Retreat and Restraint
When Ehud Barak pulled Israel Defense Forces out of Lebanon in May 2000, idf commanders deferred to United Nations officials to determine an internationally recognized border between Lebanon and Israel. Israel was so determined to abide by international guidelines that it divided the borderline city of Raj’ar, even though comprised of Israeli citizens (Allawite Arabs) who actually wanted to be included within Israel’s territorial boundaries. To this day, Raj’ar literally straddles the border between Lebanon and Israel, with 80 percent of its residents technically living in Lebanon.
In accepting the new UN boundary line, and to lock down its northern border, Israel abandoned the old security fence that ran around the northern outskirts of Raj’ar and instead erected a barrier south of the city. This kept its residents from being divided by a Berlin-style wall, but it also forced everyone to go through a security checkpoint in order to enter northern Israel, similar to the procedure West Bank residents must undergo to get into Israel proper.
So Israel effectively abandoned every square inch of Lebanon—and then some—in order to eliminate every possible territorial dispute as a potential pretext for Hezbollah to instigate another war. Yet just five months after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah guerillas crossed into Israeli territory and abducted three idf soldiers near Shebaa Farms. That same month, October 2000, Hezbollah operatives abducted an Israeli businessman in Dubai. Israel chose not to retaliate for fear that it might escalate tensions on the northern border. Instead, it negotiated with Hezbollah, with the help of Germany as mediator.
Three years after the abductions, in what amounted to one of the most lopsided prisoner swaps in the history of hostage negotiations, Ariel Sharon freed 429 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners and handed over the remains of 59 Lebanese fighters in return for one prisoner (the businessman) and three corpses (the kidnapped soldiers). In response to the public outcry in Israel, the Knesset claimed that the freed prisoners were only small fish in the terrorist pond—none of them having been convicted of killing Israeli civilians. Not that they didn’t try to, of course.
The Arab world greeted the news of the prisoner swap jubilantly. In Beirut and Gaza, taxi drivers honked horns as pedestrians danced in the streets. Hezbollah’s regional profile skyrocketed throughout the Middle East—first they had booted Israel out of southern Lebanon; now their violent acts had forced Israel to free hundreds of terrorists.
By the summer of 2006, riding high from a string of victories, Hezbollah was itching for another fight. And its primary state sponsor, Iran, desperately wanted to distract the world’s attention away from its nuclear aspirations. So Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered another cross-border kidnapping operation, fresh on the heels of the Hamas raid on Israel’s southern border in June 2006, which resulted in the abduction of one Israeli soldier.
Invasion of Israel
For about three weeks prior to the start of the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah fighters had been repeatedly tapping Israel’s electronic fence, setting off alarms at idf observation bases. Each time, the idf dutifully sent out patrols, only to find the area secure. Just another false alarm.
But on Tuesday night, July 11, instead of tapping the fence, a group of terrorists slashed the barrier open, sneaked across the border, and spent the night hiding in a thicket of trees next to a narrow road running parallel to the fence on Israel’s side.
The next morning, in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah rocket launchers unleashed a barrage of Katyushas on western Galilee, distracting the idf from Hezbollah’s covert operation the night before. About an hour after missiles first exploded on Israeli soil, Hezbollah guerillas ambushed two armored Humvees on patrol in northern Israel, killing three idf soldiers and taking two others hostage.
This was not a random terrorist act. It was an audacious declaration of war against Israel by a guerilla army, referred to by some Israeli officers as Lebanon’s “Iranian division.”
The attack caught Israel completely off guard. “It was a very good operation,” Col. Koby Morom admitted in a July 31 interview. “We have to be honest and say that. They did a great job.” Morom, who once served in Lebanon and commanded an idf northern brigade, admitted, “From our point of view it was an operational failure and an intelligence failure.”
Making matters worse, the intelligence failure was followed by a botched rescue attempt as an idf tank chased the kidnappers into Lebanon, only to trigger a huge mine, killing all four soldiers inside. Another soldier, trying to rescue his buddies from the burning tank, later died from his wounds.
All totaled, Hezbollah killed eight soldiers and kidnapped two others on the first day of its invasion. It was the idf’s deadliest one-day setback in more than four years.
