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     MAY 1998      


What Withdrawing from Lebanon Means

Herbert Zweibon

In response to domestic and foreign pressure, the Israeli government is forging ahead with its plan to withdraw from southern Lebanon. Such a withdrawal will obviously endanger the towns of northern Israel. It also will endanger the chances of Israel securing vitally-needed strategic alliances with Turkey and other regional powers.

Every previous Israeli government had recognized the need to keep troops in southern Lebanon in order to protect Israel's north. Even the Labor governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, which were so eager to withdraw from other territories, stayed put in southern Lebanon. Yet as Israeli casualties in southern Lebanon have gradually mounted, the Israeli left has become more vocal, dubbing southern Lebanon "Israel's Vietnam." The analogy is grossly inaccurate. Vietnam was thousands of miles away from the United States; an American withdrawal did not directly endanger the lives of American citizens. By contrast, Israel's northern cities are within shooting range of the Hezbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon. If Israel withdraws, Hezbollah will have an easier time firing its rockets into Israeli towns such as Ma'alot and Kiryat Shemonah.

In every country that is under armed attack, soldiers protecting the borders will occasionally fall in battle. That fact alone is hardly sufficient reason to justify withdrawing the troops. If terrorists in Mexico were murdering American civilians in southern Texas, and the U.S. stationed troops along the Mexico-Texas border, would it withdraw those troops the minute some of them were killed in battleor would it keep them there until the terrorists had been wiped out?

For Israel, the stakes in southern Lebanon go far beyond the issue of more or fewer terrorist attacks. What is also at stake is the broader question of Israel's entire future strategic position in the region.

A tiny country such as Israel, surrounded by heavily-armed and hostile regimes, needs regional
alliances for its own protection. The recent strengthening of Israel's relations with Turkey are a step in that direction. Alliances with other Mediterranean democracies should also be explored. At the same time, Israel should be actively assisting and courting dissident movements within Arab and Muslim regions, including the Kurds and local Christian communities, some of whom could eventually emerge as powerful allies. The Christians of southern Lebanon, including in particular the South Lebanese Army, have been loyal allies of Israel.

If the Israelis surrender to Hezbollah terror and pull out of southern Lebanon, abandoning the Lebanese Christians, they will be sending a message to Turkey and to other potential regional allies that Israel is unreliable. Why would any goverment want to establish a meaningful strategic alliance with a country that turns tail and flees under pressure from a ragtag gang of terrorists? Why should religious or political dissidents in Arab or Muslim countries tie their fate to Israel, knowing the grim fate of the Christians in southern Lebanon?

Also at stake is the morale of the Israeli people. Collapsing in the face of a handful of Hezbollah terrorists tells the Israeli public that the country no longer has the will to defend itself. How will Israelis muster the wherewithal to withstand international pressure for suicidal withdrawals from other strategically vital territories?

These are questions that Israel's policymakers should ponder long and hard before proceeding with their hasty plans to abandon southern Lebanon.

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.


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A Letter from Senator Jesse Helms ...8

May 1998               - 1 -               Outpost


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