In May 2000, while the Israel Defense Forces was preparing for two diametrically opposite scenarios, one of which was expected to unfold in September - either a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians or violent confrontation - the security zone in southern Lebanon went to pieces, with some prodding from Hezbollah. The South Lebanon Army collapsed, and Israel hastened to evacuate its soldiers to the border. Four months later, in the wake of the reverberating failure of talks with the Palestinians, the territories ignited in violence.
Though what occurred yesterday in Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights and Maroun al-Rass in Lebanon does not precisely mimic the events of 2000, similar lessons can be drawn from both incidents. Israel does not control the march of events, or the march of time. An unresolved problem will continue as a source of trouble, and explode at some particularly painful juncture. The effort to deal with the Palestinian issue as though it were separate from the northern border issue has turned out to be illusory; for its own good, rather than as an act of mercy, Israel must do its utmost (which means doing a whole lot more than what is has done up to now ) to solve the entire imbroglio.
In this respect, May 15, 2011, will be remembered as a representative date. Popular protests in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and some events on the Gaza border, were expected. In actual fact, the worst attack was carried out in Tel Aviv by an Israeli Arab, and the north heated up. To some extent, there was an intelligence failure from a tactical standpoint. The IDF Northern Command expected the main demonstrations to be held in the Quneitra area of the Golan and was surprised when demonstrators, apparently with the backing of the Syrian government, chose Majdal Shams.
IDF rules of engagement called for trespassers at the border fence in the Galilee and the Golan to be shot in the legs. Yet the gunfire here and in Lebanon left people dead. The funerals, it can be assumed, will continue to cause tension in the north, at least as long as Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah have an interest in such tension.
Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian protesters timed their messages so that they would reach Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the onset of Washington's "Middle East week." Anyone who gives up on peace initiatives and leaves them to others is liable to wake up to a painful reality.
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