May/June 2000

With our tail between our legs

By David Weinberg

(May 28) - When the French were forced out of Sinai in 1956, along with the British and the IDF, they left in a show of force. First, they tripled the French troop component in Sinai, then methodically packed-up every last military screw. Then and only then, did the French march out proudly, flag flying high, lights blazing and loudspeakers belting-out the French national anthem.

The French bowed to political realities, but wisely and demonstratively reminded everyone of their power. They left with their national pride intact.

Israel, on the other hand, last week illustrated for the entire Arab world and global leaders beyond just how pathetically weak we are. We didn't "withdraw" from Lebanon. We fled in haste, fearing for our lives, in a state of total military collapse, slinking-out in the dark of night with our tail between our legs. No amount of revisionist spin by the Barak government and its dutiful media cheerleaders can mask this reality.

Hounded out by a rag-tag guerrilla group, we ran like a coterie of frightened escapees whose jail-masters looked the other way. The most powerful, organized military in the Middle East - whose leadership has been talking about leaving Lebanon for more than a year - was caught, it seems, totally by surprise. All civilian support and security networks in Lebanon collapsed within three days. Millions of dollars of equipment was discarded and left behind. Worst of all, we cast aside and betrayed our South Lebanese Army allies, left behind to be slaughtered.

Sure, the decision to pull out of Lebanon was ours, and in principle, it may have been the correct decision. And we have to be thankful that our boys came home "without a scratch." But that's not the point.

The point is that we cut and ran instead of withdrawing proudly, absconding the battle front - our nakedness for all to see. In the Middle East, such debility can be deadly.

Why did this happen? Because we left for the wrong reasons. Israel fled Lebanon not because the IDF felt this was the best way to defend northern Israel from attack, but because our weary society could no longer stomach the cost of its defense. Another sign of our infirmity.

This was a populist political, not a carefully considered military, decision - and the sad result shows. Decisions born of societal fatigue and national irresoluteness seldom pay off.

The implications of this collapse? They are many and worrisome. To begin with, the morale of our military is at a nadir. Don't believe the congratulatory pap features that filled the weekend tabloids. There are no military heroes in this withdrawal. The IDF was humiliated last week by a determined Arab civilian and guerrilla force, and the army is hurting.

More disturbing is the pall that our disintegration casts on the entire regional power structure. Despite the "credit" owed Prime Minister Ehud Barak for keeping his word about leaving Lebanon, Israel's deterrent posture in the Middle East inevitably has been weakened by the languid, populist background to, and the slovenly nature of, the pullout.

Of course, the pitiful course of events in Lebanon sets a pattern for our next "withdrawals" in the West Bank and Jerusalem. We've taught Yasser Arafat exactly what to do: start marching on Jerusalem, PA troops covered by thousands of Palestinian civilians from the refugee camps, with dozens of TV cameras covering every step. Arafat and his cheering masses of women and children will parade into our capital, just as Hizbullah did in Lebanon, taking over the South without firing a shot.

Will we open fire on the Palestinian masses determined to "liberate" Jerusalem?

But the worst consequence of last week's humiliation rests at home. Our retreat in the North conditions us for further retreats; as if we're set on auto-pilot, travelling on a set course that leads only to further setback.

The people of Israel is in retreat: sociologically (raging violence in the schools and in the home, rising drug use, rampant corruption, fading commitment to Zionist ideals, etc.); spiritually (declining religious belief and practice, disappearing spiritual guides of any stature, growing religious obscurantism and blindly dogmatic secularism); and therefore - we are also in retreat territorially. Who will halt the deterioration?

© Jerusalem Post

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