Yoel Marcus, 1932-2022 |

Blood Poker

Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus
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An Israeli Army tank crew watches from a hilltop position as smoke rises from a Palestinian position on the southern edge of West Beirut after it was shelled by Israeli artillery, July 10, 1982.
An Israeli Army tank crew watches from a hilltop position as smoke rises from a Palestinian position on the southern edge of West Beirut after it was shelled by Israeli artillery, July 10, 1982.Credit: AP Photo/Castelnuovo
Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus

This is an abbreviated version of a column published on May 14, 1982, published following the death of Yoel Marcus, a veteran Haaretz journalist.

If all the talk, rumors and leaks about a war that’s being devised in the north isn’t a ploy, then this government is about to lose its political mind. Because the whole nation is an army and the whole country one big gossip column – the details of the coming war have long been in the public domain.

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The “big plan,” as it is portrayed in small conversations in cafés and society salons, is more or less this: The army will take over the entire southern half of Lebanon, while the Christians take over the north. The two armies will purge Beirut – after Israel has filled policing and administration positions in the Lebanese capital and located the names of 66 “Hadads” to be appointed to the Lebanese parliament. The heart of this comprehensive solution is the liquidation of the PLO and the deportation of its members to Syria, while at the same time sending the Syrian army back home. If the Syrians intervene in the war, their missiles will be destroyed “in two hours,” as Begin had promised.

The minute details of the coming war are so precise and so well known that any intelligent person would want to believe they were being spread deliberately, as a ploy to make our enemies in the north quake with fear and act with caution. But if this is not a ploy, and if what’s being bandied about in the cafés is seriously being considered, then the government must be warned that it is gambling on Israel’s fate in a game of blood poker.

The first and main argument against such a war is that there’s simply no reason to go to war. Israel has entered all the wars in its past only when its very existence was in danger, and the terrorists do not constitute a military threat to the state’s existence. Never have the terror acts been so insignificant and so unimportant as they are now. The opposite is true; for the first time Arafat has succeeded in restraining the more radical, murderous organizations and made sure the cease-fire applies to them too.

The grandiose plan is estimated to involve 100 Israeli fatalities at most, but who can vouch that their number won’t be twice or three times as high? Even if we take the lowest estimate, 100 fatalities, we must ask what will this precious blood be spilled for? What will we gain? Is it necessary?

These questions have unequivocal answers: The war is not essential, it will not bring us any military gain or strategic achievement, and the blood will have been shed in vain.

Liquidating the PLO,” supposedly the war’s main goal, is unrealistic. There’s no precedent to quashing a national guerrilla movement by force. Other Palestinians will take the places of the dead. Even if we dismantle all the refugee camps and banish them all from Lebanon, we’ll ultimately find the PLO where we least wanted to see it – in the West Bank. A guerrilla movement leaves no vacuum; it regenerates.

In short, whichever way you look at it, it’s hard to see the sense and purpose of a war in the north. So what, people will ask – must we tolerate the terror, the explosive mines and fire bombs without retaliating? Of course not. But having entered a cease-fire, we must bolster our moves with diplomacy. The IDF’s mighty fist had better be kept in shape for such a time as there’s a national consensus that a real risk is threatening the state’s security.

These things seem so obvious and sensible that I have difficulty believing that the absurdity of a war and its perils aren’t clear to the prime minister. And the fact that so much is being said about this war – we’ve never had a war-that-hasn’t-started-yet that was talked about so much – somehow encourages a small voice in my heart which whispers that Mr. Begin, despite the talk and the rumors, will not allow this madness to take place.

Is it possible that a man who speaks passionately about “one Jewish person killed” could be carried away by the dynamic of escalation and risk it? Risk having the blood of our children – many children – on his government’s hands?

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