Avnery on the First War in Lebanon

Uri Avnery
June 9, 2012

The War of Lies

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 Jordan.

(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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4 Responses

  1. Poo says:

    Avnery is a good writer but he spins facts like a novelist. General Haig? Who on this earth quotes Haig? He was never in charge in Washington, not even of his own mind. Begin may have been the dullest pencil in the drawer but he did sign a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat. Admitedly, the ease with which American politicians pick up the prize has sullied it somewhat but back then it was a big deal. True, his forces were locked in a mess in Lebanon and the Israeli economy was suffering from hyperinflation but his depression stemmed from the death of his wife. Sharon was clearly nuts if even one half of his alleged plans were true. Even without them, he might still have been mad.

    Former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, defended Israel’s position towards the PLO in Lebanon circa 1982 with these words. “No sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids” (Washington Post, June 16, 1982).

    So who was ammassing the forces and armaments on the border, the Salvation Army?

    Lebanon in the 70s and 80s was an acknowledged haven for a variety of terrorist groups, the PLO principle among them. I will not weary you with the long list of terrorist attacks carried out by the PLO during this period. There were attacks and yes reprisals, none of them nice. The hapless UN supervised for a while and then the US helped to broker a peace treaty in July,1981. But the terrorists returned only this time they were far more heavily armed, and they had more help.The PLO repeatedly violated the agreement staging some 270 terrorist actions in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and along the borders of Jordan and Lebanon during the first year of the “peace.” Many died. Many were injured. Over 15,000 PLO members were hiding in locations throughout Lebanon by then. A full third of them were foreign mercenaries attracted from such countries as Libya, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Chad and Mozambique. No doubt there were others. Somehow, terrorism pays better than regular army service in those “peaceful” lands. Enough arms and weaponry was discovered in caches throughout Lebanon to equip five regular Israeli brigades and probably did. The “peaceful” PLO arsenal included mortars, Katyusha rockets and an extensive anti­-aircraft network. They also managed, under the UN and the subsequent U.S. “Peace Plan,” to bring hundreds of T­34 tanks into Lebanon. Tanks! Syria, much in the “Peaceful” news of today, not only encouraged and abetted the terrorist haven in Lebanon but also brought surface-to-air missiles into the country. Needless to say, Israel was somewhat less than happy with the results of the UN and U.S. “peace” process and responded accordingly. Who did what to whom and when becomes meaningless. They all did it and with great regularity too.

    The frequency of the PLO attacks forced thousands of Israeli residents to flee their homes. They also spent a goodly amount of time in bomb shelters ala wartime London. Unwilling to wait for more attacks Israel seized the opportunity provided in June, 1982 when a terrorist group led by Abu Nidal attempted to assassinate Israel’s Ambassador to Great Britain, one Shlomo Argov. It was a straw on a camel’s back to be sure but any excuse will do when you are looking for one, ask the PLO. Israel attacked Lebanon again on June 4-5, 1982. The PLO responded with a massive artillery and mortar attack on the population of the Galilee. Where do these “peaceful” people get this stuff? From other “peaceful” people, I suppose. On June 6, Israel moved into Lebanon to drive out the terrorists once again.

    US President, Ronald Reagan put it this way on June 21,1982. “On Lebanon, it is clear that we and Israel both seek an end to the violence there, and a sovereign, independent Lebanon. We agree that Israel must not be subjected to violence from the north.”

    Not exactly Mr. Avnery’s version but as Sir Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

  2. Rochelle Owens says:

    Not all anti-Zionists are anti-Semites
    but all anti-Semites are anti-Zionist

    An Israelphobic Jew is more influential
    than Goebbels

  3. poopoah says:

    « The frequency of the PLO attacks forced thousands of Israeli residents to flee their homes »
    The ocuupation of Palestine by Israel forced millions of Palestiinans to flee their homeland, to loose their houses, their stock, their olive trees and their land!

    « Who did what to whom and when becomes meaningless. They all did it and with great regularity too » That’s right , the only meaningfull thing is that Palestine is an occupied land and Palestinans an occupied people trying to free their land from occupation.

  4. Poo says:

    And so it goes. Sounds like a war that will outlive me.

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