebanon as part of a comprehensive peace agreement with Syria. Such withdrawal is very convenient for the military: neat, not done under fire, not during the chaos of fighting, and it’s known ahead of time that the border will be quiet, a peaceful border.

“The Northern Command prepared itself for withdrawal even without an agreement with Syria. Preparing the border when you have an agreement is 180 degrees different from preparing it if you exit without one. Ashkenazi said to Barak, ‘If I pull out without an agreement – it will be under fire,’ but Barak instructed them not to produce any official paperwork that deals with a withdrawal sans an agreement. Perhaps he feared that the existence of such administrative work will make the option of unilateral withdrawal, which he really did not want, possible. And above all, he feared that it will despair the SLA and break it.”

Barak understood that a unilateral withdrawal would be interpreted as a retreat and a submission to Hezbollah’s IEDs, so he took care to only talk about a withdrawal following an agreement in his speeches and briefings to the General Staff. The prime minister and defense minister, according to sources familiar with the matter, knew that the military would strongly resist withdrawal and feared that if he were to allow preparations for it during a time of fighting, the information would be leaked to the media and cause public panic.

At the end of 1999, Barak sought to reach an agreement with Syria and meet with President Assad. But the more time passed without the attempts bearing fruit, the more he apparently realized that there’s a possibility that the retreat would look different than planned. On October 14, 1999 Barak summoned IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and told him that he would make every effort to ensure the withdrawal follows an agreement, but that “Mofaz as COS has to prepare the IDF for withdrawal from Lebanon under fire and pillars of smoke.” On the other hand, he still barred Mofaz from ordering the IDF to conduct written preparatory work on the subject.

Israel, with Barak’s support and the mediation of President Clinton, continued to make an effort to reach an agreement with Syria. Its highlights were the meeting between Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa in Shepherdstown and in Clinton’s meeting with Assad in Geneva in March 2000. But all these attempts failed miserably.

According to records made by Mofaz on February 8 during his meeting with the Military Secretary to the Prime Minister, Eisenkot, and a group of senior officers of the General Staff, Barak asked Mofaz to stay behind for a private talk (alongside Eisenkot, who is present in all meetings). “I made every effort for the negotiations with Syria to succeed, but we failed,” said Barak. “It’s clear to me that we need to start preparing for the possibility of evacuation from Lebanon without an agreement.”

Mofaz responded, saying, “Does this mean that your political decision not to prepare administrative work in relation to a unilateral withdrawal is no longer in effect? That I can begin to formally plan a withdrawal without an agreement?”

Barak answered, “We should not do it all at once, but gradually. We can go on saying that the priority continues to be at this stage withdrawal following an agreement, while starting to prepare for the possibility of evacuation without an agreement.”

“I understand,” muttered Mofaz, and it was at that very second, he later told Gilboa, that he clearly and sharply recognized that the withdrawal will be done with no agreement.

“As you know,” Barak interrupted his thoughts, “this is a most sensitive issue. We should make every effort so that preparations for a unilateral withdrawal will not be seen outwardly, and we must maintain a high degree of classification and keep as few people in the loop as possible. It is very important that the SLA not know about this! I plan to meet with all the battalion commanders and senior officers of the SLA soon in order to raise their morale.”

At that point, Barak actually came to terms with reality, but wasn’t willing to give the military an unequivocal directive. The plans trickle down to the General Staff and create strong opposition among its members. In the concluding remarks to his book, which deal with the lessons learned from this event that he recommends decision-makers take to heart, Gilboa writes of the former prime minister, “Even if Barak needed secrecy, especially on the eve of departure, the general picture displayed in front of us is one that shows a culture of defeatist action: Compartmentalization, secrecy, not involving professional entities in the process, private conversations with no protocol, no records. It seems like the process is conducted in the dark, as if surreptitiously, and it just seems like the conductor of this piece has no orchestra.

