A few weeks shy of the 10th anniversary of Israel’s May 24, 2000 unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon, last Friday Yediot Aharonot chose to devote its weekend news supplement to a retrospective on the event. It included a fawning five-page interview with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who ordered the withdrawal during his tenure as prime minister and defense minister. It also included a two-page spread featuring interviews with the IDF commanders who carried out the withdrawal, recalling their adrenalin rushes as they retreated their forces across the border.

Nearly hidden between the two puff pieces was a little article titled “We told you so.”

It featured an interview with retired former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid who opposed the withdrawal. He told Yediot that in hindsight, he’s glad the withdrawal went through, even though it led directly to the wars that followed. Following Sarid’s self-congratulatory modesty, Yediot gave former defense minister Moshe Arens and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau a sound bite apiece to lash out at the withdrawal. That base covered, the paper dismissed them both as “right-wingers.”

ALTHOUGH UPSETTING, Yediot’s treatment of the Lebanon withdrawal was not surprising. The unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon – which was a failure on every rational level – was a strategy concocted and championed for the better part of a decade by Yediot and its media colleagues at Israel Radio. The paper’s decision to publish a 10-year anniversary retrospective two weeks early was undoubtedly an attempt to preempt and prevent any further discussion of the withdrawal.

Yediot praised it as a work of operational genius because no one was wounded, kidnapped or killed during the 48-hour retreat. Of course, by presenting force protection as the IDF’s highest goal, the paper ignored basic strategic realities.

The fact is that the withdrawal was an operational fiasco. In its rush to the border, the IDF left behind huge quantities of sensitive equipment that Hizbullah commandeered. Israel abandoned thousands of loyal allies from the South Lebanon Army and their families to the tender mercies of Hizbullah. These were men who had fought shoulder to shoulder with the IDF since 1982. Those who managed to escape to Israel before the gates were locked were treated as unwanted deadweight by Barak and his media flacks, who couldn’t be bothered with the treachery at the heart of the operation.

The withdrawal was a military defeat. It weakened Israel and strengthened Hizbullah. Without the security zone, Israel had no buffer between its civilian population and Hizbullah. For its part, Hizbullah set itself up in the IDF’s abandoned fortifications and imposed its full control over south Lebanon.

Israel’s strategic incoherence and incompetence after the withdrawal was showcased just four months later. When Hizbullah forces penetrated Mount Dov and kidnapped soldiers Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid and Adi Avitan, Barak had no idea what to do. So he did nothing.

The soldiers were killed and Israel released hundreds of terrorists from its prisons to secure the return of their bodies four years later. Interestingly, the names Avraham, Sawayid and Avitan didn’t make it into Yediot’s 10-year anniversary retrospective.

The withdrawal was a regional failure. Immediately after the withdrawal, Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat ordered Fatah chief Marwan Barghouti to form the Aksa Brigades terror cells comprised of Fatah members and to form the Popular Resistance Committee terror network that combined Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror cells.

Four months later, after rejecting Barak’s offer of Palestinian statehood at Camp David, Arafat ordered his forces to launch the Palestinian jihad.

The withdrawal from Lebanon showed Arafat that Hizbullah commander Hassan Nasrallah was right to liken Israel to a spider web that would collapse at the slightest provocation. Lebanon taught Arafat that there was no reason to negotiate a peace deal. If pressed, Israel would lose the will to fight and surrender.

The withdrawal was a political failure. To justify his decision to surrender south Lebanon to Iran’s Lebanese proxy force, Barak and his media flacks repeatedly presented the false claim that Hizbullah only fought Israel because it was in Lebanon. If the IDF were to pick up its marbles and go home, Hizbullah would naturally disband.

This historically false, intuitively nutty assertion gave credence to the false Arab-leftist narrative which argues that Israel’s size, rather than the Arab world’s refusal to accept a Jewish state in the Levant, is the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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