Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of October 19, 2000

ARABS READ PRUDENCE AS WEAKNESS

By Yossi Olmert

The latest Hizbullah outrage is yet another reminder of the close connection between the Lebanese situation and the Palestinian troubles. To understand this we have to turn back to the Israeli pull-out, or, more realistically, the run-away from Lebanon in May.

The unilateral pull-out from was justified: Israel lost its way in Lebanon and its scope of maneuverability and options became narrow, to the extent that we had to cut our losses, minimize our casualties, and try to restore our credibility and power of deterrence. All this was right in theory, however it simply did not happen. Prime Minister Ehud Barak solemnly pledged to withdraw unilaterally and we left, but not under the circumstances envisaged by the prime minister.

Israel was forced out, rather than leaving in an orderly fashion. The SLA disintegrated and Israeli soldiers were subjected to Hizbullah harassment. In the eyes of most Israelis it was, at most, unpleasant, and yet the Lebanese pull-out seemed to be Barak's only major success, since coming to power in May 1999.

For the Lebanese, however, it was a totally different story: Israel was humiliated, defeated and forced to leave. It was Hasan Nasrallah, the brilliant leader of Hizbullah, who made it so painfully clear in his victory speech.

As usual, Israelis did not pay too much attention to Nasrallah's speech. We were engaged in typical, petty debates about who said what and when, and neglected the need to listen carefully to Nasrallah. What was so significant in Nasrallah's remarks was his call to the Palestinians to follow in Hizbullah's footsteps and start an armed struggle against Israel, which he claimed was a paper tiger, being unable to sustain casualties and without a determined political leadership.

The bottom line in Nasrallah's speech was "we, the Hizbullah, called Israel's bluff," and now it is the turn of the Palestinians to put the pressure on Israel. We did not pay attention, but the Palestinians did. There is a direct connection between the circumstances of our departure from Lebanon and the beginning of Palestinian hostilities three weeks ago.

On 25 November 1987, one Palestinian terrorist single- handedly killed six Israeli soldiers in what became known as the "hang glider" incident. Just three weeks later, the Intifada started in Gaza. Then, too, there was a connection between Lebanon and Palestinian violence. When Israel is seen as weak and vulnerable, we can be sure that the Palestinians will try to take advantage. The lesson is clear: even when Israel takes a decision to concede politically to the Arabs, be they Lebanese or Palestinians, we can do it only from a position of military strength and superiority.

It is not too late to do it with regard to Lebanon, and surely not in regard to the Palestinian situation. In Lebanon we are locked in a strange situation: our pull-out was in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 425 and with international support. Our counterparts, supposedly, are the legitimate Lebanese and Syrian governments. This is all in theory. In reality, the Hizbullah are in virtual control of the border zone with Israel, and our government keeps referring to the responsibility of the Lebanese and Syrians, but does nothing.

What we believe is a manifestation of responsibility and prudence is taken by the other side to be a sign of continued weakness. Henceforth, their readiness to continue their anti- Israel activities. If people think that we have seen enough, they are wrong: more troubles are ahead of us, and in the near future. The unilateral pullout was supposed to lead to another reality along the Israeli-Lebanese border. As yet, Barak's gamble has not produced the desired results. Our weakness is too much of a temptation for the Hizbullah.

AND what about the Palestinians? Unfortunately, it is not much different. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat believed some weeks ago that Israel is vulnerable to riots with casualties, and even today he still feels that he could extract concessions from Israel through the use of terrorism committed by his hidden allies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We may not be able to prevent every terrorist outrage, but we can surely prevent the victory of terrorism by refusing to resume negotiations before we achieve a clear and decisive military victory over Arafat's gang.

(c) Jerusalem Post 2000

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Yossi Olmert is a Middle East expert and former director of the Goverment Press Office.



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