idf armored carrier 88.
(photo credit: )
The first time I visited Beirut was in 1976, at the height of the Lebanese civil war. As I made my way to the home of former president Camille Chamoun, the city was ablaze. Hundreds of artillery shells smashed into the Christian quarters. The firing was so intense that we could hardly hear each other. The PLO, together with radical Muslim forces, was laying siege to the hard-pressed Christians, and the fierce fighting was destroying Beirut.
Since those days a great deal has changed in Lebanon. Beirut was rebuilt and became one of the most dynamic and "with-it" cities in the Middle East. Yet beneath the modern facade the old tensions remained. The Maronite Christians, once the dominant factor in the country, have been cut down to size, and the down-trodden Shi'ites, poor and exploited, have been radicalized and have increasingly made their presence felt.
Hizbullah, our enemy, is now a dominant element in Lebanese society. The Iranians have financed the Party of God with well over a hundred million dollars annually, in addition to providing weapons, training and political backing. In the past, Lebanon's Shi'ites had been virtually ignored.
Chamoun once told me that not a single Lebanese president had ever bothered to visit the south of Lebanon. "I was the first president to go there," he said, "but I admit I went there because it was a good place for hunting."
The Shi'ites, the largest community in Lebanon, have become an integral part of the Shi'ite crescent stretching from Iran through Iraq into Lebanon. Sheikh Nasrallah's aggressive stance has sent alarm bells ringing not only in Jerusalem, but also in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States, where Iran's growing power and the Shi'ites's new assertiveness in Iraq and in Lebanon is causing increasing consternation.
The Shi'ites have become the strongest element in the Lebanese army. When our leaders declare that the Lebanese army must take over the positions facing our northern frontier, they may not realize that nearly two-thirds of its soldiers are Shi'ites, most of them with relatives in Hizbullah. When we state that the Lebanese must disarm Hizbullah, who do we think will do it, the Shi'ite dominated army?
I contacted a Lebanese friend about this point. "Could the Christian commander of the army send the non-Shi'ites units to do the job?" I asked.
"If he did that, the army would split into two and within days we would have a new civil war. With Shi'ites, Sunnis and Maronites at each others' throats, we would become a second Iraq," he answered.
ALL THIS goes to show that there are no simple solutions in Lebanon. Another week, two at the most, and the war in the north will come to an end. Hizbullah will have been bloodied and weakened, but not destroyed. That cannot be achieved only by air strikes.
Yet when the guns are quiet and people begin to ask if the results justify all the suffering of both sides, the answer must be in the affirmative. Our internationally recognized frontiers should be sacrosanct, in both directions.
Moreover, if we had allowed the attack and the kidnapping to go unanswered, as we did when Hizbullah kidnapped three soldiers in 2000, we would have invited additional attacks and kidnapping, and we would have confirmed the belief prevalent within Hizbullah that Israeli society is weak and cannot sustain rocket attacks on its towns and villages. The threat of more than 14,000 rockets and missiles in the hands of a fundamentalist organization bent on our destruction had to be removed, and our air force is doing its utmost to achieve that goal.
We have driven home in a most effective manner the lesson that we are not weak, that we will not abide attacks against us, and that we are determined to "take out" Hizbullah's missiles, even if they are hidden in villagers' homes.
Any cease-fire agreement must, as a minimum, contain a clause making the south of Lebanon an area barred to armed gunmen. That, of course, is not in itself enough. There is also releasing the captured soldiers, disarming Hizbullah and preventing further armaments from reaching it through Syria. It will not be easy to achieve these objectives. The Lebanese government will not be able to deliver them, unless a determined international effort demands them, and that will necessitate a certain "give" on our side as well as Lebanese concessions.
We may not be able to destroy Hizbullah and we will probably not achieve all the objectives our politicians have put before us, but, at the very least, we will have weakened the danger the Shi'ite fundamentalists represent and sent a strong message not to mess with us in the future. With international help, we can reach a new modus vivendi in the north. And for all that, the war in the north was necessary.
The writer is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry