Published in The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
A year ago, Ehud Barak, the most decorated war hero on Israel’s history , was elected Prime Minister of Israel. Now , a year later he is on the process of compromising Israel’s strategic assets, deterrence power and moral authority.
There is little disagreement that Israel should have left Lebanon a long time ago. However, the mad rush to the border of the Israeli border of the Israeli army was not the right way. Israel will pay a heavy price for its humiliating withdrawal in its dealings with Hizballah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations as well as in its negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians.
Israel has initially planned to leave Lebanon by July 7. It was supposed to be an orderly withdrawal with UN peace forces creating a buffer zone at the Lebanese – Israeli border. But as Israel pulled out of front lines areas under intense Hizballah fire, the South Lebanon army (SLA), which for 22 years had held off the Hizballah terrorists with Israeli help , collapsed and fled. Hizballah immediately occupied the abandoned positions .
This prompted Israeli prime Minister to order an immediate evacuation , which was accomplished under the cover of darkness in several hours, leaving Israeli military equipment behind.
Many SLA soldiers were caught and others surrendered. They will likely go to jail or be sentenced to death for collaborating with Israel. Many others fled with their families to the Israeli border asking and receiving sanctuary . In the follwong hours , the Hizbalah terrorists advanced through the Security Zone, up to the Israeli border , stopping just yards away from Israeli towns and taunting the Israeli soldiers.
Perception of power is a necessary survival tool in the Middle east which houses some of the most brutal dictators in the world. For over 50 years, Israel worked very hard to establish its reputation as undefeated , invincible , proud army. It was Israel’s reputation that deterred its enemies on many occasions and halted the Syrian and Egyptian armies in the 1973 Yom Kippur War long enough to give Israel time to recover and win. Now the Israeli government has weakened Israel’s deterrence power.
The images of pro- Israeli Lebanese fleeing , and of jubilant Islamic terrorist seizing villages and abandoned Israeli arms has left many comparing the scene to the final US exit from Vietnam 25 years ago. However, unlike Israel , the US did not need to stick the first forced retreat of the Israeli army from an Arab land in the 52 years since Israel’s declaration of Independence.
Already the taunting by Israel’s enemies has begun.
“This is the first victory in 50 years of Arab- Israeli conflict”, Hizbalah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said, “We are in south Lebanon safe and happy, and they are in the northern settlements of Palestine along the border terrified before the unknown future..”.
The Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss said, “ Israeli army withdrew terrified and defeated , wagging behind him the tails of a crushing defeat . History will record that on this day the will of the Lebanese and the sacrifices of their resistance have defeated have defeated the strongest military force in the region.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi praised the victory for Lebanon, Syria and Iran during his visit to South Lebanon border and said, “ Israel’s defeat is not the last”.
Prime Minister Barak said after Israel’s troop withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizballah guerrillas have ”no legitimization , no justification, not even an excuse to attack Israeli soldiers or civilians.” He said Lebanon and Syria are directly responsible for maintaining peace along the border and warned , an attack would invite retaliation.
In responses, the Hizballah leader warned Israel to leave Lebanon alone or “…pay a high price .” He continued , “the time when we were afraid of threats by Israel , the time when its planes and tanks and gunboats violated our skies , land and sea, that time is gone.”
It seems the hastened Israeli pullout raises more problems for Israel than solutions. The first problem: it is almost certain the Hizballah in Lebanon will begin cross border terrorism against Israel. Only now they do not need to fire Katyushas from a distance as before but only to shoot several yards away to terrorize the residents of Northern Israel. It is uncertain how many residents of North Israeli towns will remain under these conditions and how long it will be before the Israeli army is forced to confront the terrorists again.
Much worse , Israel is in the midst of negotiating a final agreement with the Palestinians. It is reported that Israel already offered the Palestinians 90 percent of the west Bank including control over the top of the mountains and Jordan Valley and the Palestinians rejected demanding 100 percent of the West bank , eastern Jerusalem and the return of the refugees . Now the Palestinians , as well as the Syrians , can cite the unilateral full withdrawal from Lebanon as a precedent for Israel relinquishing all of the disputed territories.
Further more, the PA, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank will be encouraged by the success of the Hizballah ‘s terrorist tactics. They will use further violence against Israel to force a total retreat. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have already called on the Palestinians people to follow Hizballah’s example . In the last month Arafat has already encouraged his Palestinian Police to use live ammunition against Israeli soldiers and dozens have been wounded in the demand for prisoners’ release.
Finally , The Israelis against their
allies – the SLA soldiers , who for 22 years defended North Israeli residents with their lives- have inflicted a moral injustice . The Jewish State needs to explain why it betrayed and deserted 2,500 SLA allies and their families , leaving 1,5000 of them at the mercy of their terrorist enemies.
If the quick disintegration of the SLA militia was unforeseen by Israel , then the government should be held responsible for mishandling the withdrwal , lack of planning and military vision. If the mass collapse had been’ in the realm of the predicable” as Barak stated , then it was morally reprehensible.
Israel had been in Lebanon 22 years and suffered more than 1,000 fatalities. It did not wish to have additional casualties. However, the Jews who have been repeatedly sacrificed through out history by the political , strategic , national, or other self serving gains of other nations should not have done the same to its allies. Israel should have stayed behind several more weeks and organized a secure exit and safe haven for those less fortunate.
Israel is supposed to be different from other nations and be guided by higher moral values . however, this time the Israeli leadership failed to live up to its obligations.