The Shebaa Farms/Har Dov are mentioned in both the preamble to UNSCR 1701 as well as in the text of the resolution itself as a point of contention that needs to be revisited. This is an incredible blow to Israel and a significant victory for Hizbullah. A good overview of the conflict over Shebaa is included at Wikipedia, including the point that the UN investigated over 90 historic maps and found only one that depicted the Farms as Lebanese and that map was deemed a forgery.

I wrote a comment on Pierre Tristam’s fine website, Candide’s Notebooks, referring to my sense of why Shebaa is an important issue in this war, and wanted to post it on Jewlicious now that the second worst case scenario has come to pass. I hope Pierre doesn’t mind.

Pierre, there are a couple of issues here. First, as far as I understand, Shebaa is not that impressive of a piece of real estate. There is some strategic advantage inside one part of it for Israel. Although I am not a general, I believe it isn’t critical. These days, when 100 katyushas a day stop life in the northern third of Israel, I’m not sure what piece of land has true strategic value any more, but that’s another matter.

Second, one day Israel will negotiate again with Syria for peace, and this piece of property may play an important role in those discussions.

Third, while I agree that there isn’t much value to this piece of land, there is great symbolic value as you noted and it has been created, ironically, by Hizbullah.

By claiming it as Lebanese land and using it as a pretext for both its continued belligerence against Israel and its exemption from disarming as the other Lebanese militias have done, it Hizbullah has given this land great meaning for the Israelis, for the Lebanese who support Hizbullah, and for the Palestinians.

By agreeing to any demand over Shebaa, the Israelis would essentially encourage future attacks on any sovereign borders it establishes and which are agreed to by the international community.

This would legitimize the illegitimate and unprovoked attacks by Hizbullah in this instance, but what is worse is that as a precedent it would establish that Israel has no final borders. Ever. Today it’s Shebaa, tomorrow it’s an orchard next to the West Bank. At what point does Israel get to simply exist without somebody claiming this or that piece of land?

If anything changes with respect to Shebaa as a result of this war, Hizbullah will have won a far more significant victory than simply being able to withstand the Israeli attacks. It will be the first Arab army of any form to actually win land from Israel and it would have done so by contravening international norms boldly and without apology. This would set an example and precedent that will surely lead to more (if that’s possible) war.

Having said that, it also serves the Syrian purposes not to solve the problem here for the same reasons that Hizbullah finds this idiotic piece of land so useful as a pretext.

As far as I’m concerned Pierre, if you had said to me 4 weeks ago, “Hey, let’s make Shebaa Farms a neutral zone,” I would have agreed without a quibble. You would have had to get me written assurances from Hizbullah, Lebanon and Syria that this would close the matter, but with those assurances you would have been welcome to make this land a nature reserve or a water-park or the Mid-East’s biggest shopping mall – anything non-military.

The problem now is that it is more than a patch of land. It is now the symbol of the UN’s ability or inability to determine and enforce borders, and of a country such as Israel to withdraw from land it controls (by any manner) with international oversight and adhering to historic maps and norms and then to have the other side respect this withdrawal. It is a symbol of whether the international community will stand vigilant over its own rulings in any matter relating to states and borders. If this symbol is tampered with because of this war, it will represent a signal failure to respect final borders and Israel will never be able to trust a peace agreement with any partner where a land exchange is part of the deal. In other words, no agreement will ever be meaningful as far as peace is concerned. Don’t forget, what Israel sought in Camp David and Taba as well as previously with Syrian talks, is that the Arab side agree to “end of conflict.” This idiotic piece of meaningless land has come to mean that Israel may never trust such promises if it has to give in after being provoked into war.

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  • TM (is that what the kids call you?) I would welcome the return of Shebaa farms to Lebanon, possibly for a trade for the two kidnapped soldiers. Trading land would be better than trading prisoners who tried and convicted for murdering Israelis.

    Hizbullah is a ‘resistance’ group, why not give them the only piece of land which they are identifying as ‘occupied.’ After this wouldn’t Hizbullah have to quit their resistance? I know it wouldn’t be that simple but it would take away all of Hizbullah’s legitimacy as a resistance group. I would also like to see how Syria would react because it is really their land, not Lebanon’s.

    Syria wouldn’t accept only the Shebaa Farms for peace, they would require the the Golan.

    These pieces of land are definately strategic areas, but warfare has changed over the last 30 years. I don’t they are as relevant as before. All the surrounding hostile countries don’t have traditional armed forces which could stand up to the IDF. Any type of conflict would be exactly like what we have now, assymetric, guerilla warfare.

  • I agree with the second comment. In the end, this land is important to Lebanon as it is a symbol of getting something for all they have lost. Lets not beat around the bush, Israel is in control of vasts amount of land that it has effectively seized, occupied, or was given. Regardless of which ones are legitimate and not (because the people dont care about UN resolutions) Israel is gonna have to give something to get something. Israel traded the entire Sinai peninsula to get a peace agreement with Egypt. Trading the Shebaa farms for peace with Lebanon is miniscule in comparison. Also, Hezbollah is a radical organization that exists to the detriment of moderates. But they are not liars when it comes to their committments and their claims. If they agree to cease violence against Israel if the Shebaa farms are returned, then they will. And if they break the accord, then Israel could bomb them and fight them as they just did, but this time with more fervor, greater international support, and most importantly with the support of all decent Lebanese people, who at that point would completely turn their backs on Hezbollah. Its a small price to pay for a piece of land the size of my college campus. With regards to Syria, Israel WILL have to give back a part of the Golan. Thats just how it is. But giving the Shebaa to Lebanon is also an important tool is fomenting Lebanese nationalism. Since Hezbollah is the outspoken defender of this cause, and Syria implicitly thinks its their’s, what would happen in the future when Syria wants it again? Either Hezbollah would stand up to syria or lose all credit. Thats a win win if there ever was one.

  • I hope I found a jewish site I can have a proper insight with. I am Lebanese living in the US. I am muslim so I am dubbed as someone who dislikes(more strong acronyms used) Jews. The fact is, I find it extremely difficult to hate anyone and understanding is key to figuring this peace thing for all of us.
    Hezbollah is fighting as a resistance group, the only claim it has left is prisoners, Shebaa and Mines. I think the Mines are figured out by 1701, and who can disagree, land mines are brutal and illegal.
    What I fear the most with Hezbollah, is that they intend to fight for palestinian land, the only upswing is that I don’t think they get along very well with the palestinian authorities.
    If Shebaa is returned, and I don’t know how the prisoners will be figured out, but then internally there will be strong scrutiny against any attack Hezbollah comits, plus the international world will have no reason to side with them, there will be no basis for any military action unless it is in response to one, which I hope will have no reason to happen. The dismantlement would be imminent, but it takes time and trust doesn’t exist.
    I do agree though, some fanatics will see it as chipping away at Israel.
    Anyway, i’m going nuts trying to see a peaceful accord to all this, I love culture and it’s sad not to be able share one’s culture with their neighbor.

    Thanks all for listening.