PAYING WITH THE SAME COIN
By Boris Shusteff
Every time that Israel suffers another loss in Lebanon, the calls to leave the security zone become louder, the Israeli military might shrinks in the eyes of the citizens of the Jewish state, and the only solution they can contemplate is an immediate retreat. It appears that in doing so, we abstract from our own history, taking Israeli history out of the context of the whole history of the Jewish people.
We keep forgetting that the Israeli soldiers who have fallen in Lebanon are not the only Jews who fell because they were Jews. If we pick May, 1941 as the starting point of the extermination of European Jewry by Nazi Germany, during the five subsequent years of the Holocaust, every hour 137 Jews were killed by bullets, gas, hunger, tortures and other terrible means. Just think for a moment, every two hours we were losing more people than Israel has lost in Lebanon in 15 years. The Jewish state was created exactly for the purpose of preventing such terrible genocide against the Jewish people. The Jews regained their statehood in order to say "NO" to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, not only with their words but also with weapons in their hands.
During the War of Independence the young Jewish state lost 6,000 people, or 10% of its population. But for the Jews this was a reprieve, a fantastic reduction in the number of casualties comparing to the time of the Holocaust, when the same number of people would have been exterminated in less than 48 hours. From war to war Israel learned an invaluable lesson: the stronger she became, the smaller grew the number of fallen Jews.
How it is possible that now the Jewish state is so reluctant to use its military might? If it is permissible for America to unleash a war against Yugoslavia, which lies thousands of miles away from Washington, if it is permissible for Russia to bomb Chechnya, whose direct threat to Russia is very questionable, why should Israel try to escape under the protection of the word "peace" with her tail tucked between the legs?
It is Israel and not America or Russia who is threatened with extinction. Israel is the only country in the world that is surrounded by mortal enemies, who every day promise to destroy her. Therefore, not the desire to please America or any other nation, but the issue of survival must dominate and dictate any Israel's decision.
The Jews used to be pariahs in the absence of the Jewish state. It is taking a long time for Israel to understand that she will remain a pariah even as long as she is a Jewish state. Perhaps the only nice words that will be said about her will be in her eulogy, but she will not be able to hear them. The anti-Semitism of the Arabs will not subside as long as the Jewish state exists in their midst. The correct way to counter it is with military might. Israel should stop simply threatening to use her force and should start using it. Why should the Arabs believe Ehud Barak's words that "the army will retaliate strongly if guerrillas attack Israel after the pullout?" The barking dog never bites.
It is mind boggling that Barak, the "most decorated Israeli soldier," can still call for a withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from Lebanon when even David Levy understands that "withdrawal now, in effect, does not mean withdrawal. It means a rout, panic-stricken flight ... which will place us in the future .... in a very critical situation" (1). In lieu of the "panic-stricken flight" the editorial in "Wall Street Journal" suggested for Israel to try the "Turkish option," when "instead of offering 'land for peace,' Turkey offered war or peace, massing its formidable army at the Syrian border. Sure enough, Mr. Assad caved in" (2).
It appears that Barak, after taking off his military fatigues, has completely lost all military skills. His current policy in Lebanon is simply ruinous to the soldier's morale. It is not surprising that on February 27 several news agencies announced that "an Israeli soldier who said he was too scared to return to the Israeli-occupied sector of Lebanon has been jailed for 28 days in an unprecedented ruling by the military"(3).
Most puzzling of all is the fact that Barak must know better than anyone else of the harm that he is inflicting. The Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" wrote that, not long ago "Barak alluded to situations he faced as IDF chief of staff. 'When the time comes for the commander of a unit who has been taking cover behind some shelter to stand up, and head straight into fire, he and some of his soldiers are sure that some of them will get hit by bullets in the head and die.' Now, when such a unit commander hears on his transistor radio at his post [in Lebanon] that in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem debates are raging in which some people claim that he shouldn't be there at all, that there's no point to his serving there and that it's all futile, this causes a problem. Whoever turns a blind eye to this difficulty is ignoring reality" (4).
To say that Barak's actions contradict his own words would be a mere understatement. Today it is none other than he, the Israeli Defense Minister, who "turns the blind eye" and "ignores reality" and claims that Israeli soldiers "shouldn't be in Lebanon at all," repeating time and again that "no matter what, there will be a withdrawal from Lebanon by July 7."
In spite of this, the vast majority of Israeli soldiers are brave and dedicated men. At the funeral of Tzahi Yitach, who was the latest Israeli soldier killed in Lebanon, his 16-year-old sister, Etty, said that "her brother deeply loved the army and volunteered for combat duty" (5). Like Tzahi, the overwhelming majority of Israeli men who are serving in Lebanon are doing so voluntarily. They are prepared to face the hardships and dangers of service in the combat units. Even after recent Israeli fatalities "some 25 hesder yeshiva students in the Golan Heights have asked the IDF to allow them to replace their friends serving in southern Lebanon. The students wish to serve in the Rotem outpost, one of the most commonly-fired upon IDF points in the area" (6).
Instead of whining about losses among our forces in Lebanon, the Israeli media should emphasize the unprecedented heroism of the Israeli soldiers and make it common knowledge that the Israeli army is the only army in the world that has managed to find a way to fight successfully against guerrilla forces. While the casualty ratio between a regular army and guerrillas is usually 3 to1, the Israeli army has turned it around, making it 1 to 3, and this is in conditions where it has tried to limit to a minimum the number of casualties among the civil population of the enemy countries.
It is madness to put our soldiers in an extremely dangerous situation and then prevent them from attacking the enemies. What degree of love for the land and the country these youngsters must have, if, knowing that they will be "sitting ducks," they still volunteer to serve in Lebanon? We must grant their decision the highest respect and must not humiliate them with our pity. They willfully choose their road, and nobody has the right to insult them with paternalism.
Instead of developing in the Israeli soldiers an inferiority complex, the Israeli politicians should advocate the untying of the soldiers' hands and the removal of the blindfold from their eyes. Tzachi Itach's father, Col. Aryeh Itach - the founder of the Givati unit in which Tzachi served - said that IDF soldiers are "excellent fighters, but... they are sitting ducks for the Hizbullah, because the political decision-makers are not permitting the army to respond appropriately"(7).
It is useless for Israel to bomb Lebanon's infrastructure if the airplanes with Hizbullah's military supplies land at Damascus airport. The time is long overdue for Israel to bomb Damascus and not Beirut to prevent weapons from reaching the Hizbullah guerrillas. Barak should put his military uniform back on and listen to Thomas Freedman, the darling of the Israeli leftists, who wrote on February 22, "Ehud - You know the Syrians are behind the war in South Lebanon, so stop bombing Beirut's power stations. Hit the Syrians! Make Hafez pay in his own coin" (8). 02/28/00
1. The Associated Press news 02/21/00.
2. Wall Street Journal, 02/09/00.
3. Nando times internet news; http://www.nandotimec.com; 2/27/00
4. Amos Harel and Gideon Alon: Barak: IDF troops' low morale in South Lebanon 'a problem'; Haaretz 2/16/00;
5. Nando times internet news; http://www.nandotimec.com; 2/20/00.
6. Arutz 7 news, 02/28/00.
7. Arutz 7 news, 02/13/00.
8. Thomas Friedman: "Dear Ehud, Hafez and Yasir," IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis) 2/22/00.
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.