Can an Israeli security zone succeed in Gaza when it failed in southern Lebanon?

Israeli soldiers move tanks at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 14 December 2023
Follow

Can an Israeli security zone succeed in Gaza when it failed in southern Lebanon?

  • Israeli officials are reportedly weighing plans for buffer zones inside enclave to prevent a repeat of October 7 attack
  • Analysts say such a project risks a repeat of Israel’s 1985-2000 security zone fiasco in southern Lebanon

DUBAI: Israel has floated the idea of a buffer zone inside Gaza once the present conflict ends, with one policy adviser saying it would be part of a three-tier process that involves “destroying Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza and deradicalizing the enclave.”

Ophir Falk, the foreign policy adviser, said earlier this month that the Israeli Defense Forces might establish a buffer zone inside Gaza, adding that it would not include Israeli troops on the Palestinian side of the border.

He did not outline who precisely Israel had in mind to police the Palestinian side of the border — an international or Arab-led force or one led by the Palestinian Authority.

“There are discussions in Israel about how we want to see Gaza when the war is over, given the Oct. 7 attack,” Falk told Reuters news agency, referring to the assault on southern Israel by Palestinian militants that resulted in 1,400 deaths and the abduction of 240 people.

He added: “The defense establishment is talking about some kind of security buffer on the Gaza side of the border so that Hamas cannot gather military capabilities to the border and surprise Israel again.




Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah wave flags as they watch a televised speech by its leader Hassan Nasrallah. (AFP)

“It is a security measure, not a political one. We do not intend to remain on the Gaza side of the border.”

According to sources who spoke to Reuters, Israel has relayed these plans to officials in Jordan and Egypt, with whom Israel has had long-established ties, and the UAE, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020.

Some experts believe that opposition from Washington, coupled with Israel’s own bitter memories of similar though ultimately unsuccessful attempts in the past, makes the plan impractical.

“A security zone in my opinion is a non-starter,” Dr. Ziad Asali, a retired doctor and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, told Arab News.

In his view, any security solution for postwar Gaza must take into account the political aspirations of the Palestinian people as a whole. Even Israel’s backers in Washington do not appear convinced by the buffer zone proposal, which would entail encroachment on Gaza’s already limited territory.

“We don’t support any reduction of the geographic limits of Gaza,” John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in early December. “Gaza must remain Palestinian land, and cannot be reduced.”

Indeed, any such encroachment into Gaza, which is only 12 km wide in its broadest point, would cram its 2.3 million people into an even smaller area.

Furthermore, analysts warn that a buffer zone runs the risk of repeating past mistakes in the fragile Levant region. One historical parallel highlighted by experts is the ill-fated security zone established by Israel in southern Lebanon between 1985 and 2000.




Israeli soldiers take part in a ground operation in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood. (AFP)

The 24-km-wide security zone, which was policed by the Israeli military and its Christian militia proxies of the South Lebanon Army, was established during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon in the aftermath of the 1982 Lebanon War.

Similar to the trigger for the war in Gaza, that conflict was sparked by a string of attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants launched from Lebanese territory, prompting Israel to invade Lebanon.

At the time, Israel’s reasoning for creating the security zone in southern Lebanon was to establish a buffer separating Israeli civilians in its northern towns along the border from Lebanon-based militants.

However, policing the security zone ended up costing hundreds of Israeli lives and it was quickly overrun by Hezbollah fighters the moment Israel, then led by prime minister Ehud Barak, chaotically withdrew troops in May 2000, abandoning its SLA allies.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Experts believe creating another buffer zone, albeit on a smaller scale within Gaza, would also likely end in failure, do little to improve Israel’s security, and further undermine efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The serious conversation now and agreement should focus on what to do with Gaza,” said Asali. “Separating the future of Gaza from the West Bank by an international agreement means the end of Palestine.”

Others are less skeptical about the possibility, not to mention the allure, of a south Lebanon-style security zone in Gaza. “It’s a definite possibility,” Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Arab News.

