Tuesday, August 01, 2006
The War that Ehud Barak Begot
The View from Haifa September 10th Syndrome
By: Steven Plaut
"All you do all day is threaten that there will be Katyusha rockets
landing in Ashkelon. Would you mind telling me why there are no rockets
fired from Aqaba to Eilat?"
. Foreign Minister and Labor MK Shimon Peres, Knesset minutes, September
I could still hear Peres's words echoing when Katyusha rockets began
exploding in Haifa a few days ago, some of them just several blocks from
my home. Filled with thousands of lead pellets to maximize the carnage,
one of them ended the lives of nine people in a Haifa train depot.
I contemplated those words while Patriot missile batteries were being
erected on my campus at the University of Haifa. The college was shut down
for the duration of the attacks, but I proposed to the powers-that-be that
all leftist professors be forcibly kept on campus to serve as human
The e-mails and phone calls come in nonstop. Why are you online and not
down in the bomb shelter, you meshugena? asks a friend from California. I
reply that there are too many spiderwebs down there.
The Katyushas landing in Haifa were, for all intents and purposes, dropped
here by Ehud Barak.
In the summer of 2000, in what amounted to a cowardly unilateral retreat,
then-Prime Minister Barak ordered the IDF to abandon its positions in
southern Lebanon. Hizbullah terrorists had been sniping at Israeli troops
inside Lebanon and the toll was slowly mounting. With a bit of initiative
Israel could have put a stop to that, but instead Barak opted for placing
all of northern Israel within the rocket sites of the terrorists.
Ever since that withdrawal, the Israeli Left had been patting itself on
its collective back, insisting that the unilateral retreat had not only
worked but could serve as a role model for Gaza and the West Bank.
The abandonment of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip was largely based on that
notion, as is Prime Minister Olmert's current plan for "contraction" in
the West Bank. After all, the retreat from Lebanon had "worked" in the
sense that the Lebanese border seemed to be "relatively" tranquil, with a
death toll below what it had been when the Israeli army was still on the
ground in Lebanon.
Six years have passed since the retreat from southern Lebanon. The
attitude of the Israeli chattering classes toward that "success" is
illustrative of what I call the September 10th Syndrome. On September 10,
2001, there were many public figures in the U.S. convinced that there was
no chance terrorists could or would strike America. Their conclusion, to
quote Mark Twain, was just a little premature.
Israel has suffered from a mass infestation of September 10th Syndrome
ever since the capitulation to Hizbullah in 2000. But in recent days it's
become clear that there can be something even worse than such an
affliction . namely, suffering from September 10th Syndrome on September
12, i.e., not even realizing how wrong one had been even after events
should have removed all doubt.
True, the Lebanese border remained "relatively" quiet after the Barak
withdrawal, but not for the reasons marketed by the Israeli political
establishment. All that had happened was that Syria was cowed into keeping
the Lebanese border quiet for a while after 2001 due to its fears of being
targetedby an enraged America on the warpath against Middle East
The supposed success of the Lebanese capitulation was also the official
theology behind Israel's security fence in the West Bank. The security
fence along the Lebanese border was thought to have demonstrated that all
Israel now needed to do with Gaza and the West bank was get itself out and
build similar fences, replete with all manner of electronic gizmos, just
as it had done along the Lebanese border. After all, the politicians kept
chanting, once there were no Israeli troops in "Arab lands," the Arab side
would have no reason to engage in terror and military aggression against
Of course, the Barak withdrawal never really solved anything. The Lebanese
border was not calm. Thousands of state-of-the-art rockets were sitting
there, ready to strike. Shelling and cross-border incursions by Hizbullah
were regular occurrences, and Hizbullah agents were freely wandering the
Gaza Strip, helping Hamas build its bombs. In short, the Lebanese border
was as secure and as calm as the World Trade Center towers were on
September 10, 2001.
There is no diplomatic way of putting this. The kidnapping of Israeli
soldiers in Gaza and along the Lebanese border is the direct result of
Israel's rewarding and appeasing terrorism over the past few decades. Long
gone are the days when Israelis boasted that their government never
negotiated with terrorists.
The 1976 Entebbe rescue was the greatest and, alas, the last serious use
by Israel of force to deal with the kidnapping of Israelis by Arab
terrorists. Since then, Israel has more often than not dealt with hostage
situations by capitulating and conceding.
Such situations, of course, are never easy, both from a strategic and a
moral perspective. There is a complex trade-off between the desire to free
hostages at once and the need to deter and punish hostage grabbers. The
understandable human . and humane . instinct to seek the immediate freeing
of hostages must be weighed against actions that will put other lives in
jeopardy. Decision makers face the dilemma that saving a single life today
may well produce scores of deaths tomorrow.
