As we mark the one-month anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, the best that can be said is that ceasefire between Israel and the Hezbollah terrorists who carved a state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon is holding. This is perhaps more than one had a right to expect from a deal that — as we noted in earlier contributions to TCS Daily — seemed tailor-made to undermine Israeli security, and whose supposed guarantors have a lack of will to actually implement it. However, when this fragile arrangement does collapse, one reason given by the cognoscenti will be alleged Israeli “intransigence” over a tiny speck of land that most Americans have never heard of: the Shebaa Farms. (See the map below.)
When then Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000, the UN painstakingly demarcated the border between Israel and Lebanon — for the first time ever — in consultation with authorities on both sides. This international border became known as the “Blue Line.” During the entire exhaustive process, Hezbollah did not make any claim to Shebaa Farms (known to Israelis as Mount Dov, after an Israeli captain killed by Hezbollah terrorists at that location in 1970). Only after the process was finished, that is, after Israel and Lebanon, with UN sanction, agreed that the Blue Line had been properly drawn north of Shebaa Farms, did Hezbollah claim this territory for Lebanon.
The pretext was clear: after 2000, “liberating” Shebaa Farms and “reuniting” the area with Lebanon became Hezbollah's excuse for holding onto its weapons in defiance of numerous UN resolutions; after other militias in Lebanon had disarmed following the civil war. Many, if not most, Lebanese recognized this as bogus propaganda. But Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian patrons needed (and still need) some way, any way, to justify keeping these terrorist brigades around. And now Resolution 1701, in its tenth paragraph, has given this charade a “legal” basis:
“Requests the Secretary-General to develop, in liaison with relevant international actors and the concerned parties, proposals to implement the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), including disarmament, and for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area, and to present to the Security Council those proposals within thirty days;” (Emphasis added.)
For years the status of Shebaa Farms was settled. The international community, including both the UN and Israel's belligerent neighbors, acknowledged that the microscopic area had belonged to Syria as part of the Golan Heights area, which Israel occupied in self-defense following the Six-Day War in 1967. Although abandoned today, the area of the Farms had been cultivated by villagers from Lebanese villages to the north. But it had been considered Syrian since the post-World War I demarcation between Lebanon and Syria. In fact, since 1920, the farms and their residents had been registered as Syrian and as included in the district of Damascus in the Syrian census.
In 1981, given Syria's persistent refusal ever to make peace with the Jewish state — and given the lethal threat that Syrian command of these commanding Heights posed to Israel's very existence — Israel extended its “laws, administration and jurisdiction” to the Golan, including the Shebaa Farms tract. It is widely known that Israel would be willing to cede portions of the Golan if a regime change in Damascus made real peace conceivable. However, transferring a northern extremity of the Golan to Lebanon as a result of Hezbollah terrorist pressures, sans a viable peace treaty, would set a political precedent with very bad implications. In effect Israel would be rewarding the Syrian-Iranian strategy of using terrorism as a weapon to gain territory and extort political concessions.
Bashar Al-Assad, meanwhile, plays a most duplicitous game. He refuses to say whether Syria claims Shebaa Farms or agrees with Lebanon (a state that, in any case, Syria declines to recognize, never having accredited an ambassador to Beirut). Taking a position would ruin everything for Syria. If Al-Assad formally cedes the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon, Israel might simply hand the parcel over and remove Hezbollah's only excuse to stay armed. If, on the other hand, he maintains that Shebaa Farms is part of the Golan Heights, then Hezbollah's excuse to exist will have been undermined by its Syrian master.
Israel's position has always been that Shebaa Farms is not covered by UN Security Council Resolution 425, which arranged for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, inasmuch as the Farms were not Lebanese territory. In support of that view, Israel points to the fact that the UN certified Israel's 2000 pullout from Lebanon as complete. Until now, the UN had consistently agreed — for once — with Israel. Turtle Bay went so far as to issue a declaration that stated unambiguously:
“On 15 May 2000, the United Nations received a map, dated 1966, from the Government of Lebanon which reflected the Government's position that these farmlands were located in Lebanon. However, the United Nations is in possession of ten other maps issued after 1966 by various Lebanese government institutions, including the Ministry of Defense and the army, all of which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic. The United Nations has also examined six maps issued by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, including three maps since 1966, which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic.”
