The new Israeli government of prime minister Ehud Barak has pledged to move forward with peace negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians. The Syrians and Palestinians and other Arab governments have received this positively. Local radical movements, both Arab and Israeli, have announced their continued opposition to any peace treaties. Meanwhile, Barak, a former general, has stopped Israeli military attacks in Lebanon.
July 1st: Israeli helicopters attacked targets in south Lebanon.
On May 17th, Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister of Israel. Barak has long advocated pulling the 1,500 Israeli troops out of south Lebanon, and promised to do so within a year after he was elected. Israeli troops have occupied south Lebanon since 1978, mainly to provide a nine mile wide buffer zone that makes it more difficult for Syrian (Amal) and Iranian (Hezbollah) backed militias in Lebanon from firing rockets into north Israel.
The Syrian and Iranian backed militias in Lebanon did not wait for the rumored Israeli retreat, but stepped up their attacks against the 2,500 man, Israeli supported, South Lebanon Army (SLA). By the end of May, 155 SLA troops and 65 local civilians had been killed and the SLA decided to pull out of the town of Jezzine (just outside the Israeli security zone, populated by about 5,000 largely Christian Lebanese). Amal and Hezbollah rocket attacks against northern Israel also increased, although little damage and few injuries were caused.
Israeli air attacks increased, striking as far north as Beirut. By the end of June, over a hundred Lebanese were killed or injured. This brought protests from Hezbollah, as well as Lebanon, Syria and Iran, all pointing to the 1996 agreement between Israel and Hezbollah to avoid attacks on civilians. But Benjamin Netanyahu, the outgoing Prime Minister of Israel, ordered air attacks on Lebanese infrastructure on June 24th in an attempt to force the Lebanese to pressure Hezbollah to stop their attacks on south Lebanon and northern Israel. Israeli missiles hit electricity substations, putting out the lights in the Lebanese capital Beirut for several hours.
As early as May 20th, there were rumors that Barak, when he took office in June, would implement a plan to withdraw Israeli troops from south Lebanon.
By the end of June, Hezbollah troops were regularly attacking, usually with rockets or mortars, settlements in south Lebanon. Attacks were still being made on northern Israel, but there were few injuries and no deaths. Unlike previous times when these attacks occurred, many Israelis were temporarily evacuating their settlements.
Militarily, the operations in south Lebanon are mainly political, namely how the attacks into northern Israel play in Israeli politics.
UN troops have also suffered many casualties in south Lebanon over the years. Between 1978 and 1999, 227 U.N. soldiers had been killed there.