Judging by the international media’s coverage of the Second Lebanon War, one could be forgiven for thinking Israel instigated the fight. Some media outlets even misled their readers and viewers by reporting that the abductions occurred “along the border” or “by Israeli border positions.” And for the media outlets that got it right, the fact that Hezbollah started the war without provocation was quickly lost in the repeated denunciations of Israel’s “disproportionate” response to the attack. European leaders and UN officials joined with the anti-Israeli media elites to urge Israel to exercise “restraint,” even though it was Israel’s policy of restraint (some would say weakness) that invited Hezbollah’s invasion in the first place.
Five days after Hezbollah attacked, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to respond with powerful force. “In Lebanon,” he told members of the Knesset, “we will insist on compliance with the terms stipulated long ago by the international community, as unequivocally expressed only yesterday in the resolution of the eight leading countries of the world: the return of the hostages, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev; a complete cease-fire; deployment of the Lebanese Army in all of southern Lebanon; expulsion of Hezbollah from the area, and fulfillment of United Nations Resolution 1559. … We will not suspend our actions. … We will continue, without hesitating, without capitulating and without fretting, until our goals are achieved.”
Two weeks later, after plenty of fretting and hesitation over how to prosecute the war, Olmert dramatically pared down his list of objectives—and then, to the astonishment of nearly every clear-thinking observer, declared victory in Lebanon. At a commencement ceremony on Aug. 1, 2006, he talked about the “unprecedented” gains Israel had made, saying, “If the military campaign were to end today … we could say with certainty that the face of the Middle East has changed following the great achievement of the State of Israel.” He then made the absurd claim that Hezbollah would “never again” be able to threaten Israel with missiles—even as rockets, by the hundreds, were raining down on Israel. Olmert said he believed a cease-fire would result in a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, manned by an international force.
So it took just three weeks for his five objectives to be reduced to a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, which is exactly what Israel had between 1982 and 2000, before they pulled back. Yet the tragic lesson of the Lebanon withdrawal was completely lost on the Olmert government. It fails to grasp that Israel’s enemies view pullouts and withdrawals, not as a stepping-stone to peace, but as a sign of Israeli weakness—and a victory for radical Islam.
Israel’s leadership was so out of touch with reality that Prime Minister Olmert publicly discussed Israel’s next withdrawal even as the Lebanon war raged on! The day after his commencement address, Mr. Olmert told the Associated Press he believed the Second Lebanon War would actually hasten Israel’s departure from the West Bank. “I genuinely believe that the outcome of the present [conflict] … will allow me … to create a new momentum between us and the Palestinians.” Terrorists believe that too. That’s why they keep killing Israeli civilians—to add momentum to Israel’s withdrawal from “occupied” territories.
Later in the interview, Olmert said, “We want to separate from the Palestinians. I’m ready to do it” (Aug. 2, 2006). Six years earlier, Israel separated from Hezbollah in Lebanon—and that resulted in 158 Israeli casualties, Israel’s longest war since 1948, and a huge strategic victory for Iran.
Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory
Even with inept leadership and terrible mismanagement of the war, Israel’s overwhelming advantage in firepower nearly delivered a deathblow to Hezbollah’s guerilla army. Hezbollah, with its puny force of only 1,500 active fighters and another 4,500 reservists, should have been squashed within days. As it was, it took Israel more than a month just to push them behind a buffer zone.
Yet even that level of response surprised Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. He had grown so accustomed to Israel’s policy of non-response to provocation, he had expected yet another free pass. In July of 2006, however, Israel had finally had enough. It retaliated with a barrage of air raids, and later, a ground invasion.
According to the Lebanese daily al-Safir, after it was all said and done, despite his public declarations of victory over Israel, in private Nasrallah was depressed. With UN and Lebanese forces deployed in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah no longer had free rein in “Hezbollastan.” Nasrallah concluded that he was “too hasty in pulling the trigger” against Israel, wrote Ehud Yaari, an Israeli commentator on Middle East affairs, in the Jerusalem Report (Oct. 2, 2006).
In an interview this summer, one Hezbollah officer commented on how close Israel got to obliterating Nasrallah’s forces. The terrorists were on the run during the Second Lebanon War, the officer maintains. They hid behind civilian shields. Their supply lines had been cut off. Even when they were able to fire missiles at Israel, the launch sites were oftentimes bombed by Israeli jets within minutes.
