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Operation Change of Direction

On 12 July 2006 eight IDF soldiers were killed and two kidnapped, following an attack by Hizbullah on the border with Lebanon. Hizbullah simultaneously launched Katyusha attacks against Israel. The IDF responded with Operation Change of Direction. The situation created in the six years since Israel's total withdrawal from Lebanon prompted Israel to take action to achieve two objectives for the defense of its population - the removal of the Hizbullah terrorist and missile threat, and the establishment of long-term stability along its northern border. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was tasked to destroy Hizbullah's armaments and outposts.

The action against Hizballah seemed to constitute an effort by Israel to neutralize the rocket threat prior to strikes against Iran's WMD facilities. Israel told its allies that if the free world is unable to form a united front against Hizbullah, then it will be unable to convince Teheran that it is truly serious about stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program. Muslim critics of the Israeli action claimed that Israel had been planning to move against Hezbollah and Lebanon. It was claimed that these plans were made in the Summer of 2005, and that the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was seen as simply an excuse to implement a plan that had been in the works for quite some time.

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, in his press conference after the 12 July attack, presented his list of ransom demands for the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers. It included a demand for the release of Hamas inmates as well as members of Hizbullah. This was taken as an indicatiion of the fact that the level of coordination of these two groups was not just ideological but operational as well.

The Israeli formula for the basic building blocks of a solution would include the release of Israel's abducted soldiers, the disarming of Hizbullah, the exercise of Lebanese government sovereignty throughout its territory and the deployment of the Lebanese army southward to the border, in full implementation of UNSC Resolution 1559.

Israel's stated objectives were threefold:

  • First, regarding southern Lebanon, Israel wished to preserve the gains of the current military campaign, whereby Hizbullah had been removed from the border region.There was general agreement that, based on past experience, a United Nations force would be unable to carry out the task. Instead, Israel said it would agree to consider stationing a battle-tested force composed of soldiers from European Union member states, which would control the crossings between Lebanon and Syria, deploy in southern Lebanon, assist the Lebanese Army, and oversee the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the disarming of Hizbullah.
  • Second, regarding the Hizbullah's long-range missiles which are fired at Israeli civilians from beyond the border zone - unless Hizbullah disarms itself willingly, this threat must be addressed. According to Israel, it is the responsibility of the political echelon in Lebanon to ensure that Hizbullah does not rearm in the future. If this effort fails, Lebanon will revert back to the same situation that precipitated the current conflict.
  • Third, the Hizbullah must be prevented from re-arming. This would ensure that, after the military operations cease, Iran will be prevented from sending more weapons and cadre to Hizbullah, and that Syria will no longer assist this passage of men and materiel through its airports and border crossings. This will require close monitoring of the possible routes into Lebanon from Syria or elsewhere.

Israel and the United States viewed the threat is a regional threat, involving an axis of terrorists and sponsor-states, including Hizbullah, Hamas, Syria and Iran. Israeli Foreign Ministry Deputy DG Gideon Meir said at press conference (July 13): "Lebanon is not the only responsible party. Hizbullah would not be able to operate in Lebanon without clear Syrian sponsorship. Iran is the main benefactor of the Hizbullah. It provides funding, weapons and directives for this terrorist organization. For all practical purposes, Hizbullah is merely an arm of the Teheran Jihadist regime. Israel views Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran as primary elements in the Axis of Terror and Hate threatening not only Israel but the entire world." PM Olmert, in a meeting with new Israeli ambassadors (July 18), said "The timing of the action in the north was coordinated with Iran to divert international attention from the Iranian issue."

A senior Iranian army officer stated on July 16, 2006 to the Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat that the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guard set up dozens of advanced rocket and missile bases in the Lebanon Valley and along the border with Israel. Between 1992 and 2005 Hizbullah received some 11,500 short to medium range missiles and rockets. The official also said Hizbullah was in possession of four types of advanced ground-to-ground missiles: Fajr missiles with a range of 100 kilometers, Iran 130 missiles with a range of 90-110 kilometers, Shahin missiles with a range of up to 150 kilometers and 355 millimeter rockets with a 150 kilometer range. On Friday night, July 14, Hizbullah demonstrated a previously unknown capability when it fired a sophisticated, Iranian-made, radar-guided ship-to-shore missile at an Israel Navy missile boat, the INS Hanit, killing four sailors.

Israel publicly stated that it has only targeted facilities which directly served Hizballah in their attacks against Israel. For example, Israel claimed to have targeted the Beirut International Airport and the Beirut-Damascus Highway because they were used by Hizbullah to re-supply itself with weapons and ammunition. Israel also targeted buildings, such as the Hizbullah Television studios, which it saw as acting as a vital means of communication for terrorist operatives. In some instances, Israel has argued that Hizballah militants have purposely hidden themselves and stockpiled their missiles in residential areas, thus endangering the surrounding populations. Indeed, many of the rockets fired at Israel were stored and launched from private homes, commandeered by Hizballah fighters wishing to shield their actions behind civilians in order to thwart Israel's response. Despite this, Israel has argued that it was taking care to reduce to a minimum the risk to which the population was exposed by, for example, having leaflets dropped urging residents to avoid certain Hizbullah installations.

