Fighting Continues in Israel, Lebanon

David Makovsky
Director, Project on the Middle East Peace Process, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Thursday, July 20, 2006; 11:00 AM

David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was online Thursday, July 20, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest developments as fighting continues in Lebanon and Israel.

Read full coverage of the conflict in the Middle East.

The transcript follows.


Nogales, Ariz.: How can Bush's diplomacy of death ever be taken as an effort toward peace in the Middle east?

David Makovsky: US efforts seem to be a two-step process. First, due to the sense that the Lebanese government has not been able to control its southern border in 31 years, avoid band-aid solution which will be the opening for the next round of rocket fire against Israel. In the past, there was not a chance to avoid this, since Syria thwarted Lebanese efforts to police its border during its 29 years of occupation culminating with its ouster last year. This is the first post-Syrian era crisis. So Hizbullah needs to be removed from the border area, and this view is accepted by Arab and European leaders. This means providing Israel with the requisite breathing space for its operation.

The second part is galvanizing the international consensus on this issue including an Arab umbrella so the Lebanese Army can deploy in the south with a supplementary, augmented international stabilization force. Here US needs to work skillfully behind the scenes. Unprecedented Saudi criticism of Hizbullah, which like the US fears an Iranian proxy victory, should help shape the post-war diplomacy including a political, military and economic package for the government of Lebanon. Such a multilateral effort is vital.


Laurel, Md.: How much longer can this administration stand by and let Israel massacre civilians in Lebanon? Bush and Rice condemn Hezbollah (rightly so) every day for killing innocents, yet they stand by as Israel indiscriminately kill women and children and only ask Israel to "exercise restraint"?

And how come Israel seems to be targeting civilians? I understand how Hezbollah has weapons that are not targeted, but how does Israel justify the continued massacre?

David Makovsky: I respectfully disagree with you. If the Israelis wanted to indiscriminately murder Lebanese civilians with all the F-15s etc. at their disposal, there would not be 300 killed, but 30,000. This tells me they are avoiding indiscriminate killing. Here is the problem: Hizbullah doesn't play by the rules of a conventional army and fire from military bases, but rather fires from the heart of civilian neighborhoods believing this grants them immunity from Israeli retaliation. Israel has sought to avoid collateral damage by dropping leaflets in Arabic urging civilians to evacuate neighborhoods. Even if you don't believe they have a moral compass, their own self-interest dictates that misfired missiles could lose them support as this is what occurred after the Kana incident in 1996.


Hyattsville, Md.: Greetings, What, in your opinion, is the worst-case scenario that could develop out of the continued conflict along the Israeli-Lebanese border?

David Makovsky: Worst case scenario three fold:

1) Return to the status quo ante with only cosmetic changes. This guarantees more bloodshed in the future.

2) Hizbullah and Iranian patrons feeling emboldened. This could occur in a variety of ways--Hizbullah gets prisoners swap it wants (Israel won't allow this) or Iranians feel intl attention to the nuclear issue has been diverted. (I don't this will happen as UN Security Council is likely to vote in a few days. See today's Washington Post editorial.)

3) Instead of short forays, Israeli ground troops get stuck in southern Lebanon. Israel left Lebanon in 2000 with UN demarcating border, believing its southern buffer zone was ineffective due to scope of missiles. It does not want to reoccupy Lebanon for a variety of reasons, including a sense that it serves a rationale for the existence of terror groups under the guise of "resistance".


Arlington, Va.: Why are there so many Americans in Lebanon?

David Makovsky: Lebanon has been relatively quiet for the last few years, and many people flocked back to the country to visit family or enjoy its beautiful scenery. Among those who flocked back were Saudi princes, who before Lebanon's Civil War that began in 1975 referred to Lebanon as Switzerland of the Middle East.


