Op-Ed: Why the Katyushas Are Falling
Steven PlautSteven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa and is author of "The Scout" (available from Gefen Publishing House). More of his writings can be seen on the New Plaut Blog, as well as in numerous electronic and print newspapers.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon after a long wave of terror attacks on Israel. At first, the announced Israeli goal was to advance 40 kilometers inside Lebanon and drive all the rocket shooters from range of Israel. The operation, called "Peace for Galilee", enjoyed over 90% support from the Israeli public, including Israeli Arabs.
The army actually advanced more than 40 kilometers. It eventually took most of Beirut and Israel attempted to install a friendly government in Lebanon, composed mainly of Lebanese Christians. Following the assassination of the head of the main Christian militia, the Phalange, militia members infiltrated two Palestinian camps in the suburbs of Beirut, Sabra and Shatilla, and murdered about 400 civilians in retaliation. The Bash-Israel forces blamed Israel for a massacre perpetrated by Christian Lebanese against Muslim Palestinians.
Israeli casualties in Lebanon mounted after 1982. Because of the unexpectedly large number, public opinion began to turn against the government. Support dropped as further deaths of troops were caused by terrorist attrition. The Israeli Left underwent a process of radicalization that has been compared by many to that of the American Left during the Vietnam War. A large demonstration against the war was held in Tel Aviv, and the media fabricated an imaginary number of 400,000 participants - a number that has assumed mystical power and has been sanctified by Israel's leftist media.
What began as a mere disagreement by the Israeli Left over tactical decisions in what had been regarded as an essentially just war quickly morphed into an outburst of openly anti-Israel extremism. The Labor party joined in, seeing this as a way of overturning the Israeli election and knocking the Likud government out of power.
Israel eventually moved its forces back from Beirut and set up a "South Lebanese Army", allied to Israel and financed by Israel, manned by Christians and moderate Shi'ites in southern Lebanon. As the Hizbullah and some other forces grew stronger inside Lebanon, with Syrian and Iranian support, Israeli troops came increasingly under attack by bombers and snipers. Israel instituted a series of "controlled carnage" agreements with the terrorists, under which Israel agreed that as long as the attacks on Israel were "within reason," Israel would turn the other cheek.
The attacks did not remain within reason, and the terrorists frequently bombed the northern Galilee. Israel occasionally responded with brief retaliatory raids, but basically pursued cheek-turning as its defense policy. Public frustration grew with the toll of soldiers.
While Israel probably could have stopped the attrition attacks against its troops in southern Lebanon by exercising serious military initiative against the terrorists and their base villages, it did not. The casualty toll continued to rise. Israeli public opinion, almost as shortsighted as the politicians, began demanding a unilateral withdrawal to stop the killings of soldiers. A "peace" movement calling itself Four Mothers led the pressures for capitulation. They succeeded. Israel's government made a choice. Instead of Israeli soldiers inside fortresses in Lebanon being targeted by terrorists, Israeli children in Nahariya and Safed would be the targets.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak implemented a cowardly unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli troops in Lebanon in the summer of 2000. He abandoned the militia men from the South Lebanese Army and their families to the mercies of the Hizbullah, and many were murdered. Some were granted asylum inside Israel, although some Israeli leftists demanded that these "collaborators" be treated as criminals because they had been "traitors to their own people." In Israeli Arab towns, they were beaten and terrorized, to the cheers of those Israeli Jewish leftists. Israel's entire intelligence and informant network inside Lebanon was lost as a result of the withdrawal and the betrayal of the SLA.
Barak's withdrawal took place under fire, with the Hizbullah and others shooting at the retreating Israeli troops to demonstrate their contempt, and to show the world that the Jews were successfully being driven out by terrorism. Barak had no problem with that show of weakness. The withdrawal was so panicked that Israeli computers with sensitive information were left behind, as were crates of Bibles.
Ehud Barak's 2000 capitulation in Lebanon was a parody of Dunkirk. Israel had agreed to a capitulation in exchange for nothing. The Hizbullah continued to shell northern Israel after the withdrawal, and sometimes sent in infiltrators who murdered and kidnapped. Overall, however, the death toll was below what it had been when Israeli troops were inside Lebanon. The Israeli chattering classes saw that as a great victory and as a precedent for solving the problems of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. All Israel needed to do was have a unilateral withdrawal and build a nice fence.
Even before the 2000 capitulation by Barak, there were countless warnings that it would simply result in a massive new war. Nothing prevented the Hizbullah from setting up thousands of rocket launchers smack on the Israeli border, waiting for the showdown. I myself published dozens of articles between 2000 and 2002 explaining exactly what would be the result of Barak's cowardice: northern Israel would be attacked by masses of missiles and the army forced to reconquer all of southern Lebanon, at a large cost in Israeli lives. The only difference from what had been before Barak's capitulation would be that, this time, no southern Lebanese would believe any promises made by Israel. Having seen how Israel betrayed the SLA, Israel would have no allies or informants.
Because of the 9-11 attacks, the showdown was delayed. The US was on the war path and Syria wanted to keep a low profile. After the liberation of Iraq, Syria, while controlling the Hizbullah, was trembling in fear, with NATO troops on its northern and eastern borders, and with pro-US regimes to its south. Syria was suddenly surrounded. It kept the Hizbullah heeled, for the moment.
Meanwhile, Syria was partly forced out of Lebanon by US pressure, and the Hizbullah replaced it with Iran as its arms supplier and patron. When the Hizbullah infiltrated Israel and murdered three IDF troops, Israel did nothing. It turned the other cheek. Just a bit more "controlled carnage". In fact, Israel "bought" the bodies of the three back, plus an abducted Israeli criminal being held in Lebanon, in exchange for releasing 450 murderers. It never avenged their murders.
And that was all it took. The Hizbullah had its proof. The Jews had lost their stomach for fighting, were on the run, were pursuing peace through appeasement and surrender. There was no reason to put off the showdown any longer.
As a direct result of the cowardice and shortsightedness of Ehud Barak, and the Israeli chattering classes in 2000 who cheered and supported him, hundreds of rockets and missiles have bathed northern Israel in the past few days. Haifa has been turned into the Sderot of the North. Nahariya has become the new Stalingrad.