Left-wing politics from the US to Nepal, via Zimbabwe, South America and Palestine.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On the 6th Anniversary of the Withdrawal from Lebanon - Two Articles

Six years ago today, Israeli forces withdrew from Southern Lebanon, closing an 18-year period marked by thousands of deaths and countless injuries. Two op-eds appeared in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv today about the subject, one by the right-wing Efi Eitam and one by the center-left Yossi Beilin. Below are translations of both. Eitam's article in Hebrew is here, and Beilin's is here.

Leaving with a Bowed Head

Efi Eitam reckons that the army's exit from Lebanon has helped the victory of Islamic terror.

Today is the sixth anniversary of the army's flight from the security belt [1] in Lebanon. I was the last commander of the Lebanon sector before the flight, and I sent, like many before me, hundreds of young soldiers to these missions, mission that many of them did not return from.

But before we deal with the analysis of the results of this move, I would like to pay attention to the negative and false atmosphere that is present in Israel regarding that war these days. To the talk of a useless war and the mistake that that war was, to the atmosphere that has turned, in large measure, the sacrifices of soldiers to meaninglessness. Today I want to say to you, dear warriors and dear families, that was a war of unparalleled importance and that as the years pass, it will become clear that this front was the cornerstone of the struggle against the entirety of Islamic terror.

Like so often in history, the treason of politicians has made the efforts, the sacrifices and the determination of warriors in the field meaningless. The treason of the politicians in the name of some momentary and temporary calm in the difficulties of war has almost become a fixed method since the flight from Lebanon. I salute from here today all those many, who were sent by myself and by others, to the mission of protecting the northern border and did not return.

And now, to observation of the consequences of the move itself. Actually, the flight from Lebanon was the great-grandfather of unilateral moves. An apparently brilliant trick that with one sword thrust cut the Gordian knot that we built between us and Lebanon and left them, supposedly, to their own business. But realistically, it was the first strategic victory of an extremist Islamic terror organization (Hizb'Allah) over the Israeli army and over the stamina of Israeli society. Thus, the move turned into a military and political imitation model, a model that has been endorsed by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda.

Six years after this flight, indeed no more soldiers are dying on the Northern border. However, terror organizations are actively completing a siege around the state of Israel whilst thousands of Israeli civilians' lives are being lost. On the Southern border Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to completely implement the Hiza'Allah model and after they chased the Israeli army out of Gush Katif [the former Israeli settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip] and caused the state of Israel to uproot its citizens and its settlements from there, Hamas has become the chosen leadership of the Palestinian people.

The talk of 'Convergence' signal to those same terror organizations that Israel is about to run away from Judea and Samaria as well. With this, Palestinian terror will achieve another strategic victory over Israel by pushing it to its '67 borders. Without an agreement and while the entire evacuated area becomes a terrorist state dependent on Iranian aid. A state that aims to create territorial continuity from Iran to the greater Tel Aviv area while endangering the future of Jordan.

True, the collapse of great walls begins from the removal of one brick. As stated, our stubborn position in the 'security belt' in Lebanon took a heavy toll in lives of soldiers and warriors but it was the same stubborn rock that broadcast the political and military determination to not surrender to terror. With our miserable flight we opened the gate to the victory of Islamic terror in the entire region. There is no doubt that Israel will have to renew treatment of Islamic terror in the north, as well as the Southern threat, that has turned the South of the state of Israel to a target for Katyusha and Qasam rockets [2].

One of the difficult and painful things is that statesmen in their foolishness are not required to give the verdict. Ehud Barak, in his short and failing term as prime minister, designed the model of defeat. Ariel Sharon after him, strengthened it, and it looks like the current Prime Minister, with an inexperienced security team, is with remarkable persistence doing everything so that the siege of terror and its victory will indeed be completed. This is not the way to build security. This is the way to destroy a wall.

[1] In 1995, Israel withdrew its forces from central Lebanon, but left what it called a 'security belt' in the South. In practice, Israel continued the occupation of southern Lebanon, partially through its proxy militia, the South Lebanese Army. See Yossi Beilin's article below.

