'After the wrath, look out for sour grapes' (03 May 1996)
ITS 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.
Im 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withdrawn when he pulled Is-rael out of Lebanon in 1985.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
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 Lebanons 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
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