The gnashing and weeping now being heard against the withdrawal from Lebanon and the other one from Gaza, could be the subject of a sketch for the comic TV show "Shorts." "Oy, oy, oy, we withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza and look what happened to us," Keren Mor would say, scrunching up her face and making fun of the psychotic patient who comes to see her for treatment.
The issue is not the statistics of casualties, dead and abducted that Israel has suffered since the withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza, but in what strategic position those withdrawals placed us. And it would be best to start by saying that despite the similarity between the two military operations on the two fronts, tanks here and tanks there, abduction here and abduction there, there is no similarity, just as there was no similarity between the two occupations.
Israel occupied Lebanon for military reasons: not for an ideological dream and without settlements, with a failed pretension to change Lebanese politics. But even that pretension grew from security reasons. On the other hand, Gaza, and the territories in general, became part of an ideological dream. Kfar Darom was as holy as Jerusalem, the Greater Land of Israel spread from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.
The character of the occupation influenced the fate of the withdrawals. The withdrawal from Lebanon was complete to the tiniest of points delineated by the United Nations. It was so complete that even the Lebanese and Syrian governments could not argue against it but only to demand, through diplomatic channels, that Shaba Farms be recognized as part of Lebanon and then demand that Israel withdraw from that area.
The complete withdrawal from Lebanon is what gives Israel the full legitimacy now to conduct war not only against Hezbollah but also to charge that Lebanon is responsible for the organization's behavior. As to whether such an assault will lead to different behavior by the Lebanese government, that's a different question. Apparently, there still is no government in Lebanon that can block Hezbollah, especially after the split between Lebanon and Syria, when Syria no longer regards as its success the rehabilitation of Lebanon and the preservation of harmony there. Thus, the wisdom of the nature of Israel's actions only deals with the issue of the results and not the legitimacy, which exists inalienably, with one reservation: proportionality must be maintained.
The military operation in Gaza is completely different. Israel, which with profound justification demands Hamas recognize the agreements Israel signed with the Palestinian Authority, is a signatory to the Olso Accords, which determine that Gaza is an inseparable part of Palestine. In other words, a withdrawal from Gaza, even if it reaches the international border, is like the withdrawal from one part of a country, but not the end of the occupation.
In contrast to the withdrawal from Lebanon, the withdrawal from Gaza was explicitly meant to protect the majority of settlers in the West Bank from withdrawal. The withdrawal from Gaza served ideology no less than the occupation of Gaza: It was a new demarcation of the Greater Land of Israel and not of the borders of the state. Compared to it, the withdrawal from Lebanon was derived from a too-belated recognition that defending legitimate borders cannot be done from outside those borders.
Ultimately, the Israeli calculations are not the only element dictating the strategic stature of the state. That also depends on how its behavior is perceived in the international community, which is usually not taken into consideration but enlisted when sanctions and cease-fires must be imposed, or to win legitimacy for Israel's military activity in Lebanon. The withdrawal from Gaza on its own cannot give Israel the legitimacy that the withdrawal from Lebanon gave it. Israel was and remains responsible for life in Gaza, and it is still the occupier that must be thrown out using every means. The withdrawal from Lebanon granted Israel the strategic stature of a country whose territorial honor was violated, giving it full permission even for military actions of dubious effectiveness. The withdrawal from Gaza meanwhile is nothing more than the continuation of the occupation through other means, more convenient because the settlements are gone, but no less brutal.
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