Yesterday marked the twenty-year anniversary of the IDF’s abandonment of its security zone in southern Lebanon, which it had held onto following the First Lebanon War of 1982. To Gershon Hacohen and Efraim Karsh, the withdrawal was a fateful mistake, effectively handing a victory to Hizballah, the Iran-backed terrorist group that had waged an eighteen-year guerrilla war on the IDF and its Lebanese allies:
With [Hizballah’s] secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah famously deriding Israel as “weaker than a spider web,” the organization launched repeated attacks on targets in northern Israel at a rate of half-a-dozen per year. These began as early as October 7, 2000—a mere four months after the withdrawal—with the abduction of three IDF soldiers on a border patrol (who, it later transpired, were killed in the attack), culminating in the July 12, 2006 abduction of two more soldiers (who, too, were killed in the process) and the killing of another three in a cross-border raid that triggered the Second Lebanon War. During that war, Hizballah fired some 4,000 rockets and missiles on Israeli towns and villages—the largest attack on the Jewish state’s population centers since the 1948 War of Independence—killing 45 civilians, inflicting massive destruction and economic damage, and driving thousands of Israelis to flee their homes to the southern parts of the country.
Moreover, argue Hacohen and Karsh, the dire consequences of the retreat extended beyond Lebanon:
[H]ad the humiliating flight from Lebanon not occurred, the second intifada might not have ensued in the first place, at least not on its unprecedented massive scale. Like most of their Arab brethren, the Palestinians viewed the Lebanon flight as a defeat of the formidable Israeli army by a small but determined guerrilla force. . . . Even Israeli Arabs were increasingly drawn into Hizballah’s widening terror and spying web inside Israel in the years following the withdrawal.
More importantly, the flight’s humiliating nature helped convince the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat . . . that the pros of reverting to wholesale violence far exceeded the potential cons, since Israel no longer had the stomach for a protracted conflict. If Israelis couldn’t bear 20 to 25 fatalities per year (less than a tenth of the death toll on their roads) in the fight against Hizballah, surely they wouldn’t be able to stomach the much heavier death toll attending a protracted all-out Palestinian “resistance campaign.”
Finally, the withdrawal took a toll on Israel’s military power itself:
[T]he flight from Lebanon not only brought a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction within a stone’s throw of its border neighborhoods and made its dislodgement from this area exceedingly difficult: it also dented the IDF’s fighting ethos and operational competence. The daring, enterprising, and proactive spirit that had characterized this force from its inception gave way to a reactive, dogmatic, and passive disposition that responded to events rather than anticipating them and that contented itself with containing rather than defeating the enemy.