Get tough in Lebanon
David Bar-Illan (Jerusalem Post)
I want to see a funeral on Israeli television every day," Hafez Assad reportedly told his staff at the height of the war of attrition in Lebanon. It was not just an order to inflict casualties, but a statement on the war's purpose: to undermine Israel's morale and cripple its resolve. Like all dictators, Assad realizes that there is nothing democratic societies abhor more and tolerate less than prolonged bloodletting on the battlefield, particularly during peace talks, when loss of life seems a futile and unnecessary sacrifice. In the 20th century, the reluctance of the democracies to act boldly and take risks cost them dearly.
The most tragic instance
was the Western allies' refusal to confront Hitler in 1936, when his small and
ill-equipped army entered the Rhineland. Taking the small risk then would have prevented
World War II. Similarly, determined Israeli action against Egypt's moving anti-aircraft
missile launchers to the banks of the Suez after the War of Attrition would have prevented
Israel's initial setbacks in 1973, and possibly the Yom Kippur war itself.
In both cases, inaction
was supported not only by the international community but internal pressures exerted by a
"peace camp," a phenomenon known only in democracies and born of war fatigue.
The Israeli peace camp has now recruited bereaved mothers, whose wrenching anguish is
shared by the whole population, to the cause of inaction against Syria and unilateral
withdrawal from Lebanon. But their emotional, heart-rending appeals, enhanced by
television close-ups of mauled soldiers and prolonged screenings of wracking sobs at
funerals, must not determine the nation's fate.
Neither the bereaved
mothers nor the politicians who use them will assume responsibility for the killing of
kindergarten children in the Galilee if a precipitous, mindless withdrawal brings the
Hizbullah or other such groups to within meters of northern towns and villages. Once
terrorists are able to shell and lob rockets from the international line, or infiltrate
through the border fence, life in the Galilee will become intolerable. The casualties will
not stop, and they will include civilians.
Nor is the solution a
"withdrawal by agreement," for the simple reason that Syria does not keep
agreements. This is an axiom. Assad has broken every agreement he has made with Turkey,
the Arab regimes, and the US. The only agreement he has partially kept is the cease-fire
in the Golan, for the obvious reason that Israeli forces there can threaten Damascus. In
fact, a Syrian "guarantee" to disarm and control Hizbullah, Amal, and the
Palestinian terrorists in south Lebanon would endanger Israel. To prevent terrorist
attacks, Syria will demand that its armed forces be stationed on the Lebanon-Israel
border, thus opening another front with Israel. And it will only further legitimize
Syria's occupation of Lebanon, an offense against Lebanese sovereignty and the UN Charter
which Israel and the West have tolerated for no good reason.
What, then, is the
solution? Surprisingly, the most convincing answer has come from both opposition leader
Ariel Sharon, reputed (not always justly) to be a hawk, and Internal Security Minister
Shlomo Ben-Ami, a dyed-in-the-wool dove. Sharon has said that Israel can afford to
withdraw unilaterally, provided it can secure the safety of its SLA allies, if it makes a
credible threat against Syria that any cross-border action by its proxies would trigger a
major Israeli assault against Syrian and Lebanese targets.
Ben-Ami, in effect
admitting that the war in Lebanon is neither an independent Hizbullah operation nor an
exclusively Iranian plot but a Syrian war against Israel, said on Monday that Israel must
hit "the head not the tail." The implication is clear. Instead of chasing after
eminently replaceable Hizbullah chieftains, the targets must be Syrian interests. The
bombing of Lebanon's electric grid on Monday night was a small sample of such action.
Syria's dependence on Lebanon's economy makes the Lebanese infrastructure a Syrian target.
And what of the peace
process? Restraint and sycophantic praise of Assad has only emboldened the Syrians and
caused more casualties. Withdrawal from Lebanon as part of a deal which would include the
relinquishment of the Golan will endanger the Galilee and, once the Syrians are rearmed
with American weapons, precipitate war.
The alternative is a credible threat against Syrian interests, coupled with a demand for "secure borders," as stipulated in UN Resolution 242. It is a bold stance, the kind democracies are usually reluctant to take. But when dealing with ruthless dictatorships, it is the only way to avert war.