Princeton, N.J.: From Basra to Mosul, Iraq is in total chaos. Afghanistan is only stable where the drug lords reign. The delicate balance in Lebanon has been destroyed. (Remember 30-40 percent of Lebanon is Shia.) If Israel attacks Syria, we could easily have chaos there, too. Remember Jordan is ruled by a minority (Bedouin) over the majority (Arab). Explain why it is good for the interests of Israel and the U.S. (which may differ) for most of the Middle East to be in chaos.

David Makovsky: Israeli officials have publicly made clear that they don't want to attack Syria. (It is already fighting on two fronts for the first time in a generation, 1973 war.) While some of Hizbullah's rockets are Syrian made and Damascus airport was transit site for an estimated 11,000 rockets from Iran, at this point, Israel hopes that Syria will not be able to resupply and this is explains why Israel was so focused on Lebanese bridges, to ensure no resupply (and also to avoid the two kidnapped soldiers from being spirited out of the country.) The Israelis sharply deny allegations of others that the move is punitive against the Lebanese population.


Falls Church, Va.: As a Lebanese-American, I would like nothing more then total defeat and elimination of Hizbollah. But at what cost? Reading the WP articles sent by Anthony Shadid about what is happening in Tyre, all over the south and elsewhere with fleeing families being torn to pieces despite white flags on their cars, I am dismayed at the course of action being pursued by Israel with U.S. support. We thought my parents in Achrafieh safe until two bombs were dropped on a construction site close to their house. People talk of inevitable "collateral damage"... What a way to sanitize the dismemberment of women and children. I fear that with each passing day, the Lebanese population will forget its anger about Hizbollah's actions that plunged us into this crisis and that many will get further radicalized in their hatred for Israel.

David Makovsky: First, I wish your family well, and hope they are not hurt. I also have a friend, whose daughter is there, and am concerned about her safety, as well.

Second, Israeli military officials have suggested they hope they can complete the operation within two weeks. I agree with you that a long-term Israeli ground presence will radicalize the population, and therefore, it is best if the Lebanese Armed Forces combined with a stepped-up international stabilization force be installed instead (current UNIFIL monitors have not stopped a single attack in any direction in years).

I would hope that more and more people in Lebanon ask Hizbullah tough questions when this crisis is over: why did you entangle us with the Israelis? They ended their southern buffer zone in 2000 and the border was demarcated by the UN. Lebanon was on its way to better days. Hizbullah, which runs for elections in the Lebanese parliament, as you knows cares about the wrath of the Lebanese people. If the Lebanese govt can be like every normal country and patrol its own borders instead of ceding the southern third of the country, Lebanon will enjoy more prosperous days. I hope the Lebanese people ask some tough questions of Hizbullah when this crisis ends.


Silver Spring, Md.: I find the media to be really one-sided on this war. Why is the media so pro-Lebanon and the U.S. government pro-Israel? For example, the news about Israel dropping fliers warning citizens of Lebanon where the next bombs will fall is something I've only read in Israeli news sources. U.S. news sources (you excepted) are not even reporting this surprising and important detail.

David Makovsky: I did see visual of fliers dropping plus their text in a CNN report, but did not do a survey on how well this was reported.

The nature of television is that it transmits human experience, and it will gravitate to where it sees the drama being greatest. Since Lebanon has more fatalities, loss of more infrastructure and the rescue by the US Navy is a human drama story with an American angle, I am not surprised by the TV coverage.


Toronto, Canada: In view of the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Louise Arbour's comments yesterday, is it likely that senior military figures and politicians in Israel will be charged with war crimes?

David Makovsky: I did not see his remarks so I cannot comment. Both US and Israel have feared the International Criminal Court would be very oliticized, so both have avoided participation.


Pafos,Cyprus: Did you know that 32 years ago to the date my island home, Cyprus, which is giving refuge to thousands of Americans and Europeans was itself the victim of a similar fate, an invasion by Turkey, which is still ongoing and with the Turkish Prime Minister on the island this very moment celebrating 32 years of occupation of 37 percent of Cyprus by the Turkish military?

