Was Israel's 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon the right move - or a historic blunder?

Prof. Eyal Zisser tells Arutz Sheva that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon saved soldiers' lives - but also empowered Hezbollah

Yoni Kempinski ,

Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon
Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the termination of the security zone established in the area.

The controversial decision to pullout in May 2000 fulfilled a campaign promise by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who had unseated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a year earlier.

While the withdrawal was heavily criticized by the Israeli Right and Christian militias allied with Israel in southern Lebanon, supporters of the move argued the losses suffered by the IDF during the 15-year military presence in the south Lebanon security zone outweighed the benefits to maintaining the buffer.

Prof. Eyal Zisser, a scholar of Middle Eastern studies from Tel Aviv University, spoke with Arutz Sheva about the withdrawal, arguing that Israel’s rapid retreat across the border empowered terrorist elements both in Lebanon and inside of Israel.

“Indeed, less soldiers have been killed during the last 20 years. But Hezbollah has some 200,000 rockets that cover the entire territory of Israel that could paralyze Israel,” said Prof. Zisser.

“To those who say that there were constant clashes with Hezbollah, imagine today that we come to the Syrian issue and Iran’s efforts to establish themselves in Syria, and say that, well, because there might be clashes along the border, we should stop any activity against Iran and let Iran establish itself with hundreds of thousands of rockets inside of Syria. This is lunacy, this is unacceptable.”

“I think the answer is quite clear. Yes, we gained something tactical and paid heavily for it, but let me also remind you that the border with Lebanon is quiet not because of the withdrawal but because of the Second Lebanon War and the damage Israel inflicted on Hezbollah and the Shi’ites in Lebanon during this war. This is the reason for the fact that the border extremely quiet.”

Prof. Zisser also linked Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 to the eruption of the Second Intifada just months later.

“When you look at Lebanon, the [2000] withdrawal led to the Palestinian Intifada in 2000, and the Palestinian Intifada led to the Second Lebanon War. That’s how the Middle East is, everything is influenced by other events. Israel [withdrawing] sent a terrible message to the entire region.”

The decision to withdraw from Israel’s security buffer in southern Lebanon was, Zisser argues, made entirely based on the “narrow political considerations” of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

“The problem with the withdrawal was that it was [based on] a clear, very narrow political consideration. Barak wanted to win the election, and that’s why he gave this promised to get out of Lebanon without taking into consideration the military aspects.”

Prof. Zisser criticized not only the decision to withdraw, but also the way in which the withdrawal was carried out.

“The second problem is if you want to get out, you have to do it in a way that will not send a negative message. When you look at the Israeli presence, there was a reason for it. It’s not like one day we just decided to go into Lebanon. There were terrible, bloody terrorist attacks from Lebanese territory against Israeli civilians – kids – in settlements along the border.”

“Then the struggle against Hezbollah was very successful. Yes, we paid the price, but it was very successful. To come today and say [Israel’s presence in south Lebanon] was a tragedy or a terrible mistake is wrong.”