[2] Exactly one Katyusha rocket has been launched from Gaza. That was just a couple of months ago. There is no 'rain' of Katyushas as was the case during the Lebanon war.
The Dangerous Consensus

MK Yossi Beilin presents the mental fixation that prevented bringing forward the retreat [from Lebanon].

From the moment we entered Lebanon, that useless and pretentious war, I believed we had to get out of there, and every time it became more difficult and was more likely to be seen as running away. In January 1985 I was delighted when I announced to the public, as government secretary, the army's exit from Lebanon, but I found the "security belt" that turned in a death trap for so many soldiers, difficult to swallow. For some reason, the matter did not turn into a public debate like the future of the Occupied Territories: the baseless belief, according to which the army's soldiers in the security belt were the only barrier to the Katyusha rockets being launched on Northern towns became common opinion, and also became a slogan in the Northern military posts.

In the summer of 1995, after one of the incidents in Lebanon in which a few army soldiers were killed, I asked Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister and Security Minister, if he really believes that we are saving lives by remaining in the 'security belt'. He replied that this is not the time to discuss the matter. We all knew that when soldiers were not being killed in Lebanon, no one will discuss the matter since it just isn't on the agenda.

But when I traveled to Lebanon and met the commander of the Northern sector and the commander of liaison with Lebanon, I understood that the position opposing the exit from Lebanon was far from representative of all of senior army people. To my surprise, my chats with Rabin revealed that the Prime Minister was not convinced of the need to stay in Lebanon, but he put forward some conditions to the army's retreat in order to prove 'Lebanon's seriousness', and these conditions were non-realistic.

In 1996, operation 'Grapes of Wrath' took place. We were dragged into it after a wave of Hizb'Allah Katyusha rockets on Northern towns. I suggested to Shim'on Peres, then Prime Minister, that with the end of the operation we declare the evacuation of the 'Security Belt'. This was after the army accidentally fired artillery that hit more than one hundred Lebanese in Qan'a village. Peres thought that such a retreat would be a signal of weakness towards the arena of world public opinion.

Immediately following this elections were held. With our passage to the opposition benches, I held talks with many members of Knesset and was surprised to learn that many of them supported an exit from Lebanon, with no regard to the official position of their parties: Gideon Ezra and Miki Eitan from Likud, Haim Ramon, Yael Dayan and Yona Yahav from Labor, Yitzhak Cohen from Shas, Naomi Chazan from Meretz, Yehuda Har'el from the 'Third Way', and others. In the meeting that took place in my office, we created a forum for support of unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. Shortly afterwards, we held a larger meeting in the home of Gideon Ezra in Kochav Yair.

The media gave widespread coverage to the event, because it took place only a few days after the helicopter disaster [3], and there were those who accused us of taking advantage of the disaster for political gain. A few days after the meeting I received a letter from a group of women in Kibbutz Gadot that wanted to work as partners with us. I traveled to meet them and we decided to cooperate. Later they were called 'Four Mothers' [4].

A combination of a multi-party parliamentary lobby that held widespread parliamentary activity, with an authentic public protest movement, many joint demonstration and media appearances raised the public support for an exit from Lebanon from 18% at the beginning of the work, to 72%. From there and until the promise to exit Lebanon became Barak's election slogan, the path was short (despite him [Barak] being one of the strongest opponents when I created the lobby).

Barak stood by his word. On the 24th of May 2000, he made the most important political move of his career by taking the army out of Lebanon. The relative calm in the north, the blossoming of tourism, the calm in Northern towns, all these prove how dangerous the old consensus was.

One should not believe that 'up there' they know so much more. If people are convinced of the righteousness of their ways, it is better that they struggle for their beliefs. The chance of convincing others and of breaking the consensus is not negligible. And then, it becomes clear that the supposed fort is nothing but a tower of cards.

[3] Feb 1997 - IDF helicopter disaster. 73 IDF soldiers died in helicopter collision in northern Israel on way to Lebanon.
[4] See here.


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