by Eric Margolis
ROME -- The most difficult of all military operations is a retreat when
in contact with the enemy. Israel's generals performed this feat last
Wednesday by deftly withdrawing the last of their occupation troops
from Lebanon without losing a single soldier. After 22 years of
bloodshed, and the loss of 2,000 soldiers, Israel's disastrous occupation
of Lebanon is over.
Israel's rapid pullout from Lebanon was a victory for Prime Minister Ehud Barak,
who promised to quit Lebanon last year. Most Israelis were delighted
to be rid of a nightmare that had become their nation's version of
Vietnam. After long violating UN resolutions calling for withdraw
from Lebanon, Israel is finally compliant. Only Israel's far right,
represented by former Gen. Ariel Sharon, who led Israel into the
Lebanon disaster, mourned the end of the misadventure.
Israel stole a march on Syria by swiftly exiting Lebanon. Damascus
hoped to keep Israel bogged down and bleeding in Lebanon in order to
force Israel to return the captured Golan Heights to Syria. But now
Syria's best hand has been trumped. Damascus will not be happy.
Lebanon has regained its south after two decades of Israeli occupation,
allowing 200,000 Lebanese internal refugees to return home. However,
the south is now fully under control of the Shia resistance group
Hizbullah, not the feeble regime in Beirut and its even feebler army.
The big question is whether Hizbullah will lob Katyusha short-ranged
rockets over the border into Israel. In recent days, Israel threatened
full-scale war against Lebanon, its patron, Syria, and even distant
Iran, if its northern border settlements are attacked. Even a small raid
by Hizbullah, the Amal militia, or various Palestinians groups could
ignite a large war between Israel and Syria, which garrisons 35,000
troops in Lebanon. Israel would soon win, but at a cost of serious
Hizbullah was created and armed in the late 1970's by Israeli
intelligence to fight Palestinian forces in southern Lebanon. Israel's
arrogant, highhanded treatment of Lebanon's Shias turned them
against their former Jewish patrons and led to the long, bitter war
between Hizbullah and Israel.
Still, Hizbullah fighters have usually fired rockets into Israel only in
retaliation for Israeli air and artillery attacks on Lebanese villages.
Now that Hizbullah has liberated its territory, there is no reason why it
should deliver pinprick attacks on Israel that would bring a
This being the Mideast, a renewed Israeli-Hizbullah alliance against
the Lebanese branch of Yasser Arafat's PLO, and even fighting
between Palestinians and Hizbullah in Lebanon's turbid south, cannot
be totally excluded.
There are also many Lebanese seeking revenge on Israel for its brutal
1982 siege of Beirut, in which Israeli shelling killed 15,000-20,000
Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, and for the ravaging of southern
Lebanon, where 8, 000 or more Lebanese civilians and 3,000 fighters
were killed. Israel's use of the so-called South Lebanese Army -- which
disintegrated this week -- a bunch of Arab renegades and criminals
who performed most of Israel's dirty work in southern Lebanon,
including wide-scale torture, mass reprisals against civilians, and
holding 500 hundred Lebanese civilians hostage in the notorious
Khiam Prison, will not soon be forgiven.
Further complicating matters, senior Hizbullah leaders have vowed to
continue their `holy struggle' against Israel until it agrees to take back
the 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon driven from their Galilee
homes in 1947 by advancing Jewish forces, and return Hizbullah
prisoners in Israeli jails. Lebanon's Palestinian refugees are packed
into squalid camps, from where they meddled in Lebanese politics and
attacked Israeli civilian targets. Their violent actions sparked both the
twenty year Lebanese civil war, which killed 200,000, and the Israeli
invasions of1978 and 1982. It was Gen. Sharon's attempt to eradicate the
Palestinians in Lebanon, and turn it into an Israeli protectorate run by
the Lebanese Christian Phalangists, a neo-fascist party patterned on
Mussolini's Blackshirts, that led Israel into the Levantine quagmire,
and the terrible massacres of 2,000 Palestinian civilians at Shatilla and
Israel says it has no room to take back Lebanon's Palestinian refugees,
though it found homes for one million Russian immigrants. None of the
Arab states want the homeless Palestinians either. Israel's northern
border has thus returned to the pre-1982 status quo ante bellum.
Iran, a backer of Hizbullah, and many Arab radicals, are crowing that
Israel has finally suffered its first military defeat. This is true, to a
point. Hizbullah won because its fighters were ready to die for their
faith and country, unlike most of Israel's Arab foes.
As a democracy, Israel could not bear the loss of its sons in the
pointless Lebanese conflict. Hizbullah's victory again demonstrated
that Israel's overwhelming, high-tech military advantage over the
Arabs can be nullified by guerilla and urban fighting. Israel can win
every war against the Arabs, but it cannot hold land, as Lebanon
showed. The more populated land Israel captures, the more it is at a
Many Palestinians might wish to emulate Hizbulla's mujihadin by
launching an urban war against Israeli occupation troops. But
Palestinians have no outside source of arms and no room to fight or
manoeuvre. The West Bank in not southern Lebanon. So back to
Mideast square one and more of the same.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of the just released War at the Top of
the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in
The Economist, May 13, 2000]
Copyright © 2000 Eric Margolis - All Rights