“This pattern of behavior created tension between Barak and the military leadership from the start, which harmed (Barak) himself and his status, spilled over into the public sphere, and poisoned the public atmosphere and (Barak’s) personal relationship with Maj.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. This substandard conduct was what, in part, caused resistance to his decision to withdraw from Lebanon without an agreement with Lebanon. The quality of the historic decision he made was damaged by the substandard way in which it was made and implemented.”

To the last centimeter

The AMAN assessment, written by head of Research Division Maj.-Gen. Amos Gilad (who is now the director of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the Defense Ministry) was quite frightening. “A withdrawal without an agreement leaves no chance for quiet,” Gilad said in an internal discussion at the Research Division. “Will we be able to move freely along the border when Hezbollah’s men are just a few dozen meters away? It is very possible that at first, a few months after the withdrawal, it will be quiet, as Hezbollah settles down and improves its deterrent capabilities, but then we can expect terror attacks. And the terror attacks wouldn’t just be on the Lebanese border, but also abroad and deep inside the borders of the State of Israel.”

A “Special intelligence evaluation – expected developments following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, March 3,” which was distributed to the political and security echelons, stated, among other things, that “Most of the attacks will be directed against military targets along the border fence (in particular IDF outposts that remain inside Lebanon), but because of the situation on the ground, these attacks will also endanger civilian areas and severely affect the quality of life and sense of security of the residents of northern Israel.” In short, a gloomy prophecy.

Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and the IDF adopted AMAN’s strict assessment, and added to its gravity. The IDF’s grave assessment was leaked to the media by “senior officials at the General Staff.”

Gilboa states that “The problem with AMAN’s assessments was that they did not point to any prospects or benefits of the withdrawal. AMAN’s tune was always that of military marches.”

The day-to-day battle between the government – mostly led by then-education minister Yossi Sarid – which wholeheartedly supported the withdrawal even if there was no agreement, and the IDF leadership, which strictly opposed it. It was against this backdrop that Barak decided to remove AMAN from the decision-making process, and did not invite the intelligence heads to present their position to the government, a move that led to the unprecedented letter from Maj.-Gen. Malka described above.

Things went so far that there were some who advised Barak to dismiss part of the General Staff in fear that they will not follow his orders during the evacuation. Barak refused and said that he had no doubt that the IDF “will conform to the political leadership’s views.”

During a cabinet meeting that Malka did end up attending, one of the ministers yelled at him: “You present a development in which any decision will lead to attacks, and our situation will bad. You’re basically telling us a unilateral withdrawal is not good, and that the government’s decision is wrong.”

Before Mofaz could come to the defense of the AMAN commander, Malka responded: “First of all, what I say is partly based on solid information. Secondly, AMAN has no position on a unilateral withdrawal. It is neither in favor nor against it. The political decision has been made. All AMAN is doing is describe, as best as it can, the possible consequences for Israel, both good and bad.”

Without an agreement with Syria, the Coordinator of the Activities of Israeli Government in Lebanon and Syria, Uri Lubrani, and his deputy, Col. Dr. Reuven Erlich, proposed an idea that some in the IDF considered absurd and preposterous: to withdraw from Lebanon with UN confirmation that Israel withdrew to the international border, according to Resolution 425 of the Security Council in 1978 (following the Litani Operation). The objective was to receive legitimacy from the world and essentially refute the claims made by Hezbollah, Lebanon and Syria that they are fighting Israel over land it stole from Lebanon.

Gilboa relates, “Barak decided that there won’t be a unilateral withdrawal, but rather withdrawal following an ‘agreement’ with the United Nations. I believe that herein lies the unique nature of the decision, which is based on the perception that international legitimacy for the withdrawal, and for Israeli retaliation if it should be attacked from Lebanon, is in itself a strategic asset for Israel’s security and eliminates any justification for attacks against Israel from Lebanese territory.”

But where will the border with Lebanon pass? Here began a long saga, leading the Israeli, American, French, Lebanese and many other experts who were recruited for the task, to researching maps from the beginning of the 20th century, Lebanese deeds that included the country’s map, the UN archives in East Talpiot in Jerusalem, ownership documents over agricultural land which were examined with the help of aerial photographs, three-dimensional renderings, and much electronic equipment.

