Remembering Israel's Blood-sucking War

As the Day of Remembrance for Israel’s fallen soldiers approaches, let us acknowledge that since the futile, 18-year war in Lebanon, Israeli society has made it a point not to engage in national soul-searching about what it did.

Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, with troops in Lebanon in early 1980s.

As the Day of Remembrance for Israel’s fallen soldiers approaches, I’d like to talk about the casualties of the blood-sucking war. I know that when the sirens wail and everyone stands at attention there will be lofty talk about the fallen, their sacrifice and courage, stressing that in their death they bequeathed us life. However, the bravery of those who fell in the blood-sucking war was in vain, and their deaths did not bequeath us life in the usual sense, but a guilt-ridden life, a life laden with repression.

I wish to talk about my own generation, about the dead and wounded and the ones scarred by the pointless sojourn in southern Lebanon between 1982 and 2000.

This was the longest of Israel’s wars. It doesn’t even have a name, such as the War of Attrition which followed the Six Day War. It was a war with no medals, as pointed out once by Col. Moshe (Chico) Tamir in his book about it. This was a smart and fascinating book, but written from a purely tactical perspective, of a colonel in uniform. It was based on the premise that Israel and its military repeatedly lagged behind in understanding the security situation in southern Lebanon, due to the lack of a broad strategic perspective. One word is missing in that book – why?

After the 1982 war of deception in Lebanon, led by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, the Israel Defense Forces remained in Lebanon. In 1985 Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin brought about a partial withdrawal, and Israel, for some reason, then decided to defend its northern border from within southern Lebanon. A buffer zone, in which Israel and its protégé militia fought Hezbollah, was called a security zone. It should have better been labeled an insecurity zone.

Within this buffer zone many Israeli soldiers were killed or wounded, as were many Lebanese citizens, for no apparent reason and bringing no real military gains. Written on the walls of Israeli strongholds in the area were the words, “The objective: Defending the northern communities.” This was a lie. A conceptzia, an idée fixe. Once, as a cadet in an intelligence officers’ course, I could no longer abide by the conspiracy of silence and, on an excursion to the north, I asked why northern communities had to be defended from within Lebanon and not from our northern border.

To this day I have yet to receive an answer. A state is supposed to defend itself from its recognized international borders. Israel has been doing this very well for 17 years, ever since it completely withdrew from Lebanon.

Wars are beloved here, as are commissions of inquiry when wars fail. This applies to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the first Lebanon war in 1982 and the Second Lebanon War in 2006. How is it that an 18-year war, a failed war and a stupid one to boot, did not have its own commission of inquiry? The best leaders and military commanders lent a hand to that affliction. An entire nation bowed its head submissively and sent the best of its sons to die and be maimed in those strongholds, in ambushes, raids, flights and convoys. We’re talking about over 650 Israeli dead and thousands of injured, including many who are still afflicted by post-traumatic stress.

In the Middle Ages it was believed that deliberate, measured blood-letting helps the process of healing. At the end of the 20th century Israel became inured to a constant flow of casualties in Lebanon, considering this a heaven-ordained military decree.

Only a few “deviations from the norm,” such as the helicopter collision (73 soldiers dead) and the naval commando fiasco (12 commandos dead), started to shake up the national consciousness. Even then, supporters of unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon were called traitors, cowards who had stabbed the nation in the back. The turning point was ultimately achieved by the brave, stubborn women of the “Four Mothers” protest movement, with a total withdrawal carried out by a bold prime minister, Ehud Barak.

He and they were subjected, then and ever since, to heaps of abuse and slander. The scenes of the withdrawal were temporarily unpleasant, and the betrayal of our South Lebanon Army allies was cruel and infuriating, but only a delusional country could still think of such a necessary, strategic move as a failure or humiliation.

It is written in the Torah, “You shall not rise up against the blood of your neighbor,” but Israeli society did so for 18 years, in Lebanon. It also made sure afterward not to engage in national soul-searching about what it had done.

What an insult to the fallen, their families and loved ones.