Did you know that in that invasion Cyprus lost 10, 000 dead and still seeks the fate of 1620 missing persons?

David Makovsky: Thank you for bringing this to our attention.


Washington, D.C.: Why doesn't the U.S. threaten economic sanctions against Israel for the bombing of Lebanon and, in other areas, for settling in places they have agreed not to? Is it true that we give Israel a lot of economic aid? Not that I agree with Hezbollah either...I just think the U.S. shouldn't play favorites. Let's bring in Bill Clinton to negotiate!

David Makovsky: Are you suggesting that Israel is settling in Lebanon? As I mentioned to one of the previous e-mailers, Israel ended its 18 year ground presence in the southern buffer zone since it realized it was ineffective against longer-range missiles. As Israel left, US demarcated the border and verified its departure with UNSecurity Council Resolution 1310. It is interesting that the other place where Israel is facing rockets is coming from Gaza, where Israel left during the summer of 2005.

There is another similarity: both Hizbullah and Hamas are two rejectionist groups which freely admit that they would not recognize Israel even if it was the size of a phone booth in Tel Aviv. In short, with these two, the problem has not been occupation, but Israel's very existence.


San Francisco, Calif. : Whether or not the Israelis believe shelling a city, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths, is punitive is irrelevant. What do the majority of Lebanese believe? And what do they think of the U.S.? Do you think we will start seeing Lebanese suicide bombers in Iraq anytime soon?

David Makovsky: Yes, perception does become reality sometimes. I do not know how well Israel is communicating via Arab satellite channels to clear up misperceptions. If Israeli commanders are correct that operation will end fairly shortly, my sense is that Israel will gladly yield on ground to Lebanese Armed Forces and international stabilization force that keeps Hizbullah away from the border. As I noted to two of the previous e-mailers, Israel has learned that protracted occupation creates the pretext for Hizbullah, saying they are a "resistance" group, when in fact they attacked Israel many times even since they completely left Lebanon in 2000 including the recent unprovoked killing of some soldiers, and kidnapping of others.


Washington,D.C.: No I'm not suggesting that Israel is settling in Lebanon.

Can you answer my question about U.S. economic aid to Israel?

David Makovsky: The equation has been "land for peace" and even though Israel did not have an Arab partner in the last few years, it unilaterally left Gaza and Lebanon anyway, and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert was elected to take out the settlers from most of the West Bank. Take this altogether, and in my view, it would be fallacious to say that US economic aid to Israel is propping up hardline governments. To the contrary, it is precisely the friendship with the US that is giving Israel the confidence in taking the steps that it has taken until now.


re: Toronto: Wouldn't Hezbollah leader be more likely to be subject to prosecution for war crimes? Hiding military rocket facilities in civilian areas and deliberately firing rockets into neighborhoods sounds prosecutable to most rational people.

David Makovsky: I agree with you.


Beaufort, S.C.: Beyond supplying weaponry (as the U.S. does for Israel), how deeply involved are Syria and Iran in the current Lebanon conflict?

David Makovsky: There is wide speculation that Iran gave its approval to Hizbullah's crossing the intl border involving the killing/kidnapping of soldiers since it sought to achieve two objectives on the eve of the G-8 summit: 1)divert attention away from its nuclear standoff with the West 2)Remind West that Teheran has options in that faceoff, as it can lash out. Re: Syria, President Bush said that Syria is using crisis to reinsert itself back into Lebanon after it was forced out last year after a 29 year occupation.

We can say with certainty that Hizbullah used Iranian and Syrian missiles in this crisis, and both countries believe it is to their advantage to make Israel bleed and keep Lebanon unstable.


Washington, D.C.: Thank you very much for this opportunity.