Gilboa: “It was clear to Israel that only a complete withdrawal from all the territories to the last centimeter, according to UN definitions, would lead the secretary general to declare that Resolution 425 has been implemented.”

In order to reach the desired outcome, Barak instructed the IDF, once again in the face of fierce opposition, to prepare to evacuate any outpost that is even a few meters inside Lebanon – even intelligence posts that have important strategic significance for Israel.

“The political leadership is determined to implement Resolution 425,” cynically said one of the generals in the General Staff, according to the transcript of a meeting at Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz’s office on March 11. “And what the prime minister has already stated regarding that essential outpost: If we can keep it, great. If we can’t, then we simply can’t!”

The AMAN Unit 8200 learned that the Lebanese, Hezbollah and the Syrians were completely surprised by the Israeli move. No one there expected that Barak would keep his promise. The Syrians, who felt that an Israeli withdrawal takes away the legitimacy of their presence in Lebanon, initiated a move to sabotage the withdrawal – Lebanon suddenly told the UN that the Shebaa Farms (Mount Dov) belong to Lebanon and not Syria, and therefore Israel must evacuate that area as well.

The UN told the Lebanese that it does not accept their position on the Shebaa Farms, and that Secretary-General Kofi Annan intends to firmly state this in his report to the Security Council, but the Lebanese dug their heels in. The Syrians worked to pressure the UN to recognize that the territory is Lebanese, while Hezbollah in turn stated that if the IDF remains in the Shebaa Farms, the organization will continue to attack it. “This is the excuse, this is the area that Syria and Hezbollah chose to justify the continued terrorist activity after our departure from Lebanon,” AMAN’s Research Department concluded.

Barak decided to put the Syrians to the test: He told the Americans that as far as he is concerned, he has no issues with the Shebaa Farms. If the Syrians say it was an area given to Lebanon, then President Assad should have it in writing, thus confirming to the world that Syria is willing to give up part of the Golan Heights. Of course no such letter arrived from Assad, and Barak thus proved to the UN that the Syrian foreign minister was simply lying.

When the IDF is being intransigent

The UN planned to finish the mapping process and its talks with the sides by July of 2000, but new facts were determined on the ground. AMAN has been collecting more intelligence that Hezbollah was preparing a bloody farewell for the IDF that would include as many attacks and casualties as possible. “Hezbollah, with Syrian encouragement, was prepared to turn the withdrawal into a humiliation for Israel,” the head of the Research Department, Amos Gilad, said in one of the meetings. “The goal was to make it the withdrawal difficult for the IDF and turn it into a defeat.”

Meanwhile, the number of attacks against IDF and SLA soldiers sharply increased. The GOC Northern Command Ashkenazi was watching the SLA fall apart. Gilboa says, “Ashkenazi felt, perhaps more than anyone else, a moral responsibility for the fate of the SLA. So did Benny Gantz, the commander of the Lebanon Liaison Unit.” The book describes how Ashkenazi, upset, spoke up against abandoning the SLA and turning them into the biggest losers out of all the parties involved.

Ashkenazi was worried that the SLA will refuse to return the heavy weapons that Israel has given it. If the SLA failed to return the weapons, it was clear to all, the UN would not give the desired confirmation that Israel completely withdrew from Lebanon, and regardless – a bloody civil war would break out in Lebanon. The IDF’s assessments regarding the SLA were completely unrealistic, “a form of unfounded wishful thinking,” as Gilboa explains it, thinking that the SLA could continue to exist as small units in villages, with some of the weapons supplied by Israel and its secret support.

Hezbollah, incidentally, had other plans. It announced that any SLA soldier who kills one of the SLA and IDF’s senior commanders and leaves the security zone, will be pardoned.

The SLA’s disintegration began with one battalion, the Shi’ite battalion, and it spread quickly throughout the entire army. General Antoine Lahad, who received a promise from Barak that Israel would continue supporting him and the SLA, left to visit his family in Paris, while relying on Barak’s promise. The IDF continued promising SLA their support – despite already knowing that this promise could not hold water.

