Withdrawal from Lebanon:
Press Briefing by Foreign Minister David Levy
May 23, 2000

(translated from Hebrew)

Foreign Minister Levy: Good afternoon. As you recall, the government of Israel decided to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon. This decision was unanimous. The government decision was the result of our recognition that the security zone could not stop the katyushas that threaten and inflict damage on our northern settlements. Our continued presence there exacted a heavy security and political price:

  1. It endangered the lives of our soldiers and citizens;
  2. It legitimized attacks against Israel as an occupying force;
  3. It severely limited the action of our soldiers by the presence of Hizbullah in the heart of the Lebanese civilian population and our consequent fear of harming innocent civilians.
  4. It forced us to accept the rules of the game as dictated by Syria and Iran, implemented by the Hizbullah and their like; and
  5. It resulted in ongoing attrition and the inability to achieve results.

Faced with this reality, the Israeli government decided to put an end to this absurd situation. In redeploying along the international border, we are regaining control of the initiative. If our security is threatened by anyone – whether directly or through any organization – we will act in accordance with the right to national self-defense accorded by international law, with all this implies with regard to those who help these organizations to attack and threaten our security. They would all do well to take note of this change.

Our decision is congruent with UN Security Council Resolution 425. Since the government decision, we have acted in full coordination with the UN Secretary General and his staff. Today the Security Council is expected to adopt a decision to despatch UNIFIL forces to the area. I would like to emphasize again to the Israeli people and to the entire world that these forces are not needed to defend Israeli security. We are responsible for our own security, and our soldiers are capable of repulsing and overcoming – at any moment – any attempt to harm the security of our citizens or our interests. It is the desire to ensure peace and quiet in Lebanon and to prevent violence that prompted us to cooperate with the United Nations.

In this context, I would like to reiterate the full responsibility of the Lebanese government to fulfill its commitments deriving from the Israeli decision, as conveyed to them by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and by all the important and responsible elements in the world. We know that Syria has been warned not to play with fire or to help those who seek to harm Israel and to create chaos. Israel is interested in tranquility. Israels want to see a new era in which Lebanon will be responsible for its sovereignty and for everything that happens within the country. It is clear that we view the Lebanese government directly responsible for any threat directed against us from Lebanon. And if anyone claims that because of its weakness the Lebanese government will not be able to fulfill this obligation, he is in effect admitting that someone else is dictating its behavior, and is therefore directly responsible.

The decision by the Israeli government and the messages conveyed to the government of Lebanon refer also to guaranteeing the security of all Lebanese citizens. The Lebanese government is obliged to prevent acts of vengeance and to ensure that no harm will come to those who choose to surrender. We do not judge them, but the Lebanese authorities are well aware of their duty to guarantee their safety. The Lebanese government is obliged upon the completion in the coming days of our withdrawal, to send its forces into southern Lebanon. This is an obligation inherent in UN Security Council Resolution 425.

With regard to the South Lebanese Army, I would like to reiterate: Israel did not abandon the SLA and their families. Our doors are open to them, if they so desire. Regarding those who choose to stay there, we are working with all elements, including the UN Secretary General, to ensure their safety, and that no harm will come to them.

This entire course of action was adopted in order to enable the Israeli government and the IDF to effectively defend the security of Israel and its northern residents, who are meeting this challenge with praiseworthy courage. I know what we all feel when we see the painful pictures. But we must all now display calm and self-control.

I know of no unilateral withdrawal that is triumphant. Territories handed over elsewhere were also cause for passing jubilation. Israel must look to the future, and the government of Israel is committed to come to grips with the present in order to ensure a better future. We will do everything possible on the political level, and of course also on the military level.

Withdrawal by agreement, as we know, was not possible. There are those who have said that before withdrawing we should have inflicted heavy blows. The consequene of such action would have been for us to remain in Lebanon forever. Following such blows, katyushas would have been fired to which we could not have stood idly by, possibly leading to greater and deeper retaliation. Unilateral withdrawal is a test which calls for shrewd vision and strong nerves – but also a firm stand that will ensure our security.

I would like to express our thanks to the residents of the north for their courageous stance. The government of Israel is doing its utmost, first of all to ensure their security in the most effective way, despite what appears at the moment as imminent danger. The continuation of status quo contained a seed of violence which was liable to erupt at any time. The people of the north deserve the support of the entire Israeli people, who must stand beside them in this difficult hour. They are not defending themselves; this is a test of the entire nation. There is no "they" and "we" – we are all together. They stand on the border, but we all – as a nation, a society, a family, as artists and doctors, in every field – must today demonstrate our best qualities as a nation.

I would like to add that we may well be faced in the course of the withdrawal with mishaps and adversity. If this happens, Israel will respond firmly and directly against the interests of those who stand behind these organizations. I would like to hope that the decision we are implementing today, as a result of the factors which I have listed, will lead to quiet and tranquility and that we will finally be witness to a new era, in which there will no longer be any cause to attack Israel – and anyone who does so will know what to expect.

I am gratified by the cooperation which Israel is enjoying on all sides – in Europe, the United States, Russia, Asia, and the United Nations. Our position is clearly understood, and the correctness of our course of action is appreciated. True, it requires both political and military courage. But at the same time, it is a step that must be taken. We cannot sit by and record who is to blame and who is not, who is right and who is not. This would not contribute anything to the firm stance of our northern citizens; nor would it strengthen our army which is acting with the courage and calm called for at this stage. I would like to see us all united at this hour, which entails both risks but also great prospects. I hope that we will succeed.

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