“In fact, I would expect it to happen if Israel decides not to fully reoccupy the interior of Gaza. And even if it does, it would still probably create a south Lebanon-style buffer zone.”




Villagers greet soldiers of Lebanese Army, 24 April 1985, in their village of Aamiq, in the Beka'a valley. (AFP/File)

Ibish believes such a buffer is almost “inevitable” in Gaza, and might even be replicated in parts of the West Bank, “either connected to or as a precursor of major annexation.

“That very much remains to be seen, and it depends on whether Israel decides to negotiate with Palestinians again to create stability, or impose its own solution by force, not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well.

“Frankly, I expect the latter, but I’m ready to be pleasantly surprised.”

A move toward a buffer zone would also not bode well for a negotiated end to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making a two-state solution far less probable and further Israeli land grabs far more likely.

“A buffer zone around Gaza pushes Israel in the direction of forced, unilateral solutions, relying on power rather than negotiations,” said Ibish.

FASTFACTS

• Israel’s security zone in southern Lebanon lasted from 1985 to 2000.

• The belt of land was 24 km wide from the Mediterranean Sea to the Shebaa Farms.

• Area was meant to keep Lebanon-based fighters away from the Israeli border.

“I think it’s consistent with the way in which Israeli society has been moving toward annexation rather than negotiations and using its extremely asymmetrical power over Palestinians to enforce ‘solutions’ that are consistent with Israel’s ambitions and intentions.”

For Ibish, a security zone would represent a continuation of the conflict and not a lasting solution. “The conflict will continue unless and until there is an agreed-upon resolution,” he said.

“But when we see this degree of power asymmetry and completely irreconcilable ambitions, it is typical of human beings to impose their will by force if they can. I don’t expect the Israelis to behave any differently.”

One postwar scenario favored by many in the Palestinian camp and by the US is the establishment of a common authority for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. How this can be established amid the conflict, however, is uncertain, and much will hinge on the postwar landscape.

“The present moment, in my view, offers a de-facto arrangement that will eventually become a reality and would have to allow for a common future for the Palestinians living under the same authority,” said Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine.




Hezbollah fighters parade with South Lebanon Army (SLA) tanks they have seized in the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil 23 May 2000. (AFP/File)

“The interim agreement in Gaza would have to allow for that. This means that the formation of a new government in the West Bank could be an initial step toward what might be a serious end to the conflict.”

In Asali’s view, the creation of security zones would only frustrate efforts to find a lasting resolution to the conflict. “A buffer zone in Gaza can be imposed, like so many other things, on the Palestinians,” he said. “But it would be an added problem rather than a solution.”

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister and a retired IDF general, recently underscored the temporary nature of the proposed buffer zones when asked if they could be created above American objections.

He said that, were Israel to establish what he called security areas, it would remove them on its eventual withdrawal from Gaza. “While we’re operating, anything is possible,” he said, “but after we finish the conflict, we have no reason to be there.”

Buffer zones are a “security step for a certain period,” Gallant said.

Some Israeli analysts are not convinced of the benefits of a long-term security zone given the risks and diplomatic costs.

Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East lecturer at Reichman University in Herzliya, believes it is too soon to discuss what will happen after the war in Gaza.

“I think it’s too early to start talking about the day after tomorrow in Gaza,” he told Arab News.

“There are too many moving parts and variables involved in the current war to enable us to give an accurate forecast of what will happen the day after Gaza, the day after the end of the war, and the day after Hamas is removed from power.”




Israeli soldiers gather near the border with the Gaza Strip. (AP)

Nevertheless, whatever the outcome of the war, Javedanfar does not believe it will be feasible — either militarily or diplomatically — to set up security buffer zones inside Gaza.

“First of all, diplomatically, it would probably really strain our relations with the US,” he said.

“This is something that Israel cannot afford at this point. And I think we’d also place our relations with the Europeans under strain.

“Secondly, what is the point of having a security zone inside Gaza when Israel can be reached from any part of Gaza? If, in the future, a terrorist (group) is going to get its hands on the plans to build another missile, they can fire from anywhere inside Gaza; Israel is within reach from anywhere within Gaza.”