The desertions from the SLA and the abandonment of outposts were accompanied by mass processions of Hezbollah supporters who “conquered” every outpost that was abandoned, breaking down the barriers, doing whatever they wanted. Mofaz and Ashkenazi briefly debated whether to send attack helicopters to stop the processions, and decide against it, in light of the risk of hurting the civilian population. They did order the preparation of an attack plan against Lebanese and Syrian targets in case fighting breaks out during or after the Israeli withdrawal.

AMAN chief Malka told Gilboa in interviews that he was jealous of Hezbollah’s propaganda, their psychological warfare capabilities, their talent to quickly understand the situation and maximize their exploitation of the media. “I would give their propaganda a commendation,” he said, “and give our hasbara a fail grade.” He remembers that while reading through intelligence material he noticed another thing in Hezbollah’s credit – it prevented looting and robbery in “liberated areas,” and with that reassured the local population.

‘I need another month!’

The GOC Northern Command’s biggest nightmare – a complete disintegration of the SLA, while the IDF is left alone facing Hezbollah in Lebanon – was becoming a reality. At this point, the beginning of May, the tables have turned: the Northern Command wanted to leave Lebanon as soon as possible so as not to jeopardize IDF soldiers further, while Barak wanted to postpone the withdrawal as much as possible to get the stamp of approval from the UN.

Ashkenazi wrote to the chief of staff, sending copies to many of the members of the General Staff: “Re: Bringing forward the withdrawal from the security zone … terrorist operatives have upped shooting attacks, there have been significant attempts to commit large-scale attacks, the pressure on the SLA is increasing, the time left allows Hezbollah to better prepare so they could inflict casualties during the withdrawal. Our deployment at the new border is not going improve during the time that is left anyway, not on the border fence and not in technological measures … therefore I recommend that you implement the withdrawal plan … within a day or two.”

Gilboa remarks, “Ashkenazi’s letter was interpreted by Barak as if the military was trying to spite him, as if the IDF was trying to force its will upon him and demonstrate to him that in the end, the military’s position is what matters. ‘Their mentality was, and remains, against a unilateral withdrawal,’ Barak kept telling himself.”

But even Barak could not keep ignoring the facts for long. Incidents became more frequent – more attacks, more deserters, more territories captured by Hezbollah, while the Lebanese army and UNIFIL – the UN’s international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon – were doing nothing.

On the morning of May 22, another dramatic matter came up, both related and not – Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s military commander and Israel’s number one most wanted target, was in the Israeli intelligence’s crosshairs, which knew Mughniyah was going to lead a delegation of senior Hezbollah official to southern Lebanon, to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal. Barak, who was at a political event in the north that day, called the heads of the military and the intelligence community to the headquarters of the regional brigade in Shomera to discuss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strike the most important terrorist in the world.

Eisenkot accompanied Barak to the meeting. Even Gantz and Kaplinsky, senior commanders in the Northern Command, were asked to leave the meeting because of its highly classified nature. Malka presented the information to the attendees. After a few minutes, Barak stopped him. “Keep gathering intelligence on the target,” he told him.

But that meeting to discuss Mughniyah very quickly became the most important meeting concerning the Israeli presence in Lebanon since the Begin government decided to invade the country in June 1982. Malka presented a general picture, in which he put an emphasis on the fact that Hezbollah was surprised by what is happening, and that it was planning a series of bombings in preparation for and during the IDF’s withdrawal, which he said Hezbollah believes would happen in a month. Ashkenazi described what is happening on the ground and the military consequences of that. Mofaz briefly presented the military’s recommendations.

Ashkenazi, according to his summary of the meeting, intervened at that point, declaring out aloud, “Prime Minister, we have to withdraw! It is better to leave now, there will not be a lot of casualties, Hezbollah is not ready for it, and we can surprise everybody. At the moment we have all the advantages, but within a few days we will lose everything and we will have all of the disadvantages.”

Barak responded, “I need time to exhaust the process of (resolution) 425, I need another month!”

But all of those present thought otherwise and pressured Barak to authorize an immediate withdrawal.

