This week we learned that Lebanon is no more. It has been replaced by Hezbollah’s Iranian colony in Lebanon.
Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and canceled its $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese military. The Gulf Cooperation Council followed suit. Rather than support the move by his sponsors and allies, Saad Hariri, the head of the anti-Hezbollah March 14 movement, flew to Syria to meet with Hezbollah leaders.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to end its support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia is making peace with Hezbollah. It means that the Saudis are no longer willing to maintain the fiction that with enough support, the LAF will one day challenge Hezbollah’s effective control of Lebanon.
Hezbollah and its bosses in Tehran don’t seem too upset about the Sunnis’ decision to acknowledge that Hezbollah is a terrorist group. And they are right not to care. In essence, the Saudi move is simply an admission that they have won. Lebanon is theirs.
Hezbollah’s isn’t the dominant force in Lebanon because it has better weapons than the LAF. Unlike the LAF, Hezbollah has no air force. It has no armored divisions.
Hezbollah is able to dominate Lebanon because unlike the LAF and the March 14 movement, Hezbollah is willing to destroy Lebanon if doing so advances its strategic goals.
This has all been fairly clear for more than a decade. But it took the war in Syria to force the truth above the surface. And now that it is clear to everyone that Lebanon has ceased to exist and that the country we once knew is now an Iranian colony, the time has come for Israel to reckon with the lessons of its own misadventures in our neighbor to the north.
Since the mid-1990s, Israel has implemented three strategies in Lebanon and in Syria. All of them originated on the Left. All of them failed.
The first strategy was appeasement.
From the mid-1990s until the Syrian war began five years ago, Israel’s strategic framework for understanding Syria was appeasement. Initially, the notion was that Syria was our enemy because we control the Golan Heights. If we surrendered the Golan to Syria, we would have peace in exchange.
In the years leading up to the Syrian war, our leaders embraced the idea that Syria was the weakest link in the Iranian axis. If we gave the Golan Heights to Syria, they said, then the Assad regime would withdraw from the Iranian axis.
As it turned out, these positions had no basis in reality. Appeasement failed.
Then there was unconditional surrender – or disengagement. Then-prime minister Ehud Barak implemented this strategy when he removed IDF units from the security zone in south Lebanon in May 2000.
From the mid-1990s on, Yossi Beilin was the chief advocate of unconditional surrender in Lebanon. The logic of surrender was similar to that of appeasement – of which he was also a principal architect and advocate. The surrender strategy in Lebanon was based on the idea that Hezbollah fought the IDF in south Lebanon because the IDF was in south Lebanon. If the IDF were to leave south Lebanon, Hezbollah was have no reason to fight us anymore. So if we were gone, Beilin argued, Hezbollah would stop fighting, ditch terrorism and Iran, and become a normal Lebanese political party.
The war with Hezbollah in 2006 destroyed the credibility of the surrender strategy. But the Left didn’t despair. They simply replaced surrender with the strategy of internationalization.
The internationalization strategy forms the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that set the cease-fire terms at the end of the war with Hezbollah. IDF soldiers, who left Lebanon without victory, were replaced by UN forces from UNIFIL. UNIFIL forces were supposed to block Hezbollah’s reassertion of control over south Lebanon by facilitating the LAF’s takeover of the border with Israel. While UNIFIL was protecting the LAF on the ground, the LAF itself would be empowered by a massive infusion of US and Saudi aid.
Saudi Arabia’s belated recognition that Hezbollah dominates the LAF, and controls Lebanon, makes clear that like appeasement and disengagement, internationalization is an utter failure.
To a certain degree, Israel’s serial strategic blundering did have one ameliorative effect. Through them, Hezbollah has become so powerful that it now poses a threat to the great powers. So Russia in Syria now needs to curb it. So, too, it is so powerful that Iran is loath to waste it on a war with Israel that it will lose when it is fighting to win the war in Syria.
For now then, Hezbollah is not an immediate threat. This is the case despite Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s recent threat to bomb Haifa’s chemical depots and cause a fireball with the cataclysmic effect of a nuclear bomb.
But that doesn’t mean that the lessons of our repeated strategic mistakes in Syria and Lebanon shouldn’t be applied today. They should be applied, but toward another, more immediate foe – the Palestinians, toward whom Israel has applied the same failed policies, one after another, with similarly destructive outcomes.