Javedanfar said the idea does not make much sense to him, and “it’s safe to assume that it’s unlikely that we are going to see such a security zone.”


Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes

Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes

  • GPS interference affecting both sides of Lebanese border, source says

BEIRUT: Two Hezbollah fighters were killed on Wednesday as Israel intensified strikes on south Lebanon following an attack by the Iran-backed group that wounded 14 Israeli soldiers.

Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.

A security source said: “Hezbollah’s complex attack against the Israeli army in Wadi Al-Aramshe early on Wednesday, which led to the injury of 14 Israeli soldiers, including six with serious injuries, was absorbed by the Israeli side after the painful blow it directed at the party by assassinating three of its field officials.”

The Israeli army responded to the Wadi Al-Aramshe operation on Wednesday night by targeting the town of Iaat in the Bekaa Valley, 5 km from Baalbek. A drone strike hit a warehouse belonging to a member of the Al-Zein family, resulting in light wounds to one civilian.

Israel continues to jam GPS around the Lebanese southern border region, especially during military operations.

A security source said: “This interference negatively affects both the Israeli army and Hezbollah in targeting objectives.”

Hezbollah announced a series of operations since dawn on Thursday, targeting Israeli military sites opposite the Lebanese border.

The group targeted an Israeli force attempting to withdraw a military vehicle that was targeted on Wednesday at Metula, opposite the Lebanese town of Kfarkela.

At dawn, Israeli soldiers in Al-Malikiyah, opposite the Lebanese town of Aitaroun, were targeted by Hezbollah using missiles.

The group also targeted Israeli soldiers in Al-Marj.

“After careful monitoring and anticipation of the enemy’s movement at Al-Marj … they were targeted with missile weapons and suffered a direct hit; some died while others were injured,” the group said in a statement.

Hezbollah attacked Israeli soldiers using missiles in the Hanita forest, opposite the Lebanese town of Alma Al-Shaab.

On Thursday, the party mourned two members killed in Wednesday night’s shelling of Kfarkela. Mohammed Jamil Al-Shami from Kfarkela and Ali Ahmed Hamadeh from Doueir were killed in the Israeli operation.

The Israeli army targeted Lebanese towns with heavy shelling until dawn on Thursday. The town of Khiam was a priority target; correspondents in the area counted seven strikes and 128 artillery and phosphorous shells impacting between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

A young man from Habboush, Ahmed Hassan Al-Ahmed, was killed in the shelling and mourned by residents of his town.

Jets struck Hezbollah targets in Khiam, including infrastructure and two military buildings, the Israeli army said.

Israeli drones targeted a house on the outskirts of Markaba and in Blida on Thursday, with casualties reported.

The Israeli army also targeted Kfarkela with two missiles from a drone, and with artillery and phosphorous shells. From Metula opposite the border, Israeli soldiers combed the town with heavy machine guns.

The outskirts of Dhayra, Al-Bustan and Aita Al-Shaab were hit by gunfire from the Israeli position in Birkat Risha and other positions adjacent to the Blue Line.

German airline Lufthansa announced on Thursday it had extended the suspension of flights to Beirut and Tehran until April 30.

The decision was taken on the night of the Iranian attack on Israel last weekend.

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said that the organization’s peacekeepers “remain in their positions and carry out their duties, as well as our civilian staff.”

He added: “The safety and security of UN staff and their families are our priority.”


Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city

Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city

  • Rains were the heaviest experienced by the United Arab Emirates in the 75 years that records have been kept
  • Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices and homes, houses’ roofs leaked and malls were overrun with water 

DUBAI: Dubai, a city in the desert proud of its futuristic gloss, was on Thursday busy clearing its waterclogged roads and drying out flooded homes two days after a record storm saw a year’s rain fall in a day.
Dubai International Airport, a major travel hub, struggled to clear a backlog of flights and many roads were still flooded in the aftermath of Tuesday’s deluge.
The rains were the heaviest experienced by the United Arab Emirates in the 75 years that records have been kept. They brought much of the country to a standstill and caused significant damage.
Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices and homes. Many reported leaks at their homes, while footage circulated on social media showed malls overrun with water pouring from roofs.
Traffic remained heavily disrupted. A highway through Dubai was reduced to a single lane in one direction, while the main road that connects Dubai with the capital Abu Dhabi was closed in the Abu Dhabi direction.
“This was like nothing else. It was like an alien invasion,” Jonathan Richards, a Dubai resident from Britain told Reuters.
“I woke up the other morning to people in kayaks with pet dogs, pet cats, suitcases all outside my house.”
Another resident, Rinku Makhecha, said the rain swamped her freshly renovated house she moved into two weeks ago.
“My entire living room is just like ... all my furniture is floating right now,” she said.
In Dubai’s streets, some vehicles, including buses, could be seen almost entirely submerged in water. Long queues formed at petrol stations.
Dubai airport had yet to resume normal operation after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancelations.
Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV he expected Dubai International Airport to reach 60-70 percent capacity by the end of Thursday and full operational capacity within 24 hours.
The airport struggled to get food to stranded passengers with nearby roads flooded and overcrowding limited access to those who had confirmed bookings.
RETURNING SUPPLIES
The storm, which hit neighboring Oman on Sunday, pounded the UAE on Tuesday, with 20 reported dead in Oman and one in the UAE.
While some roadways into hard-hit communities remain flooded, delivery services across Dubai, whose residents are used to ordering everything at the click of a mouse, slowly began returning to the streets.
Rains are rare in the UAE and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, which is typically known for its dry desert climate. Summer air temperatures can soar above 50 degrees Celsius.
Following Tuesday’s events, questions were raised whether cloud seeding, a process that the UAE frequently conducts, could have caused the heavy rains.
But climate experts blame global warming for such extreme weather events.
Researchers anticipate that climate change will lead to heightened temperatures, increased humidity and a greater risk of flooding in parts of the Gulf region. Countries like the UAE where there is a lack of drainage infrastructure to cope with heavy rains can suffer the most.
A UAE government agency that oversees cloud seeding — a process of manipulating clouds to increase rainfall — denied conducting any such operations before the storm.
President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said in a statement he had ordered authorities to assess the damage and provide support to families impacted by the storm.
Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum said on X that the safety of citizens, residents and visitors was the utmost priority.
“At a meeting with government officials in Dubai, we set directives to prepare comprehensive plans in response to natural crises’ such as the unexpected current weather conditions,” he said.


Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

  • Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit met with the UN’s Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat
  • UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has told a senior UN official that he fears the conflict in Gaza could spiral out control and threaten regional security.

In a meeting in Cairo with Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat, head of mission and chief of staff of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, Aboul Gheit highlighted the need to implement the UN Security Council’s ceasefire resolution, and provide urgent humanitarian aid to the famine-stricken population in Gaza.

Gamal Roshdy, a spokesperson for the Arab League chief, said that the meeting discussed the regional situation, with Aboul Gheit saying that Israel’s war on Gaza violated international law and humanitarian principles.

The UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN, including the Blue Line, which delineates the truce between Lebanon and Israel.

Aboul Gheit said that political resolutions remain the most effective means to ensure security for all parties.

However, achieving such resolutions remains challenging while Israel pursue its objectives through military force and by targeting civilians, he said.

According to the UNTSO website, the Security Council, in Resolution 50 (1948), called for a cessation of hostilities in Palestine on May 29, 1948, and decided that the UN Mediator should supervise the truce with the assistance of a group of military observers.

The first group of military observers, established in 1949 to supervise the implementation of the Israel-Arab Armistice Agreements, became known as the UN Truce Supervision Organization.

UNTSO observers in the Middle East to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating, and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.


King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

  • Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad pledge joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza
  • King Hamad and El-Sisi also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad of Bahrain have pledged joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza and its effects on the region.

