by Meir Indor
Handing over territory is inappropriate and does not pay off from a security perspective. Any territory we cede will necessarily become a staging area for our enemies in their future efforts against us.
Opponents of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon were right to warn the vacuum left by the Israel Defense Forces would be filled by Hezbollah. But even they could not foresee the vast amount of long-range missiles and short-range mortars that now fill the South Lebanon buffer zone. Lebanon's southern border became a staging area and a springboard for Hezbollah terrorists on their path to "conquer Tel Aviv" and the Upper Galilee on Iran's behalf. Nor could opponents of the withdrawal have possibly predicted the sophisticated tunnels aimed at moving Hezbollah's commando units into Israeli territory.
No, not even opponents of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, the architects of the escape-withdrawal, could have guessed that Hezbollah would have plans to conquer parts of Israel. At most, they thought it would lead to a resumption of shelling on Kiryat Shmona and the Upper Galilee. That was the debate between the hawks and the doves, who expected international recognition of the Israeli Golan Heights in return for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Effi Eitam fought Hezbollah from 1997 to 1999, when he commanded the IDF's 91st Division, which was responsible for Israeli army forces in southern Lebanon. He was a vocal opponent of the withdrawal from the buffer zone just one year after he ended his role as commander.
Reflecting on his time in Lebanon, Eitam would say, "When I left the 91st Division, I was actually the last commander to see the IDF fight Hezbollah, the flight followed. For a long time, we succeeded, through intensive activity by special and regular units and the use of special means out in the field, to prevent Hezbollah from achieving its goals. The daily contact, the fact that we had a constant presence in the field, that there were forces who sometimes spent 90 hours in the bushes, the fact that we were always in contact with them, kept them from doing what they would do later on; establish themselves in the field and build this terror monster. They only did that after we vacated the area."
The decision to withdraw from Lebanon in May 1999 was not made for security or political reasons, but as a result of a propaganda campaign by the now-defunct Four Mothers anti-war movement and its supporters in the media, who caused others to loathe our presence in southern Lebanon through the tendentiousness use of the numbers of IDF casualties. True, fewer Israeli soldiers died following the withdrawal: Between 1993 and 1997, an average of two soldiers were killed per month as compared to one per month in 1999. But we paid for this decrease with compound interest in the 2006 Second Lebanon War when 165 people, among them 44 civilians and 121 soldiers, lost their lives. Furthermore, all of the north, including Haifa, was subject to shelling.
We are now at the outset of another stage. Has the lesson been learned? Do we finally understand that we need permanent buffer zones on our volatile borders? Handing over parts of the country is not only inappropriate in principle but does not pay off from a security standpoint. Any territory we cede will become a staging area for our enemies to use against us.
Today, there can be no doubt: By running from Lebanon, we brought the Second Lebanon War upon ourselves and created an ongoing strategic threat, sponsored by Iran. Instead of protecting ourselves with concrete walls both above and below ground, we must return to a policy that sees us retake control of the buffer zone in the north, in order to rid the territory of the tens of thousands of launching pads threatening Israel's north and center.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Meir Indor is the head of the Almagor Terror Victims Association.
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