During the month of July, there was increased military activity on Israel's northern border. The Hizballah organization, supported by Iran, and a number of radical Palestinian groups, fired Katyushas at the Security Zone in southern Lebanon and at a number of Israeli towns, villages and settlements inside Israeli territory. Israel reacted initially with restraint and the United States sought to obtain Syrian involvement in halting the attacks. When this did not succeed, and the attacks intensified, the government ordered the IDF to launch an operation, called Accountability, designed to end hostile activities from southern Lebanon. It was aimed at Hizballah and those Lebanese civilians who sheltered and supported members of this organization. In the following address, the prime minister explained the reasons for the operation without going into military details. The operation was carried out mainly by artillery, air force and naval units, shelling selected targets on the ground. The policy was to refrain from sending a large number of ground troops into Lebanon. Excerpts:
Mr. Speaker, Honored Knesset,
At this very hour, IDF forces are operating in Lebanon in order to guarantee the security and orderly lives of residents of the north. (...)
The purpose of the action now [being carried out] in southern Lebanon is to restore security to the lives of residents in communities of the north, and we will continue this activity until we achieve our goal - whether military, or through an integrated, military-political [approach]. All options are open to us in order to attain this goal, and let there be no mistake - various reports [to the contrary] will not deter us. We are steadfast in our decision to continue operating toward achieving our goal. (...)
The endurance of the people in the north during this difficult battle over their right to security would not be possible were it not for the strength and bravery of the soldiers of the IDF. (...)
It is they who now stand between life and death; between quiet and security on the one hand, and attacks and destruction on the Israeli-Lebanese border on the other in the face of Hizballah terrorists who do not conceal their intentions and goals: to eradicate the Security Zone in southern Lebanon; to strike at the communities of the north, and to bring the peace talks to a halt. (...)
In recent years, since the creation of the Security Zone, no terrorist group has succeeded by land in penetrating deep into Israeli territory. All penetration attempts have ended at the security fence, nearby or further afield, within the Security Zone or to the north of it. (...) Since that time, the price of security in the north has been paid by the 92 IDF soldiers and civilians who have fallen in combat and terrorist attacks - as well as the almost 320 [persons] who have been wounded in the Security Zone and in anti-terrorist operations.
The primary struggle today in the Lebanese Security Zone and the north of the Zone, is against Hizballah terrorists who are supported by the Iranians, but Palestinian terrorist organizations are also participating in terrorist activities.
Since the elections in Lebanon in September 1992, a change has been indicated in the Hizballah modus operandi in southern Lebanon.
The great IDF successes - within the Security Zone and to the north of it - in preventing infiltration into Israel by terrorists have given Hizballah a resounding failure within the Security Zone. Accordingly, Hizballah has directed its activities toward Israeli territory.
Following the effective actions of IDF and SLA forces against Hizballah terrorists, the [latter] have fired Katyushas at communities in the north. Ma'alot and Shlomi, Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya, Margaliot and Avivim have ' become hostages to the Hizballah Katyushas. Hizballah has attempted to transfer the war from Lebanon to the home of infants in northern communities.
We, for our part, acted with restraint at a certain stage. We hoped and expected forces in Lebanon, and outside, would limit Hizballah activities and prevent them from harming communities of the north - if only due to their assessment that, when Israeli restraint ends, [the-Israeli] response will be harsh and painful.
It did not happen this way. Syria turned a blind eye, Lebanon did not lift a finger, and the Katyushas continued to strike northern communities. The government in Beirut (which [continues] to grow stronger) did not [act] against Hizballah - which has controlled southern Lebanon, north of the Security Zone, for the past two years. Worse than that, the Lebanese government, which disarmed all the militias and gangs in Lebanon of their heavy weapons, did not do [likewise] to Hizballah. By this deed, it encouraged the terrorists to act against Israel, again and again.
Hizballah members - supported and assisted by Iran - were equipped last year with improved weapons: from long-range Katyushas to Sagger anti-tank missiles (which were fired at both IDF and SLA soldiers in the Security Zone, and at peaceful civilians in the State of Israel).
In the wake of [weapons] fire at northern communities by Hizballah and other terrorist organizations, the Government decided to do everything necessary in order to restore security to the lives of residents in communities of the north. This is the one and only goal of Operation Accountability which began on Sunday, and which is still continuing at this moment.
It is our intention to restore security to the lives of northern residents through as severe as possible a strike against Hizballah. In order to make this possible, the civilian Lebanese population in southern Lebanon will be distanced -northward from the villages in which Hizballah terrorists operate. The removal is intended to enable freedom of action in fighting against the terrorists, without harming the civilian population.
Following this action, [Israel intends to] give an opportunity to the Lebanese government - and to those outside Lebanon who support it - to restrain the Hizballah terrorists within the territory under the control of the Lebanese government. (...)
I want to clarify that it is not our plan or intention to remain silent in the face of the Katyusha firing on northern communities. There will be no compromises regarding the security of northern residents (...); there will be no compromises in the war against Hizballah if they continue to strike these communities. We will hound them everywhere and none of them will be immune. We will strike them ceaselessly and without mercy.
We have said and repeated that, if there is not security and quiet in our northern communities, there will be no security and quiet for residents of southern Lebanon (north of the security zone).
We are saddened by the suffering of the Lebanese population which is now travelling the roads [in flight]. (...) We may be pained by the sight of Lebanese [civilians] fleeing their homes, but we will tell them: Your government has the option of [empowering] the Lebanese military to prevent Katyusha fire at communities in Israel. Only if fire at the northern communities ceases will you [be able] to return to your homes in southern Lebanon. (...)
We call today on the prime minister of Lebanon to take the initiative and prevent the Hizballah terrorists from opening fire on IDF soldiers and the communities within Israeli territory. We believe that the Lebanese prime minister and his army, as well as his people, are capable of this. (...)
It will be (Lebanon's] responsibility to do everything against Hizballah the enemy that is gnawing away at [Lebanon] from within. (...)
We have not ignored the fact that, standing behind Hizballah, is Syria, 30,000 of whose soldiers are in Lebanon. It is the [same] Syria whose peace emissaries face us in Washington, and whose war emissaries launch Katyushas from the heights of Nabatiya. This is apparently the Syrians' way of exerting pressure upon us, and we will not be pressured in the least. We also call on Syria to use its ability and influence to prevent Hizballah members from acting against us.
Members of Knesset,
These days, attention is naturally focused on the activities in southern Lebanon. And yet, this involvement does not cause us to forget the peace negotiations - which are the central political goal of Israel. In the coming days, Secretary of State Warren Christopher will arrive here in an effort to advance the negotiations. We view the visit of the secretary of state positively, and desire his success.
Efforts to advance the negotiations should continue in order that the goal of Hizballah and the terrorist organizations -the desire to sabotage any progress toward peace - not be achieved. We believe that the events in southern Lebanon will not impair progress in the peace negotiations; to the contrary, the clear message of our security-oriented determination to defend the lives of our citizens and to ensure the peace of our communities comes together with the steadfast message of our devotion to the peace negotiations.
With the assistance of the secretary of state, we anticipate an attempt at dialogue with the Syrian leadership, which is capable of contributing to stability and peace should it so wish. We hope that the Palestinians will lend a hand in the effort to formulate the Declaration of Principles and, at the same time, [that] they will seriously consider the proposals for the early transfer of powers - which have a great and positive potential for all involved. And we hope that Jordan will continue its commitment and be involved in important matters of substance on the negotiations agenda. The struggle against terrorism in southern Lebanon can open a portal for settlements with the Lebanese government in security and other areas, as we have proposed during the negotiations. These are possibilities which must be fully examined.