Our World: Hizbullah’s media champions

For 10 years Israel has been paying the price for the withdrawal from Lebanon. And yet even now, the Israeli press is still presenting the event as an act of strategic genius and political courage.

ehud barak 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ehud barak 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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.
AS HIZBULLAH’S subsequent buildup, continued aggression and eventual defacto takeover of the Lebanese government all showed, Hizbullah was notan Israeli creation. It was formed by Teheran to serve the needs of theayatollahs. Its continued existence, strength and aggression aredictated not by Israeli actions but by Iranian interests. So too, thewider Arab conflict with Israel predated the 1967 Six Day War and itwon’t end if Israel shrinks into the indefensible 1949 armistice lines.It won’t end until either Israel is destroyed or the Arabs decide thatthey are finally willing to accept a Jewish state in their midst.
The withdrawal from Lebanon set the conditions for the 2006 SecondLebanon War. It provided Hizbullah with the political cachet in Lebanonand regionally to rearm. And it gave Shi’ite, non-Arab Iranunprecedented popularity among the Sunni Arab masses. Even moredevastatingly, the withdrawal – which set the course for the 2005withdrawal from Gaza and the Olmert government’s plan to unilaterallywithdraw from Judea and Samaria – discredited the one strategy thatcould have brought Israel a strategic victory in 2006: reassertion ofits control over the border area in south Lebanon.
For 10 years Israel has been paying the price for the withdrawal fromLebanon. And yet even now, with Hizbullah fielding guided missilescapable of hitting Dimona and in control of the Lebanese government andmilitary, which itself receives advanced weapons from the US, themedia, led by Yediot are still presenting the withdrawal as an act ofstrategic genius and political courage.
CONSIDER THE following representative extract from the paper’s interview with Barak.
Q: “The most significant argument [against the withdrawal] is that thewithdrawal is what built up Hizbullah. That we are responsible for itsincreased strength.”
A: “That is... completely incorrect. When we left, Hizbullah alreadyhad 7,000 rockets, which is nearly twice what it fired during theSecond Lebanon War. [In 2000] it already had rockets with sufficientrange to hit the power station in Hadera. Hizbullah didn’t exist whenwe went in [in 1982]. It was formed because we were there. Hizbullah’sbuildup is not a consequence of our withdrawal from Lebanon, it is theconsequence of our stay in Lebanon...
“Hizbullah’s biggest buildup happened six years after the withdrawal,after the Second Lebanon War. Paradoxically, that war, that hurt thembadly and created a type of deterrence, after it ended Hizbullah’sbuildup escalated in a major way. It had 14,000 rockets in the SecondLebanon War. It fired some of them. And now it has 45,000 that coverthe entire country.
“I suggest that we set aside the comforting story we tell ourselvesthat we supposedly built them up. We didn’t build them up and there’sno reason in the world to think, from everything I know about reality,that if we were in Lebanon now they would have fewer rockets.”
So we built them up, but we have to set aside the comforting fable thatwe built them up. They were formed because we were in Lebanon and thefact that we’re not in Lebanon has no impact on their buildup.
And how did Yediot respond to Barak’s pearls of strategic wisdom?
Q: “You never stop talking about leadership and making courageousdecisions. But you’re not a commentator. You are defense minister andone of the most important people in the Israeli government. Ten yearsafter the withdrawal and four years after the Second Lebanon War, weagain hear talk about an inevitable new round of war in the summer.Until when [will we have to fight]?”
This exchange, which is in no way unique, makes two things clear.First, Barak would rather say foolish things than acknowledge the harshtruth of his strategic misstep. Second, led by Yediot, the media preferto portray Barak’s buffoonery as courageous statecraft rather thanacknowledge the massive cost of his failure.
THE QUESTION is why are they acting this way? From Barak’s perspective,the answer is clear. Telling the truth would force him to acknowledgethat his tenure as prime minister was a disaster for the country.Moreover, if he were ever courageous enough to acknowledge his failure,rather than listen to what he had to say, the media would shove himinto the right-wing ghetto with Arens and Landau. He would lose hisstatus as a brilliant strategist and be castigated as an ideologue.
The media’s commitment to prolonging the fiction that the withdrawalwas a stroke of brilliance and blocking all debate on the issue stemsfrom the fact that the withdrawal from Lebanon was a media initiative.The media introduced the foolish notion that Hizbullah only existedbecause Israel was in south Lebanon.
Yediot, Israel Radio and other major news organs championed the causeof a pullout from Lebanon for a decade. They portrayed EU-financedstraw organizations calling for the withdrawal like Four Mothers asmass movements. They demonized IDF commanders for opposing theirwithdrawal plan. They stifled all voices in the North opposing themove. They castigated all politicians opposing the view as right-wingwarmongers or conversely, in the case of Sarid, as hopeless doves. Andthey catapulted Barak to power in 1999 after he promised them that ifelected he would withdraw the IDF from Lebanon within a year of takingoffice.
Since the withdrawal, the media has ignored its military consequences.They pretended Hizbullah’s abduction of Sawayid, Avitan and Avraham,its cross border attack in Shlomi in 2002 and its military buildup wereunrelated to the withdrawal. So too, of course, was Hizbullah’selectoral and extra-electoral takeover of the Lebanese government andits decision to initiate the Second Lebanon War.
They ignored its regional consequences. They preferred to give credenceto Arafat’s claim that the Palestinian terror was a popular response toAriel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 overconsidering the connection between Hizbullah/Iran/Syria and thePalestinians.
They ignored the political consequences of the withdrawal. They optedto support the Arab-leftist narrative that if Israel contracts to the1949 armistice lines, the Palestinians will make peace. And theycontinued to advance this lie even after the post-2005 withdrawal Hamastakeover of Gaza.
When people wonder why Israel continues to blunder from defeat toretreat and can’t figure out a way to assert its interests militarilyor politically, they need to look no further than Yediot’s 10-yearanniversary celebration of the withdrawal from Lebanon. As long as themedia continue to portray their ideological fantasies as journalism, nopolitician will dare to embrace strategic rationality.