The Lebanese madness
By: Ze'ev Schiff (Haaretz-5/4/2000)

After Israel seized parts of Beirut in 1982, expelling Yasser Arafat and his forces from the city and destroying the Syrian missiles in the Lebanese Bekaa, former Lebanese President Kamil Chamoun sent a memorandum to a number of Israeli leaders.

The memorandum was unsigned, apparently because of the content of the proposal put forth by the Lebanese leader. He appealed to Israel to attack the Syrians again, explaining that the war that began in June 1982 would not be over until the Syrians (who moved into Lebanon in 1976) were completely ousted from Lebanon. Otherwise, Lebanon would not be able to sign a peace agreement with Israel.

The upshot of the memorandum was that Israel must continue the war. After completion of the first stage against the Palestinians, Israel would have to send its army against the Syrians in the other parts of Lebanon. The meaning of the proposal was that Israel would shed the blood of its soldiers for the sake of the Lebanese. At a certain point, the Israeli view that Lebanon should not be allowed to maneuver Israel into fighting its wars for it, gained the upper hand.

Now, the Lebanese Defense Minister, Ghazi Zaiter, is offering us the flip side of the Lebanese formula. This time he is proposing that Syria fight the wars of the Lebanese, by positioning troops - and missiles - along Lebanon's southern border, to threaten Israel. In addition to his military ignorance, the Lebanese defense minister also exposed one of the uglier sides of the Lebanese regime in yet another example of the madness that the war in Lebanon has forced us into.

Both the Syrians and the Israelis have learned over time, each in their own way, of the Lebanese talent for getting others mixed up in their own troubles. Israel learned this, inter alia, from the massacre Lebanese militia forces carried out in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. Syria learned this, inter alia, via the provocations the Lebanese forces carried out against it in Zahla, and which were intended to get Israel involved in a war with it.

In the final analysis, Lebanon will pay the price. Instead of sitting down to the bargaining table to discuss its future, it will find itself on the table, as the main course to be divided up among the other parties. In other words, the negotiations with the Syrians will determine the length of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon without Israel going out of its way to help its neighbor to the north.

The most recent Lebanese threat, warning Israel not to unilaterally withdraw from South Lebanon, was not aimed at forcing us to pull out from the Golan Heights at the same time, as they claim. That is a Syrian demand. The Lebanese have something else in mind. They want to expel the Palestinians refugees, whom Lebanon has always treated abominably, from Lebanese soil. They want the negotiations that should decide on the withdrawal of IDF forces from Lebanon also solve the problem of their Palestinian refugees once and for all. Israel's "sudden" decision to unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon is a reshuffling of the deck.

Israel is prepared to make a comprehensive settlement with Syria and Lebanon, but not to accept a Syrian diktat concerning the outcome of the negotiations before they have even begun. Thus begins a new phase in the Lebanese madness. Israel plans to unilaterally withdraw because it is hemorrhaging in South Lebanon and its citizens are no longer willing to accept the method of fighting and the style of defense. Damascus and Beirut respond with a threat that if we put an end to this constant hemorrhaging, they will make sure to punish us in another way. That is the height of the Lebanese madness.

We may, however, find ourselves at the center of yet a new crisis. Israel has warned in every way possible that if the attacks move over to sovereign Israeli territory, it will do to Lebanon what NATO did to Kosovo. What will the Lebanese Defense Minister say then?

The Syrians understand that such a deterioration could spill over to them, so they are preparing to defend themselves against it. If the situation gets that far, the Lebanese madness will harm everyone, except perhaps the Iranians, who are involved in Lebanon in their own way.

It can only be hoped that the leadership of Hezbollah act at the next stage with common sense so that the Shi'ites do not become the proxy fighters for all the other ethnic groups in Lebanon - after they achieve their original goal: getting the IDF out of Lebanon.