If Israel had continued fighting for another 10 days, the officer said, Hezbollah would have laid down its weapons and surrendered. Instead, succumbing to the international outcry for restraint and seemingly satisfied with the lone objective of pushing Hezbollah and its arsenal a little bit north, Israel agreed to the terms of the UN-brokered cease-fire. And that, according to the Hezbollah officer, was exactly the “life jacket” the terrorists needed to stay afloat.
Thus, even when Israel wins, it can’t avoid losing.
Peacekeepers to the Rescue
How different the war’s outcome would have been had Israel simply resolved to finish the job. As it was, by merely surviving the conflict, Hezbollah was seen as the heroic victor throughout the Islamic world. They managed to garner the sympathies of numerous international leaders, particularly in Europe. And from the very beginning of the conflict, mainstream news providers made sure Hezbollah won the propaganda war. Coverage throughout the war was overwhelmingly slanted in favor of terrorism. Israel was universally condemned for fighting back—for “killing civilians”; for “invading” Lebanon; for using “disproportionate force”—and on and on it went.
Today, more than a year later, Iran has completely re-supplied and enlarged Hezbollah’s arsenal through Lebanon’s porous border with Syria—and all in plain view of unifil’s “peacekeeping” forces. Even until very recently, UN officials have denied that Hezbollah is being re-armed. On June 14, for example, unifil’s commander in southern Lebanon, Claudio Graziano, told the Jerusalem Post that Hezbollah’s forces were “practically non-existent” in southern Lebanon.
Three days after that interview, right on cue, Hezbollah fired two rockets into the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona. To save face, unifil said Hezbollah was not responsible for launching the missiles—as if blaming the attack on another terrorist group in southern Lebanon would somehow ease Israel’s concern.
A week and a half after Graziano’s delusional comments, a UN-appointed team investigating the Lebanon-Syrian border released a 46-page report bluntly stating that Lebanon’s border security was “insufficient to prevent smuggling.” According to the report, there are four different Lebanese security agencies working the border that do not coordinate their strategic operations. The report says there has not been one documented seizure of smuggled arms anywhere near the Lebanese border. Not even one!
Many of Lebanon’s border posts are actually miles behind the border and with no fences or gates to secure the surrounding areas. Smugglers may actually find it easy, the report said, “to conceal not only explosives, light weapons and ammunition, but also assembled and unassembled heavy weaponry, such as missiles and rockets, into the country concealed in compartments and panels of cargo trucks and passenger vehicles.”
And yet, less than two weeks before the report was released, unifil’s commanding officer predicted that within three years, his peacekeeping forces will have completely removed the threat of war between Hezbollah and Israel.
For a UN officer to be completely oblivious to the facts on the ground is one thing, but for Israel’s leaders to commit the same sin is suicidal.
Despite his strong words of response to Hezbollah’s attack in July 2006, within weeks Ehud Olmert agreed to the cease-fire without retrieving the two kidnapped soldiers. To this day, the soldiers remain in captivity, if they are even alive.
Israel also retreated from its vow to crush Hezbollah’s forces and to uproot them completely from southern Lebanon. Hezbollah did lose 700 to 900 of its terrorists, and much of its remaining force was pushed north of the Litani River, but it was not obliterated. Rather, it is regrouping—concentrating on training new recruits.
Israel also pulled back its forces last year without any assurance that the illegal flow of arms to Hezbollah would stop—notwithstanding UN resolution 1701, which called on the Lebanese government to secure its borders. If anything, the steady stream of weapons has increased.
Besides all that, Hezbollah violated the terms of the cease-fire when it fired those two rockets in June.
The only real “concession” Israel won during the war was the insertion of Lebanese in UN forces in southern Lebanon and the relocation of Hezbollah’s arsenal further north.
In essence, Israel bought itself a little time before the next round of fighting. The sad part of it is, many of Israel’s leaders—even in the military—seem to be content with that. “We stayed in Lebanon for 18 years, with a terrible number of casualties,” Colonel Morom told the Trumpet in July. “And I think three, four or five years after the Israeli withdrawal the Israeli leadership didn’t want to touch Lebanon anymore. We had enough. We suffered enough.” In Morom’s view, pulling out of Lebanon was the right thing to do.