After the first intifada ground to a halt in 1991, Israel adopted the Left’s first strategy. The so-called peace process with the PLO, which began in 1993, was an attempt to implement a strategy of appeasement. We would gradually give the PLO Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Jerusalem.
In return, the PLO would stop supporting terrorism and live at peace with Israel.
The failure of the appeasement strategy led to the second intifada. The second intifada caused Israel to adopt the Left’s second strategy – unconditional surrender.
Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza failed just as spectacularly as its 2000 disengagement from Lebanon. Not only did it lead to the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007. It led to the further radicalization of the PLO and Palestinian society as a whole. The latter became convinced that terrorism worked. The former became convinced that the only way to garner public support was by being just as anti-Israel as Hamas.
Today, the center-left parties – the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid – cling to the failed strategy of disengagement. The far Left, together with the Arab political parties, have already moved on to the internationalization strategy. In the Palestinian context, the goal of the internationalization strategy is the collapse of Israeli sovereignty.
This strategy was in evidence this week with Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer’s outrageous claim Wednesday that in killing the terrorists who were in the midst of murdering innocents in Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv, civilians and security forces carried out summary executions.
Oppenheimer, whose group is funded by foreign governments, did not make the claim because he wished to build his support base at home. He demonized his fellow citizens to advance his paymasters’ goal of delegitimizing Israeli sovereignty by among other things, criminalizing Israel’s right to self-defense.
The goal of this delegitimization campaign is to make it impossible for Israel to function as a coherent nation-state and for it instead to become a powerless ward of Europe and the US.
In the face of both the rise in Palestinian terrorism and of efforts by Oppenheimer and his comrades to use Palestinian terrorism as a means to cause the collapse of Israeli sovereignty, the government is at a loss. Its paralysis doesn’t owe to a lack of will. Rather it is the consequence of the government’s difficulty in contending with the coalition of powerful domestic and foreign actors that together make it all but impossible for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers to abandon the Left’s failed strategies and embark on a new strategic course.
Perhaps the most poignant and infuriating expression of the government’s distress is its constant demand that PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas condemn Palestinian terrorism.
On seemingly a daily basis our leaders voice the demand that the man who heads a regime that indoctrinates its youth – including its young children – to murder Jews condemn his own actions.
Beyond being irrational, the demand is both defeatist and self-defeating. By demanding action from Abbas, we legitimize him and empower him. But so long as Israel refuses to abandon the appeasement strategy, and continues to accept that there is a peace process that can be resuscitated, the government will be unable to stop treating Abbas as legitimate and moderate.
So, too, so long as the Knesset fails to take serious, concerted action against the nonprofit groups funded by hostile foreign governments and foundations, the government will be unable to take effective action against the radical Left and its partners from the Joint (Arab) List that openly support both Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah.
Just as Oppenheimer’s remarks weren’t directed toward the domestic audience, but to his European sponsors, so the Arab Knesset members who this week announced their opposition to Saudi Arabia’s decision to label Hezbollah a terrorist group, were directing their remarks toward their supporters – and Hezbollah’s sponsors – in Qatar.
While adopting in turn every failed strategy the Left could invent and recycle, for the past generation, Israel has avoided implementing the only strategy that has ever worked. That is the strategy of sovereignty – or, more broadly, of governing territories necessary for our defense.
From 1982 through 2000, Israel restrained Hezbollah and prevented it from taking over Lebanon by maintaining security control over the security zone in Lebanon. For 28 years, Israel prevented the Palestinians from becoming a terrorist society dedicated to the destruction of the people of Israel, by exerting security and civil authority over Judea, Samaria and Gaza through its military government and its civil administration.
And it worked. By fighting our enemies rather than empowering them, we weakened them.
The image of the first intifada that convinced us to legitimize the PLO was the teenager with a slingshot.
The image of the second intifada that convinced us to run away from Gaza was a bombed out bus.
So far, the image of the third intifada is a girl wielding scissors attempting to stab Jews. And we still haven’t figured out our response to her, although the Left would like us to run away or collapse.
It is time to let this image guide us though.
The girl with the scissors is not empowered. She is both dangerous and pathetic. She is both an enemy and a victim. You cannot destroy her. You can only punish her and then raise her up. In other words, you need to govern her.
Governing enemies is unpleasant. It brings no instant gratification. Instead it promises only thankless, Sisyphean efforts. In other words, governing your enemies is the price you pay to be free.