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     APRIL 1999      


An Alternative to Withdrawal from Lebanon

Herbert Zweibon

The current visit to the United States by Etienne Saqr, a leader of the Christian military forces in the Lebanese city of Jezzine, has helped to spotlight an important but usually-ignored perspective on the Lebanon situation--that of the dispossessed, persecuted, and illegally-occupied Maronite Christians of Lebanon.

As Saqr has pointed out, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon is illegal by any standard. It violates international law. It makes a mockery of the standards to which the United Nations claims to adhere. It is an offense to the principles of freedom, liberty, and self-determination that Americans hold dear. Yet there has been not a word from the U.S., its allies, or virtually anybody else about the plight of Syrian-occupied Lebanon.

Sadly, Israeli policy in Lebanon has been too confused and half-hearted to rectify the situation. One day, the Israelis bomb Hezbollah bases; the next day, they are vowing to withdraw from southern Lebanon in the near future. Israel's intermittent raids against Hezbollah have failed to cause any substantial or long-lasting damage to Hezbollah's infrastructure.

Saqr has described the situation as "an elephant fighting mosquitos." Israeli jets and helicopter-gunships strike at targets in the mountains and valleys of Lebanon, while the Hezbollah terrorists find ready and efficient shelter in the caves across the countryside. There are a few casualties here and there, but nowhere near what is required to put an end to Hezbollah's campaigns of terror against northern Israel.

The problem, as Saqr pointed out, is that Israel is aiming at the wrong target. Uzi Landau, chairman of the Israeli Knesset Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs has made the same argument. The real address, they say, should be Syrian positions in Lebanon.

After all, it is the Syrians who permit Hezbollah to operate from their (occupied) territory. It is Syria that permits Iranian (and Syrian) arms to flow through Damascus airport to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. It is Syria which gives the green light or red light to Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel. It is Syria that must feel the pain of Israel's military responses to Hezbollah terror. If Syria feels no pain, what incentive will it ever have to cease sponsoring Hezbollah? Certainly the Clinton administration will not make Damascus feel any pain; its entire approach has been to appease the Syrians and give them the feeling that they have a free hand to do as they please in Lebanon.

The Christian Lebanese, Etienne Saqr emphasizes, could defeat Hezbollah. His forces know the terrain. They know the enemy intimately. The problem is the Syrians. If the Christian forces were to move aggressively against Hezbollah, the Syrian occupation army would, presumably, demolish the Christians.

In order for the Christians to get the job done against Hezbollah, they need the Syrians out of the way. They need Israel to deal with the Syrians.

Israel's present policy of occasional and relatively mild strikes against Hezbollah clearly has not succeeded. The Israeli left's demand for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon will only leave Hezbollah free to attack northern Israel. Withdrawal is not the answer.

Etienne Saqr and Uzi Landau have proposed a sensible alternative--indeed, the only sensible alternative--to withdrawal: strike at the Syrian roots of the problem.

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.


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April 1999               - 1 -               Outpost


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