The War of Lies
June 9, 2012
THIRTY YEARS ago this week, the Israeli army crossed into
Lebanon and started the most stupid war in Israel's
history. It lasted for 18 years. About 1500 Israeli
soldiers and untold numbers of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed.
Almost all wars are based on lies. Lies are considered
legitimate instruments of war. Lebanon War I (as it was
later called) was a glorious example.
From beginning to end (if it has ended yet) it was a war of
deceit and deception, falsehoods and fabrications.
THE LIES started with the official name: "Operation Peace in Galilee".
If one asks Israelis now, 99.99% of them will say with all
sincerity: "We had no choice. They launched katyushas at
the Galilee from Lebanon every day. We had to stop them."
TV anchormen and anchorwomen, as well as former cabinet
ministers have been repeating this throughout the week.
Quite sincerely. Even people who were already adults at the time.
The simple fact is that for 11 months before the war, not a
single shot was fired across the Israeli-Lebanese border. A
cease-fire was in force and the Palestinians on the other
side of the border kept it scrupulously. To everybody's
surprise, Yasser Arafat succeeded in imposing it on all the
radical Palestinian factions, too.
At the end of May, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon met with
Secretary of State Alexander Haig in Washington DC. He
asked for American agreement to invade Lebanon. Haig said
that the US could not allow it, unless there were a clear
and internationally recognized provocation.
And lo and behold, the provocation was provided at once.
Abu Nidal, the anti-Arafat and anti-PLO master terrorist,
sent his own cousin to assassinate the Israeli ambassador
in London, who was grievously wounded.
In retaliation, Israel bombed Beirut and the Palestinians
fired back, as expected. The Prime Minister, Menachem
Begin, allowed Sharon to invade Lebanese territory up to 40
km, "to put the Galilee settlements out of reach of the katyushas."
When one of the intelligence chiefs told Begin at the
cabinet meeting that Abu Nidal's organization was not a
member of the PLO, Begin famously answered: "They are all PLO".
General Matti Peled, my political associate at the time,
firmly believed that Abu Nidal had acted as an agent of
Sharon. So do all the Palestinians I know.
The lie "they shot at us every day" has taken such a hold
on the public mind that it is nowadays useless to dispute
it. It is an illuminating example of how a myth can take
possession of the public mind, including even of people who
had seen with their own eyes that the opposite was true.
NINE MONTHS before the war, Sharon told me about his plan
for a New Middle East.
I was writing a long biographic article about him with his
cooperation. He believed in my journalistic integrity, so
he told me his plan "off the record" and allowed me to
publish it - but without quoting him. So I did.
Sharon had a dangerous mental mixture: a primitive mind
unsullied by any knowledge of (non-Jewish) history, and a
fatal craving for "grand designs". He despised all
politicians - including Begin - as little people devoid of
vision and imagination.
His design for the region, as told me then (and which I
published nine months before the war), was:
(1) To attack Lebanon and install a Christian dictator who
would serve Israel,
(2) Drive the Syrians out of Lebanon,
(3) Drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon into Syria, from
where they would then be pushed by the Syrians into
(4) Get the Palestinians to carry out a revolution in
Jordan, kick out King Hussein and turn Jordan into a
(5) Set up a functional arrangement under which the
Palestinian state (in Jordan) would share power in the West
Bank with Israel.
Being a single-minded operator, Sharon convinced Begin to
start the war, telling him that the sole aim was to push
the PLO 40 km back. He then installed Bashir Gemayel as the
dictator of Lebanon. Then he let the Christian Phalanges
carry out the massacre in Sabra and Shatila in order to
terrify the Palestinians into fleeing to Syria.
The results of the war were the opposite of his
expectations. Bashir was killed by the Syrians and his
brother, who was then elected by Israeli guns, was an
ineffective weakling. The Syrians strengthened their hold
over Lebanon. The horrible massacre did not induce the
Palestinians to flee. They staid put. Hussein remained on
his throne. Jordan did not become Palestine. Arafat and his
armed men were evacuated to Tunis, where they won
impressive political victories, were recognized as the
"sole representative of the Palestinian people" and
eventually returned to Palestine.