Aside from the casualty numbers Lebanon has experienced, CNN is reporting that half a million Lebanese have been displaced because of Israel. This represents approximately ONE TENTH or more of the population of Lebanon. Is collective punishment and endangerment of all Lebanese justified simply to retrieve a couple of soldiers?

David Makovsky: There is always a danger on the reliability of statistics during wartime. Numbers fluctuate widely.

The issue is much greater than two soldiers. We've seen this border flare up endlessly for 31 years, and another meaningless band aid will only create the basis for another round. The underlying reality must change, whereby like every other normal country, Lebanon (not Hizbullah) patrols its own borders. Lebanon has not been allowed to patrol due to Syrian opposition, which controlled the country between 1976-2005. This is the first crisis since Syria has been ousted. Hopefully, the outcome will be different this time, and bring a better future to both Lebanese and Israeli peoples. It might be worth noting that the US suffered a morning of terror on 9/11, and our response was to take down two regimes: Afghanistan and Iraq (I am not debating the merits of Iraq, so let's not go there). Israel has lived with the anomaly of 31 years, as its neighbor did not police its border. This has to change. Hizbullah, and its patron in Iran, should not be allowed to create a state within a state, and fire rockets that ignite the Middle East at a whim. It is insanity.


Roseville, Minn.: Your explanation of Israel's "right to defend itself" seems rather misleading. First, I do not recall any reports of rockets being fired into Israel by Hisbullah before the capture of Israeli soldiers a few days ago. Can you mention specifically when this happened recently so as to provide a trigger to Israel's indiscriminate destruction of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure? Second, is it not the case that Israel holds several thousand civilian Palestinians prisoners and also several Lebanese? Why are these not treated as examples of "terrorist acts?" Finally, my recollection of the Kana "incident" is that this occurred when Israel was -occupying- parts of Lebanon. Is your claim that resistance is illegal or an example of terrorism even under an occupation? And that bombardment of civilians (in the past in Lebanon, now routinely in the West Bank and Gaza) and collective punishment are legitimate responses on the part of Israel?

David Makovsky: I have only a few minutes left, and you asked many questions. There have been many rocket attacks since Israel left Lebanon in 2000, the UN demarcated the border and verified the withdrawal with UNSC 1310. Most of the attacks have been in Sheba Farms area, which the UN said is not part of Lebanon.

I am saying that there has been no Israeli occupation of Lebanon since 2000 and no Israeli occupation of Gaza since last years, but this is precisely where the rocket attacks have occurred. It seems to me this is because neither Hezbullah nor Hamas accept Israel's right to exist anywhere. I may add that Israeli PM Olmert is being undercut domestically, amid critics who say that Israeli withdrawal is tantamount to vulnerability. So, if you don't like the book in Gaza, don't see the movie in the West Bank which could be coming to a theater near them.


Dallas, Texas: I am a Lebanese American- however I deplore the actions of Hezbollah. Any reasonable person can see that they have started this conflict and, Israel is certainly entitled to strike back and strike hard! However- how can you justify bombing of civilian vehicles fleeing the south? I believe the Israeli government really doesn't care how many Lebanese they kill because to them that is irrelevant- their primary motive is to destroy Hezbollah and anything-virtually anything-that stands in their way. Not all means justify a noble end. Human beings are human beings, a Lebanese life is worth no less than an Israeli life.

David Makovsky: As I said to a previous e-mailer, if the Israelis wanted to fire indiscriminately against civilians as you are suggesting, I think there would be 30,000 dead instead of 300. They have the F-15s etc. My guess is that there has been very regrettable collateral damage, which happens when US is in Iraq and elsewhere.

I truly hope that the Lebanese people will hold Hizbullah accountable for this terrible violence, and strengthen the central government to take over the border area. Fanatics like Hizbullah should not have their hands on the trigger in such a sensitive area. Hopefully, if the US can galvanize a multilateral effort, the reality will change and the net result will be full dignity for Lebanese and Israelis alike, inshallah.


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