Lahad's Masada option
By Moshe Zak (Jerusalem Post)

(April 7) - I hope that SLA Gen. Antoine Lahad won't be forced to take the "Masada option" after the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

His dramatic announcement that he and his soldiers prefer to fight or commit suicide like the Jewish fighters at Masada, and will not agree to become refugees in a foreign country, was very moving. It inspires respect for the general, who sees himself as a Lebanese patriot striving to free his land from the Syrian yoke, and not as an Israeli mercenary, as Arab MKs shouted at him when he visited the Knesset.

The general, who was wounded in an assassination attempt, is no coward. He doesn't want to seek asylum in Paris or Israel. He and his men are bound to the soil of Lebanon, despite the death sentence passed on him by the Syrian-controlled puppets in Beirut.

Lahad's predecessor, Maj. Saad Hadad, commander of the Christian militia in southern Lebanon, maintained his special military framework in the region even after the IDF withdrawal in June 1978, following Security Council Resolution 425.

He preserved his enclave without any IDF unit as part of his military deployment. The IDF left no guard posts behind in Hadad's enclave when it implemented resolution 425 three months after it was passed by the Security Council, and no doubts arose in marking the border between Israel and Lebanon. The armistice agreement of 1949 included a map ratified jointly by Israel and Lebanon.

Today also it is unnecessary to ask the UN to mark the line of the IDF retreat from southern Lebanon, despite the changes that have taken place in consequence of the events in Lebanon since then, such as the Palestinian endeavor to set up a state within a state in Lebanon, the civil war, Operation Peace for Galilee, and the agreement between Israel and Lebanon signed in May 1983.

On the top of it, must be added a phenomenon known as "Kosovo": the fact that the international force in Kosovo can't guarantee the safety of Serbs from revenge attacks by Albanians. The SLA soldiers have reason for concern that the Hizbullah and other terrorist organizations will pass judgment on them for cooperation with "the Zionist enemy."

Israel should have done its utmost to avoid a linkage between the IDF's withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Lebanese political pre-conditions; the request submitted this week to the UN secretary-general worked in the opposite direction.

Mr. Kofi Annan is a wise and well-mannered man. He listened carefully to Foreign Minister David Levy's request regarding the deployment of UNIFIL, but as anticipated, he needed the consent of the Lebanese government, and this gave President Emile Lahoud the opportunity to present his 10 demands that literally vetoed the plan for UNIFIL to replace the IDF in southern Lebanon.

Israel's efforts to enlist the UN in a new setup creates the impression that UNIFIL is irreplaceable. In fact, the 5,000 soldiers now serving in that force in Lebanon wouldn't be able to prevent a war, and don't have the strength to prevent terrorist actions. In fact, sometimes they unintentionally provide shelter for terrorists and are liable to interfere with the IDF's reaction to provocations by Hizbullah from the territory to be evacuated by July 7.

The IDF is experienced in withdrawing from Lebanon. The withdrawal expected by July will be the fourth. The first was in April 1949, when the IDF withdrew to the international border; the second in June 1978, after the Litani operation; the third in January 1985. This was defined as a decision to withdraw to the international border, but in fact left a broad security zone in Israeli hands, which is now the scene of the fourth withdrawal.

This withdrawal closes a circle of Israeli involvement in Lebanon. The circle began in 1955 when Syria was pressuring Lebanon and demanding that it sign a military agreement that would permit the stationing of Syrian soldiers in Lebanon.

The Lebanese leaders applied to Israel for help in withstanding Syrian pressure, and the leader of the delegation of officers that conducted the talks with Israel was Colonel Fuad Lahoud, the uncle of the current Lebanese president. He was also the liaison officer who supervised, in 1958, the shipment of arms from Israel in support of president Chamoun. Now the IDF is departing from Lebanon, and leaving SLA commander Lahad alone facing Syrian military rule in Lebanon.