Sarid: Israel's deterrence has diminished [pg. 8]

Yossi Sarid, the former leader of Meretz, looks like he is on vacation, dressed in shorts as he sips coffee on the veranda of a three-story house in Moshav Margaliot, overlooking Kiryat Shmona and the beautiful Hula Valley. But if he were vacationing in the moshav on the Lebanese border, he would be the only tourist in the area, if not the entire North. Sarid lived in Margaliot while serving in the government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. He returned two weeks ago as an act of solidarity with the residents of northern Israel. "Throughout my life, I have always tried to help when there was trouble," he told The Jerusalem Post wearlier this week. In the 1970s, another time when Kiryat Shmona suffered Katyusha attacks, Sarid lived in the town and taught at the local high school for three years. He has taught for the last two years in Sderot. "I feel calmer being here," he said. "For one thing, I have friends here. For another, it is easier for me to express my opinions about what is going on now from here than from North Tel Aviv." And what is Sarid's opinion about the war? Israel, he believes, should stop bombing Lebanon and withdraw its forces immediately. "The more our leaders fill themselves up with self-righteousness, the more they empty themselves of wisdom," he said, adding that the IDF should have finished its operations in Lebanon in four days. Israel's problem is that it "never knows when to stop," he said. "Each day that fighting continues boomerangs on us, because Nasrallah keeps getting stronger," he said. "At the beginning, there were those in Lebanon who did not like the Hizbullah leader. Now I see that everyone is closing ranks behind him. When bombs are falling on your head, you don't identify with those who are dropping the bombs. You identify with the person who purports to protect you from them." According to Sarid, Israel should have focused on the area immediately north of the border and cleared out Hizbullah from there. By trying to achieve too much, it hasn't accomplished anything, he said. Sarid also expressed skepticism about the causes of the current fighting. He used Sderot as an example. Terrorists have been firing Kassam rockets at the development town for five years, but the army only decided to take severe measures after a soldier was kidnapped. The same is true in Lebanon, he maintains. Today, Israel is talking about "changing the realities" along the border, but it would not be doing so had Hizbullah not kidnapped two soldiers in an ambush that left three others dead. "The army's ego was hurt," said Sarid. He agreed that the army should have punished Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah for the unprovoked attack. "But there is almost no relationship between that attack and what is happening now," he said. Furthermore, as things stand now, Israel's deterrence has diminished rather than increased as a result of the fighting, he said. He blamed this on the fact that for the past six years the army had been preoccupied with keeping order in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and soldiers have been told that the confrontation with Palestinian terrorists was a war. Sarid scoffed at that notion. The Palestinian organizations could not even organize their forces on the platoon level, he said. Hizbullah is a step up from the Palestinian organizations, but it was still only a "rag-tag guerrilla organization," said Sarid. What would happen if Israel had to fight a real war, he asked. Sarid also took issue with the government's refusal to tolerate the idea of a Hizbullah armed with long-range missiles. "If I really want to worry, why shouldn't I worry about Syria?" he asked. "They have more than Hizbullah. They have chemical and biological warheads and longer range missiles. Why don't we preempt them now? And what about Iran? I hear they're developing something bad. So, let's go after Iran." His answer to these questions: "Until it happens, it hasn't happened." Sarid said that since the IDF withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, northern Israel had enjoyed six years of prosperity and quiet. And if hadn't been for Israel's massive response to the Hizbullah operation, that prosperity and quiet would have continued, he said. "I think that even six years of quiet is not to be taken lightly. And if we live in this region, well then, it's not such a good region. Life here takes place between one round [of fighting] and another," he said.