Israel in Lebanon
The Report of the International
Commission to enquire into reported
violations of International Law by
Israel during its invasion of the Lebanon
The terms of reference of the International Commission of Enquiry oblige it to discuss and evaluate Israel’s justification ‘under international law for its invasion of the Lebanon, for the manner in which it conducted hostilities, or for its actions as an occupying force’.
But more important than the Commission’s terms of reference is the fact that, by the very nature of international society, with its decentralised process of decision-making and the absence of international machinery for assessing claim and counter-claim automatically, it becomes necessary to turn to a state’s reasons in order to enable it to explain contested actions so that the justifications can be tested against the appropriate rules of law, especially in relation to the plea of self-defence under the Charter of the United Nations.
In pursuit of these obligations, the Chairman of the International Commission has explained, in the Preface, the way in which the Commission set about its work. In addition to these activities, the Commission has also endeavoured to establish the intentions and aims of the Israeli Government from the official statements, interviews and correspondence of Israeli officials and diplomats in order to distil Israeli motives or justifications that may justify, under international law, the invasion of Lebanon.
The Commission is mindful that the pattern of justification put forward on behalf of Israel is deeply influenced by the Israeli perception of Arab hostility to Israel’s existence as a State and Israel’s supporters point to the armed attacks after the 1948 partition of Palestine and the subsequent refusal of those Arab states to establish peaceful relations with it. This approach is strongly reaffirmed by Israeli feelings concerning the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s continued adherence to the goals of the Palestine National Covenant.
It is in this context that the Israeli justifications have been put forward in relation to the invasion of the Lebanon.
Following the attempt on the life of the Israeli Ambassador to Britain, Mr Shlomo Argov, on 4 June 1982, Israeli jets struck at Palestinian positions in southern Lebanon and in West Beirut. On the following day, Israeli jets and gunboats bombed and strafed PLO positions along the highway between Beirut and South Lebanon. For the first time since July 1981, artillery
battles began between PLO and Israeli forces at the border. On 6 June, a few minutes before the invasion, the Israeli Chief of Staff informed the Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon that Israel intended to launch a military operation in order that ‘Israel would no longer be within PLO artillery range’.
But before the invasion took place, the Security Council of the United Nations discussed the renewal of bombing by Israel and passed Resolution 508 on 5 June demanding a cessation of hostile activities by Israel in Lebanon. During the debate, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Yehuda Blum, related the measures taken by Israel to the PLO’s ‘constant terrorist provocations since July 1981′ which included’ 150 acts of terrorism instigated by the PLO, originating in Lebanon, against Israelis and Jews in Israel and elsewhere: in Athens, Vienna, Paris and London’. In this list of alleged PLO activities, there was no reference to the PLO launching hostile acts from Lebanese territory on to the territory of Israel as no such activity had in fact taken place during the period. Lebanon, in the view of the Ambassador, was to be held responsible for all of these acts referred to above.
The official Israeli Cabinet statement justifying the invasion of 6 June was issued on the same day and the Israeli armed forces were instructed ‘to place all the civilian population of the Galilee beyond the range of the terrorists’ fire from Lebanon, where they, their bases and their headquarters are concentrated’. The military operation was described as ‘Peace for Galilee’ and the Israeli forces were not to attack the Syrian forces (stationed in Lebanon as part of the Arab Deterrent Force since 1976). Finally, the Cabinet statement referred to the continued Israeli aspiration ‘to the signing of a peace treaty with independent Lebanon, its territorial integrity preserved’.
On the same day, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations justified the invasion to the Security Council by referring to Israel’s right to self- defence as a ‘fundamental and inalienable right of any State, which is also recognised by the United Nations as the inherent right of Members of the Organisation.' The ostensibly limited nature of the land invasion was explained by the need ‘to protect the lives of [Israeli] citizens and to ensure their safety and the threat posed by the presence’ of “terrorists” in the Tyre pocket and “nests” within the UNIFIL area of operations in southern Lebanon.! But his conclusion seemed to anticipate a wider Israeli demand which emerged fairly quickly when, within a few days, the Israeli land forces reached the outskirts of Beirut. No longer was it merely a question of PLO forces being withdrawn from southern Lebanon, or from within artillery range of Israel. ‘As long as these non-Lebanese elements are allowed to operate within and from Lebanon, no real progress will be achieved towards a return of the effective authority of the Government of Lebanon, throughout the length and breadth of the country’, Mr Blum said. It was soon evident that the first set of justifications were meant to induce a feeling of acceptability internationally, in order to mini mise the full effect of the Israeli motivation and actions in embarking on the war. The major desire was to remove the PLO, not only from the south, but also from the whole of Lebanon, with particular reference to Beirut, the political centre of Palestinian resistance.
The first four days of the invasion saw a correlation between the military means and the Israeli aims. Besides the attacks on Palestinian refugee camps, the general direction of the invasion was to capture and destroy the physical and fighting potential of the PLO. But the air-raids on Beirut from 10 June onwards and the failure to land airborne troops at Beirut airport showed that the political aim was to direct large-scale air, sea and artillery attacks on Beirut in order to drive the city into submission. The justifications accordingly changed, in order to fit the invasion into a wider political context.
