Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared Monday night he is “proud” of ordering the hasty withdrawal of the IDF from southern Lebanon in 2000. He also blamed previous governments and the IDF’s use of strong force in the Second Lebanon War for Hizbullah’s strength today.
In a speech marking 10 years since the withdrawal, when he was Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Barak argued, “The withdrawal was the end of a tragedy of 18 years [and] the question is why this step was not taken 10 years before.”
Barak also claimed he warned former generals not to enter Lebanon because of the possibility of facing another Yom Kippur War, “and that is what happened.”
Israel entered southern Lebanon in 1982 to protect northern citizens from devastating bombardments of PLO missiles. Following the deaths of approximately 300 soldiers over the 18 years in which the IDF fortified the security zone in southern Lebanon as a barrier to attacking Israel, Barak ordered a hasty nighttime retreat that left behind heavy military equipment for Hizbullah.
Six years later, contrary to military and media assessments that war would not break out, one by commentator Aluf Benn in Haaretz just four days before the war broke out extolling relying on HIzbullah head Nasrallah to preserve quiet, Hizbullah attacked the IDF and kidnapped and killed reserve soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, touching off the 34-day Second Lebanon War.
Barak explained that when he ordered the withdrawal, Hizbullah had 7,000 rockets but that “only” 4,000 were fired at Israel during the war. However, IDF intelligence officials during the war estimated that the terrorist organization possessed nearly 20,000 missiles gathered over the six years after the IDF withdrew. Barak also denied that the withdrawal in 2000 left a vacuum for Hizbullah.
“Hizbullah did not get stronger because we left, but because we already were there,” Barak stated, arguing that Israel’s presence in Lebanon helped create the terrorist organization. He also said that Hizbullah’s buildup of approximately 50,000 missiles since the war was a reaction to the “heavy blows” Israel inflicted on Lebanon during the war.
The Defense Minster, who also is head of the Labor party, had a brilliant military record but ran into difficulties as he neared the top ranks of the IDF and after he entered politics.
One of the most controversial accusations against him concerned the deaths of five soldiers in a training accident at an IDF base where he was criticized for leaving the scene immediately.
He catapulted to the position of Prime Minister by riding a media attack on Binyamin Netanyahu, who headed the government in the late 1990s. His coalition government failed 18 months after he was elected, and he was forced to call new elections. He quit politics after an overwhelming victory by Ariel Sharon, who then headed the Likud party.
Barak returned to the political arena in 2005 but failed to beat Shimon Peres for the leadership of the Labor party and returned to private business. He later re-entered politics again, winning the leadership of the Labor party in 2007.