Israel’s 2006 War on Lebanon: Resolution 1701

17 January, 2023

As part of the Memoirs and Testimonies series, the ACRPS has published Israel’s 2006 War on Lebanon: Resolution 1701 by Tarek Mitri (212 pp.). The book offers an account of the diplomatic efforts during the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 that ended shortly after the passage of UN Resolution 1701. Yet it is not an account of the whole story of the resolution; perhaps some of what happened in the field or during negotiations slipped the author’s mind, albeit unintentionally. Nevertheless, it will be clear to the impartial reader that the testimony takes care to follow the principles of intellectual integrity, so as not to fall into the misconceptions of those who believe there is no new information to be added to the story.

The book is not an alternative narrative that seeks to debate, correct, or refute other accounts; it is content to warn against slipping into a factional or ideological reading laden with preconceived or hasty judgments, or into explanations weighed down by the calculations of Lebanese local politics, which are unwittingly and at times artificially imposed upon the field of foreign policy. Given that the book casts light on the particularities of defending Lebanon in the face of Israeli aggression, it does some justice to wartime diplomacy, viewing it not merely as a mirror for military power relations but as a contribution to explaining attitudes and motives and revealing the rights of the country under attack to legal arguments and moral superiority.

The Beginning of the War

Mitri recalls that on the morning of 12 July 2006, he was visited by Kuwaiti Ambassador Abdulal Al-Qanai to continue discussing the Kuwaiti endowment to establish the archaeological National Museum of Beirut. It was just after nine o’clock that “we learned of the operation Hezbollah had launched, which began with the launch of Katyusha rockets at the village of Shlomi and the Shebaa Farms settlement hub”.

At the same time, Hezbollah fighters crossed the “Blue Line” and attacked an Israeli military vehicle, killing three soldiers and wounding two, and took two others prisoner back to Lebanon. In a statement, Hezbollah stressed that it sought to liberate 10,000 Arab prisoners in Israeli custody through a military operation titled “Operation Truthful Promise”. Israel’s violent, large-scale response came soon afterward along with the threat of painful, long-term revenge. Condemnations of Hezbollah’s having breached the Blue Line came one after the other from the United States, the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, Egypt, and the United Nations. These states and entities called for the immediate, unconditional release of the two Israeli prisoners.

Beirut’s Negotiations and New York’s Diplomacy

The author writes that he left Beirut on the afternoon of 30 July, finding himself overcome with a great sadness that perhaps afflicted all of Lebanon as he prepared to carry out his duties. He then mentions his meeting with Lebanese Ambassador Michel el-Khouri in Cyprus in the presence of General Ahmad El Hajj: “We exchanged opinions as to my mission, then I hurried over to the hotel to contact the Lebanese delegation to the UN to find out about the upcoming Security Council session [...]” Mitri recalls asking the French Ambassador about the reason for the latter’s exclusive cooperation with the United States delegate in crafting the draft resolution. “He spoke to me about French-American cooperation to pass Security Council Resolution 1559 in September 2004, which helped rebuild trust between the countries after it was shaken during the conflict over the invasion of Iraq.”

On the afternoon of 4 August, Mitri indicates that he visited with the UN Secretary General, who was closely familiar with the situation on the ground and became inclined to believe that the Israeli army was not capable of achieving a significant land advance. In his view, the Israelis found themselves before a turning point: either accept the cease-fire accompanied by a political compromise that would give them some, not all, of their demands, or resort to their second option – escalation using all weapons, leading to the extensive destruction of Lebanon.

“I asked [Annan] about the Americans’ willingness to support or remain silent on the second option,” Mitri recounts. “He replied that the information he had received indicated that the American president, on the advice of his Secretary of State, was inclined to call for the end of the war, as Israel had taken enough time and not arrived at its declared objective. But hawks in Washington and New York, hinting at Vice President Dick Cheney and UN Ambassador John Bolton, were attempting to influence their president so Israel would be given more time […]”

Producing the UN Resolution

The author writes: “I informed Annan of all the information I had about what was going on with the French and American ambassadors, repeating my surprise at the slowness—and in fact delay—in putting forth a draft resolution. He expressed his frustration at the two parties’ excessive secrecy.” Mitri next turns his attention to Dan Gillerman’s address, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, “who spoke of the terrorists’ frightening archive of ‘satanic innovations’ [… and that] he saw in what ‘our region’ had experienced in past weeks ‘a preview of the next film’ produced by Iran and directed by Syria.”

Without speaking in detail about the content of Resolution 1701 and Israel’s position on the commitment to implement it, Mitri takes pause at the new reality in the region to which the binding ban on weapons is leading. Yet, for the task to be completed, he stipulates preventing Iran from reaching its objective of adding weapons of mass destruction to its arsenal. He interprets the Security Council resolutions in light of the clear message directed to Iran: it may not produce weapons that threaten the region and launch proxy wars on others’ territories.

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