On 8 June 1982, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, while disavowing any territorial ambitions in Lebanon, demanded that ‘proper arrangements be made so that Lebanon should no longer serve as a staging ground for terrorist attacks. . . We are entitled to demand that concrete arrangements be made that would permanently and reliably preclude hostile actions against Israel’s citizens from Lebanese soil’. The wider political aim of neutralising Lebanon by the installation of an amenable Christian government, which was reportedly Mr Sharon’s aim in the first week of the invasion, now involved the question of removal of all ‘foreign’ troops in Lebanon, which effectively meant the elements of the Syrian deterrent force.
The need to remove all Palestinian influence in Lebanon, and not merely the military presence, began to be articulated as the invasion became bogged down in the siege of Beirut. The Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, General Rafael Eitan, is reported to have said that the Israeli ‘stay in Lebanon is part of the struggle over Eretz Israel. That is the point. This whole battle in Beirut – it is the struggle over Eretz Israel, a war against the main enemy that has been fighting over Eretz Israel for a hundred years' (‘Eretz Israel’ is a reference to Biblical Israel).
The relationship between the invasion and the need to obtain the submission of the Arab population in the Occupied Territories was clearly delineated by the Israeli Minister of Defence, Ariel Sharon, when he referred to this other basic aim of the war: ‘The bigger the blow and the more we damage the PLO infrastructure, the more the Arabs in Judea and Samaria and Gaza will be ready to negotiate with us and establish co-existence’. (The West Bank, in the eyes of the present administration in Israel, is part of the Biblical Judea and Samaria.)
As the invasion developed into a war of attrition by the middle of July, with Israel consolidating its military positions in the south, around Beirut and in the Chouf Mountains, there was an escalation in the reasons for the Israeli intervention. The Syrian factor was brought more to the fore. This is
borne out by the reply to the invitation issued by the Chairman of the International Commission to the Israeli Government to give evidence before the Commission. In its official reply, the Israeli spokesman referred to a ‘war of aggression [which] has been waged by the PLO and Syria in Lebanon since 1975, a war which has wreaked (sic) destruction in that State and undermined the normal functioning of its government. The Syrian army, still in Lebanon to this very day, is there illegally, as the Lebanese Government did not extend the mandate of the “Arab Deterrent Force” when it expired towards the (end ofJune), a mandate which has served as a cover for the Syrian occupation’.
Somewhat inconsistently, the Syrian factor had not occupied the same degree of prominence a few weeks earlier when the Israeli Minister of Defence, Mr Sharon, had written in the London Times in mid-July 1982 that Israel did not ‘get into war to remove the Syrians from Lebanon. We went to war to eliminate Palestinian terrorism from Lebanon. . . The goal was to push them 45 kilometres away from our Northern border in order to establish an area which would prevent any future terrorist activities’. But by now, the original purpose of the ‘Peace for Galilee’ operation began to recede into the background because Mr Sharon emphasised that Israel had not given any ‘guarantee to the terrorists beyond this line. When we mentioned this security belt, we never said that we were going to leave the terrorists beyond this line’.
In brief, the Israeli’ defence’ was therefore based on the assimilation of the idea of Israeli security with self-defence. Beginning with the initial premise that the Lebanon had served as, or allowed itself to be used for, a launching pad for attacks on Israel via the Galilee, the argument was generalised to cover a wider dimension: that Lebanon was a base for terrorism, in that attacks against ‘Jews and Israelis’ throughout the world had been organised in and launched from Lebanon. Israeli intervention was therefore likened to ‘police action’ such as that undertaken against pirates and piracy under traditional international law where any state has jurisdiction to remove such an incubus.
Therefore, although Article 51 of the Charter assets the right to self-defence only ‘if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations’, the Israeli view is that the right to self-defence goes beyond the idea of protecting borders implicit in Article 51 of the Charter and permits a state to take action, given the decentralised nature of international society, against a ‘centre of terrorism’.
In any event, part of the Israeli argument is that Israel’s interest in the Lebanon is not territorial but consists simply of a desire to remove a threat to its security. Therefore, this argument contends that the Charter of the United Nations prohibits, under Article 2(4), any threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Israeli intervention in the Lebanon, or elsewhere for that matter, ensures the return of a state’s sovereignty to its lawful administration which was not able to protect its sovereignity from armed groups, and cannot be considered to be contrary to Article 2(4) of the Charter as the attack is not against Lebanon, in this instance.
It had also been contended by Israel and its supporters that since the United Nations system has effectively broken down, there has therefore been a return to the pre-Charter concepts of discretionary behaviour, entitling each state to determine when it has a right to intervene.
The Commission rejects these appro~ches as they would lead to a validation of the most aggressive manifestations of State behaviour.
1. Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, 11 June 1982.
2. Resolution 508 adopted by the Security Council at its 2,374th meeting on 5 June 1982.
3. The speech of the Representative of Israel, Prof Y. Blum, to the UN Security Council meeting on 5 June 1982.
6. Ditto, 8 June 1982.
7. The Jerusalem Post, 10 June 1982.
8. Ha’aretz, 9 July 1982.
9. The Times, 5 August 1982.
10. The Times, 14 July 1982.