In Israeli discourse, "Lebanon" no longer refers to a war. It is a metaphor. Each time an analogy is needed to describe the country's plight, something easy to understand which accounts for reality, Lebanon is summoned; when a more specific comparison is needed, "Hezbollah" does the trick. A roadside bomb? Just like Lebanon. An anti-tank missile? Just like Hezbollah.
The utility of this analogy is hard to grasp. Is it used as a threatening warning, as though to say that a new Lebanon is brewing here, as is a new Hezbollah? Or, alternatively, perhaps the point of the analogy is to allay anxieties. As though the war against Hamas and Islamic Jihad is not hard enough, we suddenly need a yet more formidable paradigm. The analogy urges a political-diplomatic conclusion: just as Israel withdrew from Lebanon, it can now resort to the same solution. Unilateral withdrawal from Gaza will set everything right.
Yet we should clarify: Lebanon is not Gaza. Apart from particular types of explosives or bombs used in the field, not a single aspect of the comparison fits. Up to 1989, Lebanon bore a certain resemblance to Gaza; but once the agreement that brought an end to the civil war in Lebanon was signed, and a regime was formed which united the country's factions, the analogy came to a full stop.
From that point, and after Israel Defense Forces troops rolled back to the south, northern Lebanon experienced accelerated economic growth. A significant result of the creation of the united Lebanese state was that an organization like Hezbollah was forced to take into account not only the policies enacted by the country's government, but also public opinion. Pressure faced by the organization has intensified since Israel pulled its troops out of southern Lebanon exactly four years ago. The aim of preventing a situation in which the IDF might return and attack civilian and (in particular) economic targets within Lebanese territory compelled Hezbollah to play strictly by the rules of the game, and to narrow the scope of legitimate warfare against Israel: such warfare is confined to the Har Dov area and to weapons fired in response to the flight of IDF aircraft in Lebanese air space.
Lebanon very quickly created an economic reality in which its citizens have a lot to lose should war be renewed; and so Hezbollah would lose considerable political clout should it operate against the country's economic interests. Even without Syrian influence, Hezbollah has a firm understanding of the leeway it has to operate. Hezbollah has not stopped Lebanese citizens from working in Israel since it cannot afford to pay what is required for these people to live. Even before withddrawal, apart from rare instances when it decided to fire katyushas, Hezbollah has waged its war against Israel within Lebanese territory. Thus, the war of attrition it waged against Israel was effective but also constrained. The war was confined to understandings forged after Israel's Grapes of Wrath operation: an attack came in response to an attack, as though it were a case of a state's army fighting against another state's army.
This is not the reality on the Gaza Strip, nor in the territories generally. If, in the 1980s and 1990s Hamas and Islamic Jihad were unable to present Palestinians with an economic alternative, and were thus forced to restrain their activity against religious permissiveness, and swallow the bitter pill of Palestinian laborers working in Israel, today no such counter-weight inhibits the organizations' activities. There is no Palestinian state; there is no Palestinian economy; there is no Palestinian work in Israel. Hence, there is no public pressure to inhibit the militant organizations' activities. There is no Israeli proposal or incentive that might hedge terror activity.
The crucial differences between the Gaza Strip and Lebanon also apply to solutions. In Lebanon, Israel did not attempt to plant a single civilian settlement. Unilateral withdrawal was a pure military decision requiring nothing other than military organization. In contrast, withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will require an initial political decision, before military action is taken. This time, Shaul Mofaz will not be able to change his stripes in a single moment, as he did in Lebanon, and order a withdrawal. True, he has declared that the Gaza Strip is not a religious-cultural inheritance, but he does not have command over what happens in Eretz Yisrael. Instead, his friends from Netzarim and other settlements have arrogated the authority which Mofaz possessed as chief of staff when Israeli troops were deployed in Lebanon. Gaza would only be Lebanon were Gush Katif in Israel.
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