Barak's Peace Legacy--War in Gaza, War in Lebanon
In May 2000, Israel abruptly began a unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon, where its troops had been since its 1982 invasion to drive out Palestinian terrorist militias who used southern Lebanon as their base of operations. (Here is a contemporaneous account from the BBC.) Then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak did not attempt to negotiate a withdrawal with the Lebanese government. Consequently, there was no plan in place for Lebanese Army troops to secure the region from which Israel was withdrawing--it was simply abandoned to the militia of Hezbollah, an extremist Shiite Moslem group, which engages in terrorist operations throughout the world, under the sponsorship and patronage of Iran and Syria.
Barak's precipitous abandonment of southern Lebanon also made no provision for the safety of the South Lebanese Army (SLA), a Lebanese militia opposed to Hezbollah and to Syrian domination of Lebanon, which had been Israel's ally in the region for nearly 20 years. Some SLA leaders and officers fled into exile and were given sanctuary in Israel. Most of its troops and their families were abandoned to their uncertain fate--many were imprisoned or executed. The unmistakable lesson for Arabs otherwise sympathetic to Israel and willing to live in peace with the Jewish State was that Israel is an unfaithful ally.
(The United States is still trying in Iraq and Afghanistan to undo the same lesson, taught by its abandonment of South Vietnam in 1975. Of course, there are those of the same mindset as produced the Vietnam debacle who now want to repeat it in Iran.)
But the legacy of Barak was still more pernicious. Although it never defeated Israel on the battlefield, Hezbollah trumpeted the Israeli withdrawal as the first Arab military victory over the Jewish State. The lesson learned by Palestinians was that Israel could be demoralized, defeated and perhaps even ultimately destroyed through a continuing low-intensity war of attrition. What followed, almost immediately, in September 2000, was the so-called Al Aksa intifada.
Even the old stalwart warrior of Israel, Ariel Sharon, the political architect of Israel's settlement program in Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza, and the planner of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, seemed to undergo the demoralization that his Arab (and Left-wing Israeli) enemies had longed hoped for. After being elected to power on a platform of ending Palestinian terrorism with a strong hand, Sharon conceived and executed a program of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which has proven even more disastrous than Barak's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. Not only did it turn Gaza into "Hamasistan"; implementing the plan involved the removal of some 10,000 Jews, and the destruction of their homes, farms and businesses, in history's first self-inflicted ethnic cleansing operation.
Sharon was succeeded by Ehud Olmert, a man who once said in a speech,"We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies... ." No words could more aptly demonstrate the success of Hezbollah's strategy against Israel. And the presence now in Gaza of Israeli troops, engaged in pitched battle with Palestinans, demonstrates the bankruptcy of the Gaza disengagement plan.
Throughout the grim years since May 2000, the one "gain" pointed to by defenders of the abandonment of southern Lebanon to Hezbollah has been a relatively quiet northern border. This achievement was largely illusory--Hezbollah staged intermittent incursions and shelling of northern Israeli towns--but it was trumpeted nonetheless by the Israeli Left as proof of the wisdom of Barak's decision to cut and run.
As of today, even that illusory achievement has dissipated like morning mist by harsh sunlight. Hezbollah guerillas entered Israel today, killing seven Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two others. In response, Israeli troops have re-entered southern Lebanon. (Jerusalem Post coverage of this story is here.)
By its displays of weakness, n Lebanon and Gaza, in the cause of "Peace Now," Israel has convinced its deadly foes of its vulnerability and has invited attack. As a result, Israel now fights a two-front hot war.