This is polite UN-speak for 'the Lebanese map was a blatant forgery.'
In a June 18, 2000, statement of consensus, the Security Council noted that Israel and Lebanon had confirmed to the Secretary-General that identification of the withdrawal line was solely the responsibility of the UN and that both sides would respect the line it identified. Two years later, on April 10, 2002, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in public remarks in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Javier Solana in Madrid, said:
“With reference to the disturbances along the Blue Line emanating from Lebanese territory, I call on the Government of Lebanon and all relevant parties to condemn and prevent such violations. The Security Council itself confirmed in June 2000 that Israel had withdrawn from southern Lebanon in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 425 and 426. Attacks at any point along the Blue Line, including in the Shebaa Farms area in the occupied Golan Heights [emphasis added], are violations of Security Council resolutions. Respect for decisions of the Security Council is the most basic requirement of international legitimacy.”
Even more recently, the Secretary-General's January 20, 2005, report to the Security Council stated:
“The continually asserted position of the Government of Lebanon that the Blue Line is not valid in the Shebaa farms area is not compatible with Security Council resolutions. The Council has recognized the Blue Line as valid for purposes of confirming Israel's withdrawal pursuant to resolution 425 (1978). The Government of Lebanon should heed the Council's repeated calls for the parties to respect the Blue Line in its entirety.”
Timur Goksel, a spokesman for the normally timid United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), added: “On all maps the UN has been able to find, the farms are seen on the Syrian side [of the border].”
In a May 19, 2005, an off-the-record discussion with an unnamed senior diplomat from an unidentified country at the Brookings Institution reported that “in drawing the 'Blue Line' in 2000, the United Nations looked at more than ninety different maps of the region. Only one of them — which was deemed a forgery — showed the Shebaa Farms as Lebanese.” Along similar lines, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said on April 26, 2006: “I think the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence is that Shebaa Farms is Syrian territory.” Bolton's opinion is shared by Nancy Soderberg, who served as a U.S. ambassador at the UN in the Clinton administration. She declared on July 21, 2006:
“When it was clear the Israelis were going to withdraw fully from Lebanon, Syrian and Lebanese officials fabricated the fiction that this small, sparsely populated area was part of Lebanon. They even produced a crudely fabricated map to back up the dubious claim. I and United Nations officials went into the map room in the United Nations and looked at all the maps of the region in the files for decades. All showed the Shebaa Farms clearly in Syria.”
All of this has not, of late, precluded the UN — to say nothing of Hezbollah, its patrons, and its fellow travelers in the media and academia — from rewriting history. In the New York Times, for example, a July 28, 2006, article by Helene Cooper correctly reported on the status of Shebaa Farms, stating: “Still to be determined is … what will be done about Lebanese demands that Israel withdraw from Shebaa Farms, which the United Nations has ruled is officially part of Syria but which Hezbollah claims as part of Lebanon.” So far, so good. But then Cooper speculates: “Middle East analysts and diplomats say that … the United States can broker a deal that gives Shebaa Farms back to the government of Lebanon…” But if Shebaa Farms was never Lebanese, how can Israel give it back to the government of Lebanon?
By then, however, the absurd had become the norm as a bandwagon-effect took shape. On August 1, erstwhile former president Carter — in accord with his longstanding commitment to ignore the facts — proclaimed:
“Israel should withdraw from all Lebanese territory, including Shebaa Farms.” On August 11, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1701, which effectively threw out its previous rulings and authorized Secretary-General Annan to investigate “the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area…”
With those few words, the UN has managed to move Hezbollah from being clearly in the wrong into a zone of ambiguity. The terrorists now have an excuse to reopen the fight.
Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.