This article is reprinted with permission from the June 30, 2006 edition of the New York Law Journal. © 2006 ALM Properties Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. 1/27/2004 N.Y.L.J. 2, (col. 3) New York Law Journal Volume 231 Copyright 2004 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved

Arbitrating Armed Conflict: Decisions of the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group
By Adir G. Waldman
Reviewed by David Wrobel

Peacemaking can be a rather dull affair. By and large, it is conducted in backrooms, far from the cameras, and consists of slow and tedious work. For sheer drama and spectacle, war beats peace any day. Negotiators sitting around a table rarely inspire “shock and awe.” But perhaps they should.

In “Arbitrating Armed Conflict: Decisions of the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group,” Adir G. Waldman examines a previously unstudied, yet critically important, experiment in international law. In April 1996, Israel and Lebanon reached an extraordinary written agreement: armed conflict between the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese terrorist militia Hezbollah would continue, but both forces would be bound to an explicitly agreed-upon set of rules intended to protect civilians. To support this unique international pact, the parties established an equally unique arbitral institution — the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group — to hear and resolve complaints regarding breaches of the agreement.

Waldman, a recent graduate of Yale Law School and now an associate at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, presents the material in the careful and methodical fashion of social science. And through a series of confidential interviews with highly informed participants, Waldman casts the first light on this exceptional system of international and military law. Waldman analyzes every meeting of the group, replete with charts and tables and including every published “Statement” of the ILMG in an Appendix as lengthy as the text. It should be noted that Waldman also is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces.

While the scholarly nature of this book assures that it will never be a best-seller, the importance of this work cannot be understated. It presents a case history of bitter enemies dealing with a deadly conflict in a rational and civilized manner, breaking a cycle of attacks and reprisals and saving lives in the process. If only we could fill a bookcase with books on this subject.

The border between Lebanon and Israel has long been one of the most dangerous spots on earth for noncombatant civilians. In the 1960s, Palestinian militants used south Lebanon as a staging ground for attacks on Israel. Following the Israel-Lebanon War of 1982-1985, the Palestinians were replaced by Hezbollah (the Iranian–backed Shi’ite “Party of God’) with the tacit approval of Syria which, for all intents and purposes, controls Lebanon as a vassal state. Opposing the Palestinians and Jihadists have been the Israeli Defense Forces and their Christian militia allies.

As Waldman explains, in the 1990s, Israeli–Hezbollah fighting became a “proxy battle” for Israeli-Syrian hostilities. The Syrians “sought to use the violence in south Lebanon as a lever for pushing the Israelis to bargain on a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, offering the prospect of a Syrian-ensured quiet in Lebanon in exchange for Israeli abdication of the previously Syrian territory.” But, whatever the geopolitical gamesmanship at play, the fact is that innocent lives and property were lost in the endless cross-fire; a rocket attack launched from a Lebanese village prompted a counter-attack against that village, prompting a roadside bombing against a pro-Israel militia site, and so on.

In 1996, following a particularly large-scale offensive by Israeli troops, the possibility of an all-out Syrian-Israeli war became a real possibility. After a great deal of diplomatic wrangling — notably by an engaged Clinton administration working with European allies! — the so-called “April Agreement” was reached, with the goal of cooling down the border tension. Specifically, the governments of Syria, Lebanon and Israel agreed on four major points:

    1. Armed groups in Lebanon [i.e., Hezbollah] will not carry out attacks by Katyusha rockets or by any kind of weapon into Israel.
    2. Israel and those cooperating with it [i.e., Christian militias] will not fire any kind of weapon at civilians or civilian targets in Lebanon.
    3. Beyond this, the two parties commit to insuring that under no circumstances will civilians be the target of attack and that civilian-populated areas and industrial and electrical installations will not be used as launching grounds for attacks.
    4. Without violating this understanding, nothing herein shall preclude any party from exercising the right of self-defense.

To enforce the agreement, a “Monitoring Group” was established, consisting of representatives of the United States, France, Lebanon and Israel. In the event of a claimed violation of the understanding, an aggrieved party was to have 24 hours to submit a “complaint” to the group. No further instructions were provided beyond the vague command that “procedures for dealing with the complaints will be set by the Monitoring Group.”

So how did the ILMG do? Could Israel and Syria actually sit down and agree on procedures, let alone deal with complaints and resolve them? If so, why? And how can we repeat any of the successes? These are the questions addressed in “Arbitrating Armed Conflict.”
The ILMG met 103 times, from 1996 to 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. America and France took turns chairing and co-chairing the meetings, which were described as “tense, though businesslike.” Primarily military officials led each country’s delegation, an appropriate choice given the highly technical nature of the disputes being addressed.

Proceedings had a rather depressing consistency: One side would allege that its civilians had been wrongfully attacked and present supporting evidence. In defense, the other side might deny the event or allege that the attack was in “self defense.” After each side was heard, the hard work of diplomacy started, as the parties set to work to create a joint statement, containing the unanimous findings and conclusions of the group.

In the nuances of the 103 statements, one discerns some grounds for hope. Early meetings produced little more than “acknowledgments” of the complaints that had been filed, together with anemic declarations that the panel “urged” combatants to “abide” by the April Agreement. Over time, however, the number of filed complaints increased as the participants took the process more seriously. And, yes, the ILMG was actually able to assess blame in certain instances when guilty parties began to concede irrefutable evidence of a violation. It is in such unheralded battles that diplomatic victories are won.

Waldman concludes that empirical evidence shows that the ILMG managed to keep the border conflict within bounds and that lives were saved. He attributes the ILMG’s success to the “venting” function it provided, allowing an injured party to appease its citizens through meetings instead of military action.

Finally, Waldman believes that the ILMG worked because both Syria and Israel wanted it to work, in order to avoid a larger war. In the Middle East, it seems, getting the parties to agree on peace is still impossible. The avoidance of war is a far more achievable goal.

And, in a day and age of seemingly unbounded conflict, the lessons of this system, with both its pitfalls and its virtues, may prove crucial. This book serves as a guide to that system.