Turning the Lebanon pullout into a blessing
By Israel Harel (Harretz-13/4/2000)
Our citizens in the North feel rejected and betrayed. At odds with their own genuine interests (this too being symptomatic), they demand more fortification, more bunkers, more bypass roads. By so doing they are crying out that they no longer believe in the government - or the army.They've lost confidence in the Israeli public too, and think public opinion has turned its back on them. As the Northern residents see it, it is the public's weariness and unwillingness to bear the cost of defending the North that have caused the government to give-up, and the army to withdraw. As they see it - they've been abandoned.
Grim forecasts from intelligence officers seem to offer some grounds for their fears. Continuing restraint after the shelling of Moshav Margoliot exacerbated the crisis of confidence.
Now, when the government wants to allay the anxieties of Northern residents and win back their trust, it is unable to stop foes from shelling their settlements. Why should we believe in the government, the residents wonder. After a full withdrawal that puts them within sniper range, everything will be different.
When strikes hit the Israeli side of the border, as at Margoliot, there's no room for apologetics such as "there's no such thing as total quiet." The truth is that hundreds of borders around the world enjoy "total quiet." And if this time the utmost isn't done to ensure total quiet, then Israel's deterrence capability will plummet to depths not seen since the start of the 1950's.
Society will face a moment of truth after the withdrawal. So long as the IDF remained in Lebanon as an "army of conquest," proponents of withdrawal had a moral excuse. Now, with the population in the North about to stand on its own, unprotected by the security zone buffer, facing Shiite and Palestinian guerrillas (who will not be disarmed by anyone, even if an agreement is reached), the time for excuses will have ended .
Northerners' doubts concerning the degree of solidarity from "Tel Avivians" - residents of the center of the country who thirst for the good life and quiet - are bound to linger. Few in the North believe that this center will support, as its prominent spokesmen have promised to do, an aggressive deterrence policy liable to cause casualties.
It's hard, if not impossible, to contest the claims, the heartbreak and the trying experiences of the Northern residents. But we must all hope that we'll reach a situation in which a withdrawal actually turns into a blessing.
If, as a result of redeployment on the border, the country's people show a new spirit, one of responsibility and solidarity, of readiness to solve fundamental security, economic or social problems together, circumstances will have taken a turn for the better.
If credibility, and genuine demonstrations of determination, serve as the lodestar of politicians and army officers, the withdrawal from Lebanon could do more than only repair internal domestic cleavages. It could restore the IDF's deterrence capability.
Should Israel show toughness and prove its credibility in a case when its settlements are attacked, its renewed deterrence power would also work to the advantage of its allies - the South Lebanon Army men and their families.
A firm, unequivocal vow to defend them, and the fulfillment of this promise by the use of full strength in response to the first test posed to us by Hezbollah, could fundamentally alter the soft-bellied image of betrayal now clinging to us. Nobody should be able to accuse us of abandoning those who came to our side and helped us.
Deterrence doesn't depend on physical presence. On the contrary, a threat posed from afar sometimes holds a psychological power which is greater than up-close intimidation. Withdrawal from Lebanon derives from weakness, and the loss of will and unity. But it has the potential to serve as a self-examination, in a search for ways to effect real change.
If we take advantage of the opportunity which withdrawal presents, both for healing internal wounds and for restoring confidence in the state and the army, the loss in Lebanon could in the not-distant future be turned into a blessing.