Sunday, June 10, 2012

The War of Lies

Uri Avnery

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

Palestinian state,

(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.


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