The phenomenon of evacuating the civilian population in Lebanon during combat is not a new phenomenon. The population is usually evacuated according to its own discretion and independent will without having a guiding hand, i.e., each to his fate. Some evacuate to the homes of family members or acquaintances, some to rented apartments, some to other homes they own, and the rest to makeshift evacuee camps.
The assumption that the IDF would carry out a ground maneuver in Lebanese territory, as we saw in the Second Lebanon War (2006), was the fundamental motivation for the evacuation of the population from southern Lebanon to the north. As part of its operational plans at the time, the IDF “encouraged” the population of southern Lebanon to flee north, using leaflets disseminated from the air (similar to what is happening today in Gaza). All of this is done to protect civilians as much as possible during the IDF’s operation against Hezbollah on Lebanese soil.
In some cases, we witnessed a phenomenon in which Hezbollah prevented the population from leaving and moving north. The reason for this is simple: the human shield tactic. Leaving the population effectively renders redundant the human shield tactic on which Hezbollah bases its military activity.
As is well known, the human shield tactic is a central tactic used by all Iranian proxies. Hezbollah serves as a model for the various proxies in the use of human shield tactics in general and for Hamas and the PIJ in the Gaza Strip in particular.
A good example of this can be seen in the current war in the Gaza Strip, in which Hamas tried to prevent by force the humanitarian passage that the IDF allowed the population to move from the northern Gaza Strip to the south. In many cases, Hamas operatives fired at the population moving toward the southern Gaza Strip. Hamas fire caused injuries and fatalities. The IDF’s seizure of the area, the elimination of the Hamas operatives and the securing of the civilian population enabled its continued movement to the southern Gaza Strip, to predefined humanitarian areas.
Hezbollah chose to support Hamas by waging a limited border campaign against Israel. As of this writing, it appears that Hezbollah has no intention of launching an all-out campaign against Israel at the current time. As of today, there are routine exchanges of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah, mostly in the area adjacent the border. The firepower used by Hezbollah is characterized by rocket and mortar launches, UAVs, sniping, anti-tank fire, and in the first weeks was also characterized by attempts to infiltrate into Israeli territory (mainly by Palestinian PIJ and Hamas operatives).
Israel, for its part, pursues an active defensive policy. Israel attacks operatives, firing and observation positions, weapons, etc. Many of them were stationed and deployed by Hezbollah in populated civilian areas. Hence the reason for the IDF’s targeted attacks inside Lebanese villages and towns. These attacks have an effect in regards to the evacuation of southern Lebanon population.
There are quite a few indications concerning the partial evacuation of the Lebanese population, mainly from villages and settlements near the border (“first line”). We estimate that there are tens of thousands (up to about 50,000 Shiites/Christians/Sunnis) who evacuated their homes. As of this writing, and as long as there is no significant conflagration on the Lebanese border, it seems that the current situation does not constitute a trigger for the southern Lebanese population to evacuate north on the scale we witnessed in 2006 (hundreds of thousands).
In conclusion, the following are the main characteristics of population evacuation in southern Lebanon:
- The evacuation is mainly from the villages and towns on the front line opposite the border with Israel along its entire length: Alma a-Shaab, Yarin, Marwahin, Qouzah, Ramiya, Ayta ash Shab, Rmaych, ‘Ein Abel, Bint Jbeil, Maroun a-Ras, Aitaroun, Blida, Miss al-Jabal, Yarun, Markaba, ‘Adisa, Kafr Kila.
- The percentage of evacuees in each locality is different. In our understanding, it ranges from 10/20% to 70% and even higher. For example, we estimate that from the Bint Jbeil area (a Shiite area), up to 20% of the residents evacuated. On the other hand, the head of the Rmaych village council (a Christian village), Milad al-Alam, said in an interview to the Al-Arabiya network that the village had become a “ghost town” and that about 70% of the residents had already evacuated and left the village for other places.
- The higher the intensity of the fighting in a certain area, the higher the percentage of evacuations, including in Shiite communities sympathetic to Hezbollah, such as Aitaroun, Alma a-Shaab and Ayta ash Shab.
- It is our understanding that some residents evacuate and return several times. It seems that the evacuation of some of the residents is not long-term and they return to their homes, subject to the intensity of the fighting in their area of residence and subject to economic and employment needs (with an emphasis on the olive harvest season).
It should be noted that in Israel in a situation like this, it usually involves the evacuation of the population (according to different criteria, scopes and time periods) of the communities near the border (up to 5 km), subject to government directives. The evacuation is based on predetermined government and military plans, in order to distance the population from the line of contact, protect it and allow the IDF to operate freely.
According to data from the National Emergency Authority, in Israel, as of this writing, about 23,000 residents of Kiryat Shmona were evacuated, about 27,000 residents from 28 communities up to 2 kilometers from the Lebanese border and about 11,000 residents from 14 additional communities. In total, about 61,000 residents were evacuated from the area near the border with Lebanon.