Barak to Mofaz: “How many troops will we need to send into the security zone if the SLA completely collapses everywhere except in the Druze areas?”

Ashkenazi: “Two infantry brigades and an armored brigade.”

Barak (who was reportedly surprised by the size of force that would be needed to enter Lebanon): “Gabi, would you be able to leave Lebanon with a minimum amount of casualties and no fire on the State of Israel?” Ashkenazi said yes.

Barak returned by helicopter to Tel Aviv and called an urgent meeting at the defense minister’s office with his deputy (Ephraim Sneh), the defense ministry’s director-general, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yaron, and his Military Secretary Eisenkot. With a grave face, he discussed the situation they were facing and decided to ask the cabinet that same evening to give the IDF the freedom of action to decide when to withdraw to the international border in accordance with Resolution 425. When everyone got up to leave, Barak asked Mofaz to stay behind. Eisenkot also stayed.

“Can you withdraw as early as tonight? Is Gabi ready?” Barak wanted to know. Mofaz was shocked, paused, and then replied: “We can withdraw tonight!” “Then you have my authorization to withdraw,” Barak replied.

Gilboa comments, “At this point Barak demonstrates, in his own unique way of management, the decision-making ability of a politician who is no longer fighting the cruel reality. He understands that this is exactly the right moment, literally, to make the tactical decision.”

Mofaz went to his office and called Ashkenazi on an encrypted phone. Ashkenazi affirmed that they would be able to withdraw the following night, within 24 hours. Mofaz then updated Barak. Barak nodded his head in understanding, “We are set for tomorrow night. In a bit I will conduct a phone survey among the cabinet members, getting them to leave the freedom of action on the withdrawal in the hands of the IDF. Of course they will not know about our understanding that the withdrawal will be tomorrow.” Barak paused, thought on it for a moment and added, “As long as there are no leaks from the Northern Command.”

“In this way,” Gilboa narrates, “the decision was made on the time of departure from Lebanon. Orally, with only three people present. There is no written document about it, no directive from the IDF’s Operations Division.”

Because the decision excluded the General Staff, the next morning’s meeting was a strange one – only the chief of staff, his assistant and Eisenkot know the truth, that the die had already been cast and the withdrawal would be that very night. The rest of the generals have no clue.

Ashkenazi kept his promise to withdraw IDF forces without any casualties. “This is a historic event for the IDF and the State of Israel, where the IDF concluded its presence in Lebanon after 18 years, and redeployed to the international border,” thus Mofaz began his report during a video conference of the General Staff on May 24, at 7:30am.

Gilboa elucidates, “However, this event was branded in the national and international consciousness unjustifiably differently – the Israeli media reports about the IDF’s escape from Lebanon. This is the motto that so unjustly stuck to the IDF, this is how it will be etched into the collective consciousness.”

Gilboa’s conclusion and the insights from his research are twofold. On the one hand, Barak’s move to get international legitimacy was a positive one. “It is unfortunate that in 2005, when we left Gaza, the withdrawal was completely unilateral, without any agreement with the Palestinian Authority or the UN, without any international legitimacy. The lesson left by Barak – the need for international legitimacy – was not learned or implemented. To date, there has been no international recognition of our withdrawal, and Gaza is still considered occupied territory by most countries in the world. This despite the fact the IDF fully withdrew from the Gaza Strip, all the way to the Green Line (Israel-Egypt border in 1967).”

On the other hand, “On July 12, 2006, the deterrence on the Lebanese border was shattered when two soldiers were abducted and the Second Lebanon War began. The main conclusion, in my opinion, is that the withdrawal itself and the international legitimacy do not provide a complete deterrent, certainly not for an extended period of time, and should be supplemented with military moves. Historically, the Second Lebanon War can be seen as a necessary move to supplement the May 2000 withdrawal. In that war (that was managed in such a poor manner), full long-term deterrence was achieved, primarily thanks to the destruction of Dahiya in Beirut, meaning the destruction of Hezbollah’s stronghold, in the most cruel and merciless manner.”


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