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THE ISRAEL REPORT

January/February 2000
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Get Tough in Lebanon

David Bar-Illan

(February 9) - "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.


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