The Hezbollah murder of Israeli civilians in the North inevitably returns us to the arguments that raged over Ehud Barak's decision to unilaterally withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from the South Lebanon security zone while abandoning our allies, the South Lebanon Army. In the wake of that tragedy there is little satisfaction in saying I told you so, but nevertheless, hopefully some lessons will now be learned from that grossly mistaken move.
Barak's decision was preceded by many months of public protests and agitation for a unilateral withdrawal, with the participation of bereaved mothers, members of Knesset, and Israelis from all walks of life and from all political parties. They argued that the presence of the IDF in the security zone led to needless loss of the lives of Israeli soldiers. That the Hezbollah's aim was limited to ridding Lebanese soil of Israeli occupation and that once that aim had been achieved by an IDF withdrawal, they would become just another political party in Lebanon and cease their military activities against Israel. And that even if they or their allies were tempted to engage in hostile action against Israel after the withdrawal, the dire warnings issued by Israel would be sufficient to deter such activity.
Backed by these arguments, Israel's towns and villages in the Galilee one fine day found themselves facing the Hezbollah across a fence that demarcated the international border.
Neither international approval for Israel's withdrawal nor Barak's strident warnings were sufficient to deter Hezbollah from continuing hostile action against Israel after the withdrawal. At first, this was limited to demonstrations and stone-throwing at the border fence, then it went on to attacks against the IDF in the Shaba Farms sector, resulting in the killing and kidnapping of IDF soldiers there. The promoters of the unilateral withdrawal comforted themselves by the fact that the rate of IDF losses after the withdrawal was lower than in the preceding period and that there had been no attacks against the civilian population in the Galilee. All that ended last week near Shlomi.
What was behind this miscalculation by so many Israelis? Good intentions and wishful thinking. The intentions were the best - to save the lives of Israel's young soldiers. That, plus the hope that the Hezbollah's aims were really limited to Lebanese soil led to disregarding their frequent public pronouncements of enmity to Israel. Good intentions and wishful thinking can lead to dire consequences.
Is it any wonder that the same people who called for a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon were also behind the Oslo accords with the PLO. Beset by the same weakness, they wished to bring an end to the conflict with the Palestinians, a most commendable objective, and wanted to believe in the good faith of Arafat and the PLO. Undismayed by Arafat's record of terrorist atrocities and his ambiguous statements regarding Israel, they proceeded to push for Israeli concessions to the PLO in the belief that that would bring an end to the conflict. Arafat's decision to wage war against Israel after rejecting Barak's egregious offers at Camp David had a sobering effect upon some, but not all of them. Now some of these same people are engaged in demonstrations calling for unilateral Israeli withdrawal and supporting conscientious objectors.
The war that the Palestinians have been waging against Israel since September 2000 has brought death to over 350 Israelis, wounded over 3,000 and damaged the Israeli economy. It may be convenient to engage in wishful thinking and believe that Palestinian violence is backed by a small minority dedicated to terror, and that by targeting individual terrorists an end can be put to the violence. But there is little doubt that Palestinian violence at present has the support of the majority of the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Our prime minister, after repeatedly insisting that he would not be dragged into a war, has finally conceded that we are involved in a war in defense of our homes. The Israelis feel that they have everything to lose, wrote a correspondent of the New York Times recently. Unfortunately this is the reality. Everything dear to us is at stake.
The war must be pursued in full recognition of this reality. Only continued IDF operations in Palestinian towns and villages can reach those Palestinians involved in planning and organizing violent acts against Israel and impress the Palestinian population with Israel's ability to control the situation. It cannot be done by remote control. The decision to withdraw the IDF in the hope that a cease-fire can be arranged is another case of good intentions mixed with wishful thinking. It is bound to fail.
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