Turning Over an Old Leaf

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz emerges from the interviews he gave on the eve of Yom Kippur as a person shorn of his strength.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz emerges from the interviews he gave on the eve of Yom Kippur as a person shorn of his strength. He sounded thoughtful, not to say dispirited, hesitant, in a melancholy mood. Halutz defined the IDF's functioning during the war as mediocre, saying the organization did not meet expectations, and he looks like someone for whom the difficult experience (as he described it) that he underwent during the past two months has served as an eye-opener.

This is not the arrogant commander of the Israel Air Force who felt nothing more than a tremor in the wing of a plane that released bombs that took human lives (Halutz raised a storm when he was asked what he felt when he dropped a bomb on a house in Gaza. He replied that all he felt was "a slight tremor in the wing of the airplane.") This is the Israeli army commander who brought home the last of his soldiers, after 81 days of fighting on Lebanese soil, with orders not to start trouble with residents of the areas they were evacuating.

The humility conveyed by his words would seem to herald a process of sobering up. But Israel's insistence on continuing to hold onto the village of Ghajar, at least for now, casts doubts on the assumption that it has learned the necessary lesson from the military campaign from which it returned with its flags folded.

Both for formalistic reasons and due to local practical considerations, Israel is refusing to let go of either Ghajar or the Shaba Farms, which Israel calls Har Dov. Ghajar is a callus that has been bothering Israel for years, and it provides an excuse for Hezbollah to present demands to Israel and to attack it. The village was not captured during the 1967 Six Day War, but was rather included of its own initiative in the jurisdiction of the Golan Heights. By dint of the law that annexed the Golan Heights, the village formally became Israeli territory.

In order not to touch this sensitive nerve during its withdrawal from the Lebanese Security Zone in 2000, Israel left it to the United Nations to determine the village's status. The village is divided by a virtual border: Its southern part is considered Israeli territory and its northern part is in Lebanese territory (and sovereignty over it is disputed between Lebanon and Syria.) This anomaly has embittered the lives of village residents, but it has also struck at Israel more than once: The place has become a hornets' nest of criminals as well as a diplomatic and security minefield, which Hezbollah has exploded more than once.

Three days ago, Israel once again left south Lebanon, but this time, too, Ghajar has remained to fester dangerously. Although Israel declares it wants to solve the mess stemming from the dispute between Syria and Lebanon and hopes that the UN will find a formula for doing so, de facto, it is leaving the situation in place.

That is a disappointing result, which may testify to the fact that in spite of the promises made by the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff about learning the necessary lessons from the second Lebanon War, the decision-making abilities needed to do so are not among their attributes. It is clear to them as well that Ghajar is a problem, that it would be in Israel's interest to get rid of it and that a decision is required, albeit a decision that carries a diplomatic and security price. Nevertheless, that decision is being delayed.

Thus the Jewish New Year begins under the circumstances in which the previous year ended: An explosive missile hovers over the diplomatic achievements of the war - the deployment of the Lebanese Army and the reinforcement of UNIFIL - of which the country's leadership is boasting.

This same argument should be raised regarding the entire Shaba Farms. Israel must question the wisdom of the approach that prevents it from declaring its willingness to return the area in a peace agreement, and its continued refusal to decide which of the two countries, Syria or Lebanon, is a candidate for receiving it.

In any case, would it be too much to expect that the recent war would cause the country's leadership to shed the patterns of thought that contributed to its outbreak? Judging by what Halutz said in the interviews, it seems this is a vain hope. Although the leaders of Hezbollah hastened to declare that Israel's refusal to return Ghajar to Lebanese control will motivate the organization to attack it, the chief of staff promised that Hezbollah will think 10 times before it rushes to heat up the border once again.