THE MILITARY plan went awry right from the beginning, no
less than the political one. Since the war was celebrated
in Israel as a glorious military victory, no military
lessons were drawn from it - so that Lebanon War II, some
24 years later, was an even greater military disaster.
The simple fact is that in 1982, no unit of the army
reached its goal at all, or certainly not on time. Valiant
Palestinian resistance in Sidon (Saida) held the army up,
and Beirut was still out of reach when a ceasefire was
declared. Sharon simply broke it, and only then did his
troops succeed in encircling the city and entering its Eastern part.
Contrary to his promise to Begin (repeated to me at the
time by a very senior coalition partner), Sharon attacked
the Syrian army in order to reach and cut the Beirut-
Damascus road. The Israeli units on that front never
reached the vital road, and instead suffered a resounding
defeat at Sultan Yacoub.
No wonder. The Chief of Staff was Rafael Eitan, called
Raful. He was appointed by Sharon's predecessor, Ezer
Weizman. At the time I asked Weizman why he had appointed
such a complete fool. His typical answer: "I have enough IQ
for the two of us. He will execute my orders." But Weizman
resigned and Raful remained.
ONE OF the most significant and lasting results of Lebanon
War I concerns the Shiites.
From 1949 to 1970, the Lebanese border was the quietest of
all our borders. People crossed by mistake and were
returned home. It was commonly said the "Lebanon will be
the second Arab state to make peace with Israel", not
daring to be the first.
The mostly Shiite population on the other side of the
border was then the most downtrodden and powerless of
Lebanon's diverse ethnic-religious communities. When King
Hussein, with the help of Israel, drove the PLO forces out
of Jordan in the "Black September" of 1970, the
Palestinians established themselves in South Lebanon and
became the rulers of the border region, which was soon
known in Israel as "Fatahland".
The Shiite population did not like their overbearing new
Palestinian lords, who were Sunnis. When Sharon's troops
entered the area, they were actually received with rice and
candies. (I saw it with my own eyes.) The Shiites, not
knowing Israel, believed that their liberators would drive
the Palestinians out and go home.
It did not take them long to perceive their mistake. They
then started a guerrilla war, for which the Israeli army
was quite unprepared.
The Shiite mice quickly turned into Shiite lions. Faced
with their guerrillas, the Israeli government decided to
leave Beirut and much of South Lebanon, holding on to a
"security zone", which duly became a guerrilla
battleground. The moderate Shiites were replaced by a much
more radical new Hizb-Allah ("Party of God") which
eventually became the main political and military force in
all of Lebanon.
To stop them, Israel assassinated their leader, Abbas al-
Musawi, who was promptly replaced by a vastly more talented
assistant - Hassan Nasrallah.
At the same time, Sharon's clones in Washington started a
war that destroyed Iraq, the historic Arab bulwark against
Iran. A new axis of Shiite Iraq, Hisbollah and Alawite
Syria became a dominant fact. (The Alawites, who rule
Assad's Syria, are a kind of Shiite. Their name derives
from Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, whose descendents
were rejected by the Sunnis and accepted by the Shiites.)
If Sharon were to wake up from the coma which has been his
lot for the last six years, he would be shocked by this
result - the only practical one - of his Lebanon War.
ONE OF the victims of the war was Menachem Begin.
Many legends have been woven around his memory, blowing it
out of all proportion.
Begin had many excellent qualities. He was a man of
principle, honesty and personal courage. He was also a
great orator in the European tradition, able to sway the
emotions of his audience.
But Begin was a very mediocre thinker, completely devoid of
original thought. His mentor, Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky,
treated him with disdain. In his way, he was quite naive.
He let himself be easily misled by Sharon. Being single-
mindedly devoted to defeating the Palestinians and
extending the rule of the "Jewish" state to all of
historical Palestine, he did not really care about Lebanon,
Sinai or the Golan.
His behavior during the Lebanon War bordered on the
ridiculous. He visited the troops and asked questions that
became the butt of jokes among the soldiers. In retrospect,
one wonders whether by that time he was already mentally
affected. Soon after the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which
shocked him to the core, he retreated into deep depression,
which lasted until his death ten years later.
THE MORAL of the story, relevant today as ever:
Any fool can start a war, only a very wise person can prevent one.