Searching for the Fateful Gambling Chip

Israel has always said it has nothing against the Lebanese people and does not want to harm Lebanon, only the PLO (then) and Hezbollah (now). But in practice, it has harmed, destroyed and humiliated the Lebanese time after time.

In the 1960s we used to say, with typical arrogance, that the Israel Defense Forces orchestra was all that was needed to conquer Lebanon. Then we said that Lebanon would in any case be the second country to sign a peace agreement.

But that didn't happen. After peace was reached with Egypt, Israel began preparing for the Lebanon War, which was meant to expel the Palestine Liberation Organization from the south and establish a new Middle East. In 1982 the Shi'ites were so happy they welcomed the IDF with showers of rice, but immediately afterward they established Hezbollah to expel the foreign invader.

Israel has always said it has nothing against the Lebanese people and does not want to harm Lebanon, only the PLO (then) and Hezbollah (now). But in practice, it has harmed, destroyed and humiliated the Lebanese time after time. Their fate did not interest us.

At the beginning of the war, the Israel Air Force bombed Beirut's airport, and it is still closed to civilian flights. Afterward, Israel destroyed roads and bridges - 471 of them. In Beirut, Israel destroyed hundreds of buildings around the Dahaniya neighborhood, most of whose residents have no connection to Hezbollah. Hundreds of houses were destroyed in Tyre and Sidon, and entire villages have been eliminated in the south. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are now refugees who have lost everything, and about 1,000 civilians have been killed. Israel has also bombed Lebanese television and radio broadcast towers and destroyed facilities of the Lebanese army.

Lebanon has once again been thrown 20 years back. As published in Haaretz this week, a 24-year-old Christian blogger from Lebanon named Karin wrote about the disaster that overtook the Lebanese. She wrote about Lebanon as the only country in the region that was similar to Israel and could have lived alongside it, in "a warm peace, not a cold one." Israel's fantasy that the Lebanese will rise up against Hezbollah will not be fulfilled, she wrote, adding that everyone able to leave Lebanon is doing so, and those who end up staying will be Hezbollah supporters.

Over the last year, after the Syrians left, she wrote, a new spirit began blowing through Lebanon, and the subject of peace began "to seep into cultural dialogue." But now, after the destruction, no one is talking about peace anymore because "no one will forget the atrocious acts [Israel] carried out here." Addressing Israel, Karin wrote: "You killed something fragile that you should have been nurturing: a liberal Arab neighbor."

But the longer the war continues, the deeper we become entangled and the higher our death toll rises, the riskier is the gamble we are taking. Israel is like the casino gambler whose losses grow the more he plays but who believes that if he plays only one more round, he will place the fateful chip on the right spot and turn the loss into a profit all at once.

That's why the IDF is now significantly increasing its attacks on Lebanon. And if Hezbollah does not halt the rocket fire, the General Staff will recommend another widespread escalation, intended to damage strategic civil infrastructure targets and even Lebanese symbols of government. "It's possible that when all is said and done, there will be darkness in Lebanon for several years," a senior military official told Haaretz.

The objective has remained just as it was in the beginning: destruction, death and humiliation, which will cause the Lebanese to pressure their government to disarm Hezbollah. But the result is different in the field. The more the destruction and humiliation increase, the more hatred for Israel grows. The more innocent civilians are killed and the number of refugees rises, and the more the economy is ruined and quality of life deteriorates, the more even the Christians see Hezbollah as the only group that can avenge them.

Christians are not the only ones leaving Lebanon; so are Sunni Muslims. All educated professionals who can get a job abroad are leaving. The Shi'ites - who are the poorest, most rural and most agrarian population in Lebanon - are staying, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has become a superstar across the Arab world.

The day will come when instead of getting a liberal, progressive country to the north - a natural candidate for peace and economic ties, where Christians have most of the positions of power - we will get a radical Shi'ite state controlled by Hezbollah and fully geared to fighting Israel.

Did anyone up there think about this beforehand?