Chaim Yitzchak


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On the Other Hand

Chaim Bermant

'After the wrath, look out for sour grapes' (03 May 1996)

IT’S OVER thank God. (For the time being, at least.) Likud spokesmen insist that Shimon Peres was too quick to accept a settlement in Lebanon. More reasonable people might feel that he was too slow.

After the carnage in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel could not remain inert in the face of Hizbollah rockets on Galilee and the policy of massive retaliation was abundantly justified. But it was too massive and too prolonged. And, while Hizbollah casualties have been few, Lebanese casualties have been many.

For all the precision of the guns and gunners, the bombs and the bombers, the very scale of the on-slaught made a tragedy inevitable. When it came, at Qana, the guns could have been silenced for a while and the planes grounded, if only to let the Lebanese bury their dead.

I’m aware that the tragedy would never have happened if the Hizbol-lah gunmen had not resorted to their familiar habit of sheltering behind civilian encampments, but military miscalculations also played their part and a touch of contrition is never out of place - especially in a society which prides itself on its humanity.

Moreover, everyone knows that, though Lebanon was being battered, Hizbollah was armed and sustained by Iran and Syria. But, while Iran is distant and Syria is strong, Lebanon is helpless and near.

It was, in effect, being punished for its weakness, though it is the one Arab country with which Israel has never had any serious differences and which, had it been a real sovereign power and not a reluctant fiefdom of Syria, would have made peace with Israel years ago.

The problem is the so-called security zone, from which Peres ought to have withdrawn when he pulled Is-rael out of Lebanon in 1985. How-ever, there was then a power-sharing agreement with Likud and he was not the master of his own house.

Israel occupied the zone in the aftermath of “Operation Litani” in 1978 to keep the PLO at bay. The PLO was finally banished in 1982 but Hizbollah, which is infinitely more vicious and resourceful, took its place. The very fact of the occupation has enabled them to pose as the defenders of Lebanon’s territorial integrity. Where they were hated as murderous fanatics, they are now regarded as national heroes.

The very name “security zone” is a misnomer. Far from providing anything like security, it has become a licensed killing ground. It is teeming with troops, including a UN peace-keeping force, a Christian militia brigade (equipped, trained and paid for by Israel), and Israeli Army soldiers, but Katyushas have continued to rain down on Israel sporadically.

The zone itself has been the scene of frequent skirmishes between Israel and Hizbollah, amounting at times to pitched battles in which more than 60 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the past three years. A peace agreement of sorts was hammered out after one major flare-up in 1993. We now have another which, in the absence of an overall settlement, is unlikely to prove more durable than the first.

One should not, of course, overlook the harsh realities of politics. I have no doubt - neither has anyone else - that Peres launched “Operation Grapes of Wrath” with one eye on the security of Galilee and another on the forthcoming elections, and I do not for a moment blame him.

Peres, who was raised under the harsh tutelage of David Ben-Gurion and who made Israel an atomic power, has never been the mild, conciliatory being he is made out to be. But, because he is thought of as such, he had to show that he was every bit as tough and resolute as Yitzhak Rabin. But, like Rabin, he is a realist. He wants a treaty with Syria which, in turn, would enable Israel to withdraw from the security zone and make peace with Lebanon itself. Galilee will never be at peace on any other terms.

Bibi Netanyahu claimed that Peres caved into international pressure before he had eliminated rocket attacks against civilian targets. He did not suggest how he would have done better. Presumably, not even Likud would demand a further invasion of Lebanon.

If Netanyahu should win - which heaven forbid - I cannot imagine that he would conclude a treaty which would involve withdrawal from the Golan.

If the Golan is retained, there will be no peace with Syria. If there is no peace with Syria, there will be none with Lebanon, the troubles in the south will continue in more violent form, and the agonies Lebanon has suffered in recent weeks will be as nothing compared to the torments it will suffer in the coming years.

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