El-Sisi received King Hamad in Cairo on Wednesday, where the leaders expressed hope that peace efforts would lead to a new path for the region, offering a future in which they work together toward prosperity.

King Hamad told a joint press conference that the president and he also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month.

The leaders emphasized the need for clear policies to promote peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

The king said he discussed several issues with El-Sisi to enhance Arab cooperation.

El-Sisi said he and King Hamad deliberated “on our countries’ efforts and joint Arab action to address this untenable situation, bring it to an end, and, above all, prevent its recurrence.”

The Egyptian leader added: “For this to happen, the international community shall stand united to enforce an immediate, urgent, and lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, end any attempts of coerced displacement, starvation, or collective punishment of the brotherly Palestinian people, and ensure the full-fledged, unfettered and sustainable flow of sufficient quantities of desperately needed humanitarian aid and relief to the sector.

“In parallel, the parties shall immediately embark, in earnest, on tracks conducive to a just and enduring political solution to the Palestinian cause, based on the two-state solution and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, enjoying both international acknowledgment and full membership of the UN.”

El-Sisi said Egypt had repeatedly warned of the dire consequences likely to result from the ongoing war in occupied Palestine, where the conflict leads to calls for escalation and retribution, creating a cycle of violence that destroys any chance for peace and stability in the region.

“Indeed, over the past few months, the region has been experiencing the devastating consequences of the ongoing war as its flames spiraled outward, creating the current intensely fraught and perilous state in the region that gravely jeopardizes the security, stability, and future of our people,” he added.

El-Sisi said that the leaders “thoroughly discussed these troubling regional developments and our visions for addressing them, driven by our shared belief in the crucial importance of safeguarding the security and stability of the region and its peoples against multiple threats and of not abandoning their fate to the will of warmongers. This commitment is grounded in the principle of prioritizing common Arab security, which we consider as indivisible.”

El-Sisi said that the two leaders agreed on the need to exert and encourage immediate and intensive efforts toward de-escalation in the Palestinian territories and at regional level.

“We also discussed the importance of urging the parties to adopt a rational approach, embrace political solutions, and abandon military solutions and notions of dominance and hegemony,” the president said.

El-Sisi said: “Today, we are gathering at a time of great peril as a result of the bloody Israeli war on the Gaza Strip and the inexorable loss of thousands of helpless and innocent civilians in scenes of untold horror.

“They have done nothing more than live in their land, clinging to their homes and homeland, and yearning for a life with dignity, pride, and humanity.

“It is unequivocally a watershed moment that will endure in the annals of history, given the outrageous use of military force to terrorize, starve, and inflict unimaginable suffering on innocent civilians, collectively and indiscriminately, to terrify them into abandoning their homes and forcibly displace them from their land.

“All this unfolds while the international community stands by idly, with its ability or will to uphold justice and enforce international law, international humanitarian law, or even the basic tenets of humanity, utterly crippled,” El-Sisi said.


US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Kingdom announced widespread sanctions against Iran’s military drone program on Thursday in response to its weekend attack against Israel.
Washington is targeting “16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the April 13 attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
The United Kingdom is also imposing sanctions “targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile industries,” the Treasury Department said.
Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus — widely blamed on Israel — that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals.
The large-scale attack involved more than 300 drones and missiles, most of which were shot down by Israel and its allies including the US and the UK, causing little damage.
In response to the attacks, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel reserves the right to protect itself.
“Today, in coordination with the United Kingdom and in consultation with partners and allies, we are taking swift and decisive action to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We’re using Treasury’s economic tools to degrade and disrupt key aspects of Iran’s malign activity, including its UAV program and the revenue the regime generates to support its terrorism,” she continued.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” she added.
Alongside its sanctions against Iran’s UAV program, the US is also sanctioning five companies providing parts for Iran’s steel industry.
“Iran’s metals sector generates the equivalent of several billion dollars in revenue annually, with the majority coming from steel exports,” the Treasury Department said, adding it had also sanctioned an automaker involved in providing “material support” to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.