Deploying the Lebanese Army – With or Without a Comprehensive Agreement?

The Lebanese government proposal to deploy its army in the south faces Israel with a dilema: a quick withdrawal from Lebanon or the need to secure viable military-political achievements?

The Lebanese government declared yesterday its intention to draft its army reserves in order to deploy the Lebanese army in south Lebanon and to enforce its full sovereignty over the entire area. The government has made it clear that the deployment of the army is conditioned upon a full Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Hizbullah approved the move and its representatives in the Lebanese government had voted in favor. (Press Agencies, 8/7/06).

The Reut Institute contends that the Lebanese government proposal to deploy its army in the south presents Israel with a dilemma. Israel will have to balance the tension between its will for a quick withdrawal from Lebanon and its need to secure viable military-political achievements.

What is the Issue?

Since its withdrawal from Lebanon (5/00), Israel has repeatedly demanded, to no avail, that the Lebanese army deploy in south Lebanon and prevent Hizbullah's dominance of the area.

One of Israel's declared objectives in its current operation in Lebanon is to distance Hizbullah from the border and prepare the ground for the deployment of the Lebanese army or an international force.

The Lebanese proposal came on the backdrop of the UN Security Council discussion of a draft resolution for a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon. This resolution was supposed to include provisions for the deployment of an international force in Lebanon.

Hizbullah's consent to the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south, has removed the main obstacle for this move. Consequently, the deployment of the new international force is less probable.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

The deployment of the Lebanese army in south Lebanon is only one of the outstanding issues between Israel and Lebanon. It is likely that such deployment will be part of a more comprehensive arrangement that will deal with the following issues as well: release of the abducted soldiers and Lebanese prisoners; disarmament of Hizbullah and the implementation of UN resolution 1559; prevention of weapons shipment to the Hizbullah; the Shabaa farms; Israeli air force flights over Lebanon etc…

Therefore, Israel faces two alternatives with regards to the deployment of the Lebanese army:

A comprehensive agreementIsrael's withdrawal and the deployment of the Lebanese army will be part of a package deal aiming to resolve all outstanding issues between Israel and Lebanon.

On one hand, this can increase the chances of containing the threat of Hizbullah and can better serve Israel's long term security interests in the region.

On the other hand, it will decrease chances for a quick Israeli withdrawal due to the complexity of implementing such a comprehensive agreement, and Hizbullah's expected resistance. Therefore, Israel may find itself staying in Lebanon for a long period of time, exposed to Hizbullah's ongoing attacks.

A provisional agreementIsrael's withdrawal and the deployment of the Lebanese army will be the first phase of an agreement the details of which will be concluded later. Israel's withdrawal will not be conditioned upon the resolution of all outstanding issues.

On one hand, this will compromise Israel's ability to contain the threat of Hizbullah, because by withdrawing from Lebanon the government of Israel might lose important bargaining chips for future negotiations on security interests.

On the other hand, it will increase chances for a quick Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon with at least one of Israel's objectives achieved, i.e., the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south.

Policy Options

Israel's policy will be designed by the need to balance two seemingly conflicting interests: a quick withdrawal from Lebanon and securing viable military-political achievements.

Israel can decrease the tension between these two interests by:

  • Demanding that the Lebanese government present a comprehensive and exhaustive list of the outstanding issues between Lebanon and Israel. This step may create a clear frame for future negotiations in the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal and may undermine Hizbullah's efforts to renew the struggle against Israel based on claims that are not included in the list.
  • Requiring international guarantees for the continuation of the political process with Lebanon. These guarantees may include deploying an international force during the implementation of the agreement and securing the Israeli withdrawal.
  • Anchoring Israel's withdrawal and the deployment of the Lebanese army in a formal and affirmative document (e.g. a UN resolution that will ensure the implementation of the agreement, or a bilateral agreement). This will grant international legitimacy and increase the chances for implementing the agreement altogether.