Q. Barak has fulfilled his promise and pulled the IDF out of Lebanon, retreating to the June 1967 border. Isn’t he to be commended for this? Why does the left always refuse to recognize that the Israeli government and Barak can do good things?
A. Yes, Israel, it appears, is retreating to the international border. This, in and of itself, is a positive development. It does mean that the Hizballah cannot continue to claim that its fight is one of national liberation from foreign occupation. Any attack on Israel by Hizballah that would be based on the claim that it is part of the struggle to liberate Palestine is unacceptable. But it would be wrong and even naïve to disregard important official Israeli policy declarations that accompany the withdrawal. These threats dramatically escalate regional tension.
Q. Israel is merely demanding stability and security along its northern border. If the Syrians who control Lebanon join in an effort to pacify the area, then they have nothing to worry about. But if tension and violence continue to plague Israel, isn’t Israel justified in threatening to retaliate against Syria?
A. Israel has been victimizing Lebanon, in one form or another for twenty-five years. The punishment included full-scale war, frequent military incursions, massive interference in internal politics, exploiting sectarian tension, and extended occupation of Lebanese territory. Israel has established and armed pro-Israeli militia, destroyed parts of the country’s infrastructure, converted hundreds of thousands of its citizens into refugees and totally destroyed the fabric of social life during years of occupation.Realistically, Israeli withdrawal is only a first prerequisite for the creation of stability and normalcy. Tension, hostility, disputed lands, are just a few of the possible sources of violence. Israel has the right of self-defense, but knows full well that calm and quiet depend on many complex factors and processes. Instead of assisting in this process, Israel has declared that it holds Syria responsible for the absolute pacification of the area, and is threatening massive retaliation against Syria for any incident that involves the IDF or Israeli civilians.
Q. Barak would really be in real trouble domestically if the border re-ignites and would have to make a major move to deflect criticism against the withdrawal.Even if we condemn the Israeli threats, wouldn’t Assad be wise to avoid giving Barak any pretext for attack?
A. Syrian does have influence in Lebanon. But this does not mean that it can effectively police southern Lebanon, even if it was convinced that this is its responsibility. The needed pacification and reconstruction of the area require time and resources, which can be mobilized only on the basis of international agreements and a perspective of peace in the region. Barak knows that, in present conditions, absolute serenity along the border is highly improbable if not downright impossible. Despite this, he has announced that he will refuse to deal with possible tensions on a local basis and has committed himself to large-scale reprisals against Syria and the Syrian army.
Q. Why can Barak hope for U.S. and even UN support against Syria?
A. Hizballah’s success, in US eyes, requires some form of containment. This could come in different forms, including its conversion into a political force in Lebanese politics. Syria must demonstrate its respectability by, at the least, moving to restrict Hizballah. Syria is in some sort of diplomatic doghouse since it embarrassed Clinton at the Geneva summit. For the US, the details are not that important, nor do they care that the summit fiasco resulted from an Israeli-inspired attempt to force Assad to be a bit more ‘elastic’ regarding the border issue. Despite the present pressure on Damascus, it is very far from certain that Barak will receive international backing when he starts to bomb. Q. You, on the left, keep talking about a war and the threats of war. Despite morbid predictions, there has been no serious war since 1982. Aren’t your warnings a bit exaggerated and overblown?
A. When we talk about the danger of war and increased tension, we are not making a deterministic forecast that war must occur. The dangers and the tensions that we cite are real and demand the response of Israelis who sincerely want peace. Of course, there are countervailing forces and processes in international life. Of course, there are forces and interests that will not support Israel’s adventurist tendencies. However, it is important that peace forces in Israel stay alert and refuse to ignore the sad fact that we still have not witnessed any genuine shift or change in the guiding principles of Israeli policy.