On the same day that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered a political bombshell by resigning from the Likud, real bombshells fell on the northern town of Metulla, for the first time since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon five years ago. Hizbullah's Katyusha attacks seem to have been a ruse, however, to divert attention from the real objective: a concerted attack on IDF positions to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
The Hizbullah attacks, which included rockets, mortars, and gunfire, destroyed a home in Metulla, which luckily was unoccupied, and wounded 11 Israeli soldiers, two of them seriously. It could have been much worse.
The attempt to kidnap soldiers was foiled largely by one paratrooper, Cpl. David Markovich, who had only been in the army eight months. He single-handedly detected and killed four out of five Hizbullah terrorists who approached IDF positions near Ghajer, on the Lebanese border. Israel responded with bombardments against Hizbullah's bases, but has not directly attacked the interest s of the capitals it has held responsible - namely, Beirut, Damascus, and Teheran.
The question is whether such restraint on Israel's part, in the face of what the United States has rightly condemned as an "unprovoked attack," is wise. Once again, Israe l seems to be acting by the old "rules" that were supposed to have been changed by the withdrawal from southern Lebanon behind a UN-recognized border.
According to the new rules, Israel would not retaliate tit-for-tat in the case of Hizbullah attacks, bu t would act directly against the interests of responsible governments in Lebanon, Syria or Iran. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz hinted as much when he stated that "Syrian and Iranian interests are behind this event. Their interest in the north is to allevia t e the pressure on Syria."
There is little question in the minds of most observers that these attacks are a reaction to the international isolation of Syria in the wake of the Mehlis report on the Hariri assassination, and the still pending Larsen repo rt on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Historically, Syria has dealt with pressure by engaging in aggression and terrorism, and the current regime seems to be acting true to form.
But just because Damascus is incapable of changi ng its spots does not mean the international community should not learn from experience. Israel should be making clear to the US, France and the UN that, if Lebanon is not forced to disarm Hizbullah or move it away from our border, and if Syria is not for ce d to abandon its support for terrorism, Israel will be forced to act directly against the national interests of these regimes.
Our message, in short, should be, either you act or we will. This, not coincidentally, should also be our new message with r esp ect to the impotence of the Palestinian Authority. Israel cannot continue to be in a position of tit-for-tat retaliation against the terrorists themselves, while the regimes behind the terrorists escape scot-free.
Restraint for its own sake, as we should have learned by now, is worse than useless: It simply invites further and perhaps more deadly attacks. Restraint only makes sense if Israel is "paid" for it in the form of concrete actions that more effectively safeguard our security.
Hizbullah has thousands of missiles pointed at our northern residents. Though we have become used to the fact that, by and large, these missiles have not been fired since Israel's withdrawal, it is a mistake to pretend that holding large parts of the population hostage to the whims of a terrorist organization is acceptable.
When Israel withdrew from Lebanon, our leaders, and even the international community acted as if the Lebanese army's restoration of sovereignty to the south was a matter of days or weeks. Five year s la ter, it has not happened.
The international pressure that has been building on Syria should only increase in response to that regime's resort, once again, to proxy aggression against Israel. Syria must learn that its only way out is to abandon the p ath o f aggression and terror, rather than returning to its old-style intimidation tactics.
It is appropriate that Israel act in-sync with the international community in increasing this pressure now that, finally, our concerns have become more widely shared. B ut such cooperation must be a results-oriented, two-way street.t