Israel's Lebanon lesson
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
The recent rocket attacks coming out of Lebanon and directed against Israeli troops, followed by a tough Israeli response, serve as a poignant reminder that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon a year ago tomorrow did not exactly live up to its expectations.
It may be useful to recall just how high those expectations were. By a nearly four-to-one margin, Israelis endorsed the retreat from Lebanon as an excellent strategic move.
On the left, Internal Security minister Shlomo Ben-Ami thought that Syria's president was "very stressed by Israel's decision to withdraw from Lebanon." On the right, foreign minister David Levy declared that the pullout would weaken Syria's position.
Others speculated further. Dan Margalit of Ha'aretz forecast that it would "spur Syria to come back to the negotiating table." Novelist Amos Oz boldly predicted about Lebanon's most aggressively anti-Israel organization: "The minute we leave south Lebanon we will have to erase the word Hizbullah from our vocabulary."
A year later, how do things look?
The idea that an Israeli retreat would scare Damascus into restarting negotiations turns out to be as silly as it sounds. President Hafez Assad went to his grave without returning to the bargaining table and his son Bashar has so far shown no willingness to talk.
The expectation that Israel would enjoy a peaceable northern border proved similarly misguided. Hizbullah concocted a new claim to a piece of Israeli-held land (the Shaba Farms) to justify continued hostilities. No longer restrained by Israel's security zone in Lebanon, it threatens to use Katyusha rockets against Israel proper, prompting an alert as far away as Israel's third-largest city, Haifa. Hizbullah has already attacked Israel seven times, attempted many infiltrations, abducted three Israel soldiers and killed two others. In response, Israel's government has deployed helicopter gunships and attacked a Syrian radar site, killing three Syrian soldiers.
In brief, "Hizbullah" has hardly been erased from the Israeli vocabulary.
But the greatest consequence of the Israeli retreat was felt among the Palestinians. That impact is partly practical, with Hizbullah providing instruction and arms to the Palestinian Authority. For example, Hizbullah reached an agreement with the PA "to train fighters and provide weapons against tanks and aircraft," reports the Middle East Newsline.
Palestinians took up Hizbullah's distinctive tactics and tools - suicide bombings on the one hand, roadside bombs detonated by mobile phones on the other. They even adopted the Hizbullah technique of filming themselves carrying out attacks on Israelis, then making the film available to the Arab and Muslim media.
The impact is also psychological. Palestinians watched Hizbullah impose every last one of its demands on Israel, without having to sit around a table with Israeli diplomats; this served as an object lesson. Palestinians concluded that if they used enough violence, they too could get all they wanted from Israel without having to compromise.
This "Lebanonization" of the Palestinians has had major consequences. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon draws a connection between the Israeli retreat from Lebanon and "what happened later on" with the Palestinians. The head of Israel's former Lebanese allied force puts it more strongly; Israel's every concession to Hizbullah, he says, has been "very costly" for it in dealing with the Palestinians.
Specifically, Hizbullah's success first inspired the Palestinians to turn down even the amazingly generous terms that prime minister Ehud Barak subsequently offered them, confident that they could do better on the battlefield. It prompted the Palestinians to abandon the bargaining table and revert to violence against Israel. It helps account for the escalation in that violence, which started with rocks and now includes long-distance mortar shellings.
The great majority of Israelis a year ago lived in the sweet delusion that unilateral concessions to neighbors would eventually win acceptance and quiet. After eight months of Palestinian violence - partly attributable to Israel's withdrawal under fire from Lebanon - the hollowness of this hope is becoming increasingly apparent.
As they shudder back to reality, Israelis can console themselves with the knowledge that, by abandoning their Lebanon delusion, however painful that process is, they are taking the necessary first step toward dealing with today's crisis. The second step will be to understand that acceptance by neighbors will result not from Israel's making unilateral concessions, but from its being respected and feared.
For an update, see "What the Palestinians Learned from Hizbullah."
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