The Israel Defense Force’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, the dangers that cloud the immediate future, recriminations over the past and sharp criticism of Israel’s war motives by an IDF commanding general dominated political discourse last week.
Gen. Ori Orr, commander of the northern front who is overseeing the IDF pull-out, told residents in the border town of Kiryat Shemona Thursday that Israel’s motives when it invaded Lebanon in June, 1982 were badly flawed.
According to Orr, evicting the Syrians from that country or effecting a change of government in Beirut were not good enough reasons to go to war. Irresponsible wars should be avoided at all costs, he said, adding that “Only when we are out of Lebanon will we be able to judge if the other war aim of making life more secure in Galilee was indeed achieved.”
But another senior military personality, former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, a hero of the Yom Kippur War, continued to blame opponents of the war in Lebanon for the present situation there. Sharon, now Minister of Commerce and Industry, charged at a press conference in Haifa earlier in the week that the total destruction of the terrorist infrastructure could have been achieved but for political opposition at home.
“They didn’t let me finish the job there,” Sharon declared. He singled out for blame the Peace Now movement and Parents Against Silence as groups that opposed the war in Lebanon and are now, he alleged, using war casualties for political gains.
Sharon launched a personal attack on Labor MK Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee who was a leading opponent of Sharon’s war policies. He categorized Eban as a “leftwing politician” who “never fought here and has always sought personal gain from tragedies.”
The former defense chief called for a commission of inquiry to look into home front opposition to the war when the IDF was fighting in Lebanon. It was a commission of inquiry, the Kahan Commission, which found Sharon indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps massacres in 1982, forcing him to resign as Defense Minister early in 1983.
The pace of the IDF’s withdrawal from south Lebanon was discussed by Premier Shimon Peres, speaking to highschool students in Upper Nazareth last week. He said Israeli soldiers would be out of Lebanon “far quicker than many people think” because “we are dealing with matters of life and death, both as regards our own soldiers and as regards the residents of Galilee.”
Although no one has given a deadline for completion of the withdrawal, Gen. Orr said it could be completed by the beginning of June. He stressed that the withdrawal was being conducted in orderly fashion.
Equipment and structures are being dismantled and transported back to Israel, not being destroyed or left behind “as if we were leaving as a defeated army. We are marching out with heads held high, we are leaving like an army that has itself decided it has no business being there,” Orr said.
He made the point that one reason why the IDF’s withdrawal can be speeded up is an assessment that Shiite terrorism will not spill over the border into Israel after Israeli troops have left. But Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, addressing the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee during the week, said Lebanon today is a more serious focal point of terrorism then it was before the war. He warned there was no certainty that the Palestine Liberation Organization would not return there to join Shiite terrorists against Israel.
Orr, too, acknowledged that “there are Palestinians in Beirut, Tyre and Sidon and it is likely that they will attempt to attack us from there.” He said the IDF would do everything in its power to ensure that the PLO artillery infrastructure that existed in Lebanon before 1982 will not be rebuilt.
But he repeated a warning he has given several times in recent months — that the residents of Galilee towns cannot expect that no Katyusha rockets will ever again fall on them. That would be unrealistic, he said.
Peres told his audience that the IDF, in its phased withdrawal from Lebanon “pays due attention to each step, to prevent slaughter and murder, without weakening the security of the Galilee.”
He observed that if the three billion dollars spent on the war in Lebanon had been spent on the development of Galilee, “everybody would have supported that, both those who were in favor of the war and those who opposed it.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.