But Israel, which placed responsibility on Lebanon, also initiated attacks against a broad range of Lebanese Infrastructure targets. Prime Minister Olmert said on July 12: "This morning's events were not a terrorist attack, but the action of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation. The Lebanese government, of which Hizbullah is a member, is trying to undermine regional stability. Lebanon is responsible and Lebanon will bear the consequences of its actions." - Foreign Minister Livni said on July 12: "Hizbullah is a terrorist organization, which is part of the Lebanese government. The international community, including the Security Council, has demanded, repeatedly, that the government of Lebanon dismantle Hizbullah. Lebanon has failed to act and today's aggression is the result."

According to Israel, the government of Lebanon was responsible for the Hizbullah threat. It provided the Hizbullah with official legitimacy and allowed its armed operations to proceed unhindered. Also according to Israel, Hizbullah would never have obtained the missiles and military equipment at its disposal had the Lebanese government not allowed this weaponry to reach Lebanon; and Hizbullah's threat along Israel's border would not have been possible were it not for the failure of the Lebanese government to deploy its forces in southern Lebanon. The Israeli view was that it was the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon to fulfill its obligation as a sovereign state to extend its control over its own territory, as called for by Security Council resolutions 425 and 1559.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the region on 24-25 July 2006and again on 29-31 July 2006 in an effort to negotiate a cessation of hostilities and a solution to the conflict. Discussions at the United Nations regarding a cease-fire centered on how a negotiated solution to the conflict would prevent further violence and how an international or Lebanese force would control southern Lebanon and disarm Hizbullah.

After 34 days of conflict, a UN-brokered cease-fire went into effect at 8:00AM local time on 14 August 2006. The UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1701 calling for a cessation of hostilities and an end to the conflict on 11 August. The Resolution called for the disarming of Hizballah and the reoccupation of southern Lebanon by the Lebanese army (assisted by international forces) and the eventual withdrawal of Israeli forces. Lebanon and Hizballah agreed to the resolution on 12 August and Israel agreed to the terms of the resolution on 13 August 2006.

In total, over the course of the conflict, as many as 4,500 rockets were launched into Israel and the IAF carried out more than 10,000 sorties. Approximately 12,000 Israeli buildings were damaged and $2 billion worth of damage done to the Lebanese infrastructure. The IDF estimated that over 500 Hizballah fighters were killed. The IDF reported 118 of its soldiers were killed and over 400 were wounded. UN officials estimated that of the 43 Israeli civilians killed and 75 seriously injured, of which one-third were Arab Israelis. Of the 1,191 Lebanese civilians killed and 4,405 injured, one-third were reported to be children.

Israel released an estimated 1 million cluster bomblets during the conflict, many of which remain undetonated. As of 4 October 2006, the UN reported that 14 people had died since the cease-fire as a result of these.

Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 1,000,000 Lebanese were displaced as a result of the fighting.

Despite the cessation of hostilities, as of 5 October 2006, Israel did not fully withdraw (a force remained in the Ghajar border zone) and Hizballah refused to disarm. Along with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the Lebanese army moved into the region south of the Litani River for the first time in 40 years; the area had been under Hizballah control prior to that. UNIFIL's troop deployment, comprised mainly of soldiers from Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, and France, was scheduled to reach 15,000 by the end of 2006.

Hizballah Leader, Hasan Nasrallah, declared victory over Israel on 14 August 2006 during an interview on Hizballah's al-Manar televison channel. He vowed never to disarm and never to give up the disputed Shebaa Farms region near the Lebanese-Israeli border. Conversely, U.S. President George W. Bush stated on 14 August 2006 that Hizballah had been defeated. He also said the 34-day conflict represented an important victory in the "war on terror".

The five pro-Syrian Shia members of the Lebanese cabinet resigned on 12 November 2006 after demands for veto power were rejected by the other members. The resignations came amid allegations by the United States that Hizballah and Syria were planning to topple the Lebanese government. On 13 November 2006, the Lebanese cabinet approved a UN plan for a tribunal to try the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

On 21 November 2006, Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese Minister for Industry, was assassinated in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut. Pierre Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, was the son of former President Amine Gemayel and a grandson of the founder of the Kataeb Party. Gemyael was known as a critic of Syria’s involvement in Lebanon’s affairs and was a member of the pro-Western March 14 Alliance. Speculation abounds about who was responsible for the assassination as both Hezbollah and the March 14 Alliance have made accusations.

On 30 November 2006, Hizballah called on its supporters to stage protests in Beirut with the aim toward brining down the government. The next day, in a move that mirrored the Cedar Revolution protests of March 2005, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators turned out to demand an end to the Lebanese government.

Nisrallah, in a 7 December 2006 video-linked speech to protests, promised to continue the demonstrations. Nisrallah added that he was open to negotiations and did not want to fight fellow Lebanese. In the speech, Siniora’s government was accused of cooperating with the Israelis to undermine Hizballah during Operation Change of Direction. Siniora responded by saying that the opposition would eventually have to agree to talks with the government.




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