The roots of the 2006 escalation of the
Arab-Israeli conflict can be traced to Israel’s withdrawal of its
military forces from southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, and
from the Gaza Strip, dominated by Hamas.
The withdrawal from
southern Lebanon took place in May 2000. Israel had maintained a
military presence there since 1982, when it first deployed troops as
a means of combating terrorist groups that were using the region as a
launching pad for artillery attacks against northern Israeli towns.
During its occupation of south Lebanon, Israel repeatedly stressed
that it had no territorial ambitions within the borders of its
northern neighbor, and that it sought only to protect its own people
from further attack. In a 1985 effort to encourage peaceful
coexistence, Israel largely withdrew from Lebanon, keeping only a
small 1,000-man military force in a strip of territory extending
eight miles into that country’s southern region. Israel pledged
that it would withdraw those troops as well, in return for a stable
security situation on its northern border.
When this final
withdrawal eventually occurred in May 2000, Hezbollah depicted the
event as a great victory for the Muslim "resistance" and
vowed to continue its effort to destroy Israel. During the ensuing
years, Hezbollah worked to undermine Israel by establishing a
terrorist infrastructure inside Israel and in Judea, Samaria and the
Gaza Strip; smuggling weapons and terrorists across Israel's borders;
and giving financial support to militant Palestinian organizations.
Moreover, between 2000 and 2006 Hezbollah armed itself with at least
10,000 military rockets (with ranges of 12 to 40 miles), supplied by
Syria and Iran, which it fired at Israeli cities.
major Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory took place in September
2005, when the Jewish state pulled all its troops and civilian
settlers out of Gaza, again in hopes of fostering peaceful
coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors. But this withdrawal was
likewise received with defiant claims of victory by Hamas, which
claimed that the “Zionist enemy” had suffered a humiliating
“defeat,” and went on to announce that it would continue to
pursue its own goal of destroying Israel. For its perceived role in
driving Israel out of the area, Hamas gained immense popularity in
Gaza and quickly became the region’s major political force,
effectively taking control of the Palestinian government with
landslide electoral victories in 2006.
From September 2005 to
July 2006, some 800 Qassam rockets were fired from Hamas-controlled
Gaza into Israeli towns and cities, most notably Sderot, located just
three miles from the Palestinian border. On June 11, 2006, Hamas
spokemsan Abu Oviyada candidly declared, “We have decided to turn
Sderot into a ghost town and we will not stop the rocket fire until
the residents leave.” Such attacks were nothing new in Sderot;
between 2001 and 2005, Gaza terrorists had already fired more than
2,000 Qassams into the Israeli town.
In addition to the
rocket attacks, Gaza’s Palestinians in the post-September 2005 era
also targeted Israelis via vehicle bombings, suicide bombings, sniper
attacks, stabbings, stonings, open gunfire in crowded places, the
development of chemical weapons, and the smuggling of TNT and mine
components into Israel.
On May 28, 2006, Hezbollah launched a
barrage of large Katyusha rockets from Lebanon into an Israeli
Defense Forces (IDF) base in northern Israel, igniting cross-border
clashes and Israeli Air Force retaliation. According to Lebanon's
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, “Agents working for the axis of Tehran
and Damascus arranged the rocket volley [against Israel] to create
instability in Lebanon and bring conflict to our borders. … They
are trying to prevent the Lebanese army from implementing authority
in [areas controlled by Hezbollah.] Also Syria has an economic goal
in that it wants to stop investments into Lebanon by making our
Israel directed tens of thousands of its border-town residents
into bomb shelters as it carried out retaliatory air strikes against
two bases used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,
which maintains close ties to Hezbollah and the Syrian government.
United Nations peacekeepers quickly brokered a cease-fire between
Israel and Hezbollah.
Then on May 30, Israel sent commando
units deep into the northern Gaza Strip to repel the rocket-firing
squads whose attacks on Israeli towns were continuing unabated. On
June 28, Israeli troops and tanks entered the southern Gaza Strip in
an incursion intended to force the release of an Israeli soldier who
had been kidnapped three days earlier by Palestinian militants who
had sneaked into an Israeli army outpost through a tunnel under the
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah
decisively opened a second front in the Arab war against Israel when
it conducted a surprise raid on a border post in northern Israel,
taking two IDF soldiers captive and wounding eleven others. The
abductions, which Israel called an act of war, prompted an Israeli
military campaign against Lebanon, to which Hezbollah responded by
firing, over the next month, more than 4,000 rockets across the
Lebanese border and into Israeli cities. Hezbollah launched its
rockets from civilian areas in Lebanon, making it impossible for
Israel to retaliate without causing civilian casualties, which
Hezbollah then exploited for propaganda purposes.
14, Hezbollah struck an Israeli Saar 5-class missile ship
and an Egyptian-crewed cargo ship with highly sophisticated C-802
anti-ship missiles. Manufactured in China, these missiles
require highly trained operators to crew them -- a function that most
likely was performed by Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops.
On July 15, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech
that his organization was prepared for "open war" with
Israel. "… We are ready for it -- war, war on every level."
By the night of July 17, fully one million Israelis were spending the
night in bomb shelters.
“It's not coincidental that we had
these two attacks and they're pretty much coordinated -- in the south
with Hamas and with Hizballah in the north,” Israel's ambassador to
the U.S. Daniel Ayalon said, noting that both groups are supported by
Tehran and Damascus.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah said that
they would release their Israeli captives only in exchange for
thousands of their own members who were then serving time in Israeli
prisons. Israel said that it would not engage in any prisoner
exchanges, and that it would cease its bombardment of terrorist
strongholds only if Hamas and Hezbollah agreed to suspend all rocket
attacks into Israel and unconditionally released the Israeli
In August 2006, after a month of combat, Israel and
Hezbollah agreed to a cease-fire under the terms of United
Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for "the
immediate cessation by Hezbullah of all attacks and the immediate
cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations."
Resolution called for the release of the abducted Israeli
soldiers only in the preamble, while also citing the need
to “settl[e] the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in
Israel." It further called “on the international
community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and
humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through
facilitating the safe return of displaced persons and ... also
to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the
reconstruction and development of Lebanon”; there was no mention of
reconstructing any damaged or demolished structures in Israel.
Moreover, the Resolution stipulated that the government of
Lebanon and UNIFIL
(United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) would "deploy their
forces together throughout the south," while Israel would
"withdraw all of its forces from southern Lebanon in parallel."
Israel's battle against Hamas, meanwhile, had no formal
ending but simply de-escalated. Before
long, Hamas and other Gazan terrorists resumed
their practice of firing rockets aimlessly, and with impunity, into