Another high-ranking idf officer, who requested anonymity, agrees with Colonel Morom. Referring to the six years between Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon and the Second Lebanon War, he said, “We had six wonderful years in the north”—obviously not referring to the abduction of three soldiers in 2000 or the barrage of rockets Hezbollah launched on northern Israel in the spring of 2002.
“Israel, the population and the army, do not like a war of attrition,” the officer said, in reference to Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. And while that might be true (Israel lost more than 1,500 soldiers during its 18-year occupation), no one likes to lose 158 of its citizens all at once either—during a short 34-day war, for instance.
“Since August of last year until now, the situation is again very good,” the anonymous officer continued, in an effort to put a positive spin on last summer’s debacle. One year on from the Second Lebanon War, these kinds of short-sighted excuses are gaining popular acceptance at the highest levels of Israel’s government and military. Pulling out of Lebanon was the right thing to do—after all, it brought us six years of “peace.” And the results from the Second Lebanon War were actually much better than most commentators give us credit for—after all, we’ve had one year of “peace” since the war.
But no amount of false advertising will hide the fact that Israel’s will to fight and win—not the will of its enemies—has been crushed (Leviticus 26:19). And while Israel’s leaders might not admit to that, or even recognize it, their enemies have picked up on the signal loud and clear.
Even without the benefit of Bible prophecy, Israel’s recent strategy of retreat and restraint offers a frightening preview of what lies ahead. The 2005 pullout from Gaza, like Lebanon, was hailed the world over as a bold step toward Palestinian statehood and peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Fundamentalist Islam, however, viewed the retreat as yet another victory for its ongoing war against the West and regional goal of eliminating the Jewish state. Palestinians immediately elected a Hamas majority and today, after forcefully removing Fatah from Gaza, an Iranian proxy now lies within 50 miles of Jerusalem.
In response to the emergence of a terrorist state along its southwestern border, Israel’s policy, backed by the United States, has been to ignore the rockets that Hamas fires on the Israeli town of Sderot, and to promise additional territorial concessions. Besides that, with overwhelming support from the international community, Israel has taken extraordinary steps to bolster the beleaguered government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement. In July, for example, Israel released 256 Palestinian prisoners, most of them Fatah members, without receiving anything in return.
Israel has also lifted certain restrictions on weapons transfers into the West Bank, even though it was recently burned by its decision to allow guns into Gaza—most of them ended up in the hands of Hamas.
Meanwhile, the international community is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into Abbas’s government. All this for a man who spent 40 years being mentored by Yasser Arafat and who, since coming to power, has refused to disarm terrorists. Giving terrorists the freedom to roam, as it turns out, may have cost him the Gaza Strip—but it also landed him a huge pile a cash, a storehouse of weapons, the release of 256 prisoners and an expedited timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and the formation of a Palestinian state.
Given the circumstances, it would be difficult to imagine things going much better for Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, Israel presses forward with its policy of retreat and restraint, undeterred by its previous failures in Lebanon and Gaza. Just keep pulling back to internationally recognized borders. Don’t escalate a tense situation by retaliating strongly to terrorism, the thinking goes. And in the case of the next territorial concession, the West Bank, Let’s prop up the Abbas government and help establish a Palestinian state. Then, finally, it will bring peace and stability to the region.
But as former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, “Observers forget that Hamas also won the Palestinian elections in the West Bank in 2006. However, in contrast to the situation in Gaza, the Israeli Army is fully deployed in strategic areas of the West Bank and could intervene in minutes if Hamas tried to execute a Gaza-style military coup to topple Mr. Abbas” (August 12). Once Israel leaves, Gold pointed out, the only remaining deterrent against a Hamas takeover in Judea and Samaria will be gone.
But never mind these fatal flaws in the peace-making policies proposed in Washington and Jerusalem. Retreat and restraint—that’s the conventional wisdom. And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Writing for HumanEvents.com, Jeff Emanuel recently interviewed Ehud Olmert’s spokesperson, Miri Eisen, in Jerusalem. He asked her to respond to critics who argue that Israel’s enemies interpret unilateral concessions as a sign of weakness and that it only emboldens terrorists. Eisen responded by saying, “We know that it is not weak, because we know that there is strength in being able to make concessions even when it has not worked before” (August 9).
No amount of military might can rescue Israel from a peace-making policy as suicidal as that. It’s no wonder God says in Leviticus 26:20 that Israel’s strength shall be spentin vain.