. In 1985, the Likud-led government of Yitzhak Shamir carried out a
prisoner exchange with the "Jibril" terrorists. Israel agreed to release
more than a thousand Arabs incarcerated for terrorist activities in
exchange for three Israeli soldiers. Just three days after the trade, one
of those released Arabs was brought into an Israeli hospital. He had
accidentally blown himself up while preparing a bomb intended for Israeli
shoppers. Others among the released terrorists would, in the months and
years to come, participate in a number of attacks and murders.
. On October 16, 1986, while on a mission over southern Lebanon, Israeli
air force navigator Lieutenant Colonel Ron Arad and his pilot were forced
by a technical problem to parachute out of their plane. The pilot was
rescued by an Israeli chopper, but Arad fell captive to terrorists
belonging to the Lebanese Shi'ite Amal militia. All trace of Arad was
lost. Since 1986, Israel has engaged in feeble and pointless attempts at
"quiet diplomacy" in order to win the release of Arad or at least learn of
his fate. The efforts have produced nothing.
. In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin launched his "peace plan" of legitimizing and
recognizing the PLO and at the same time ordered the expulsion of 400
Hamas terrorists from the West Bank and Gaza to Lebanon. The expulsion had
near-universal support in Israel. Shortly thereafter, however, Israel
permitted almost all the expelled terrorists return to the West Bank and
Gaza Strip, where they resumed their leadership roles in terror
organizations. It was a yet another goodwill gesture for which Israel got
nothing in exchange. Not even information on Ron Arad.
. In 1994, in the middle of Rabin's "peace initiative," Palestinian
terrorists kidnapped Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman. The kidnappers
held him hostage in the West Bank village of Bir Naballah, which had long
been a hotbed of terror.
On October 7, 1994, villagers violently attacked Israeli soldiers who were
trying to storm the Bir Naballah home in which Wachsman was being held.
The terrorists had enough time to murder Wachsman before his would-be
rescuers got into the house. Israel did not bulldoze the village in
retaliation, just as it has not bulldozed other West Bank villages in
which soldiers and civilians have been murdered.
These days, Israeli leftists are busy assisting the residents of Bir
Naballah in sabotaging the security wall Israel is constructing, because
it offends the sensitivities of the Arab villagers.
. In July 2003 the Israeli cabinet decided in a 14-9 vote to buy Ariel
Sharon a Kodak moment in Washington by releasing more than 500 Palestinian
prisoners, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah terrorists, again as
a "goodwill gesture." Few of the released terrorists took up quilting.
. In January 2004, Israel agreed to an exchange with Hizbullah. More than
400 Arab prisoners, many accused of killing civilians, were released in
return for a single Israeli civilian hostage and the bodies of the three
soldiers who had been murdered in cold blood by Hizbullah.
The prisoner exchange was widely opposed in Israel, and passed the Israeli
cabinet by a single vote. Afterward, Israel never avenged the three
soldiers murdered by Hizbullah. A suicide bombing that killed 10 Israelis
took place the very day of the prisoners' release, but Israel went ahead
with it anyway.
Two of those set free had been high-ranking Lebanese terrorists, directly
involved in the kidnapping, torture, and reported "sale" of Ron Arad to
Iran. Israel did not even demand information on the whereabouts of Arad in
exchange, just an empty promise of some information in the future, which,
needless to say, has never materialized.
At the time, the Arab media crowed in smug satisfaction at Israel's
humiliation in the prisoner release. Al-Ahram called it a "new notch in
Hizbullah's belt!" In Israel it was seen as a debacle. Even Yoel Marcus at
Israel's far-left daily Haaretz called it a "License to Kidnap."
Yuval Arad, Ron Arad's daughter, said she felt Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon had abandoned her father. In a letter to Sharon, she wrote:
"I can't understand how you can sleep at night ... you're about to release
the man who tortured him [her father]."
In the early stages of the Allied invasion of Iraq, a number of Western
hostages were grabbed by terrorist groups. Some were murdered by
beheading. The U.S. and Britain did not release any captured terrorists in
exchange for any hostages, nor did they make any other concessions to the
terrorists. On the contrary, in cases where hostages were not released
unharmed, allied troops went after the kidnappers with a special vengeance
and ferocity. The result was an end to the wave of kidnappings.
The Israeli strategy of appeasing terrorists by releasing prisoners has
caused more kidnappings and more terrorism. The lessons of recent years
are as simple as they are absent from Israeli policy thinking. Releasing
prisoners to appease terrorists causes more kidnapping. Refusing to
capitulate to terrorist demands stops the kidnapping. Cutting and running
when rockets fall causes them to fall in much larger numbers.
Yes, Jewish tradition has always allowed, indeed mandated, payment for the
redemption of Jewish captives. Buried in the Aramaic in every marriage
contract is a clause that obligates husbands (male readers, be warned!) to
ransom their wives should they be taken captive.
But there were always clear limits on what could be paid for ransom . for
two reasons. The first was to "avoid placing onerous economic burdens on
the community." But the second was more for strategic considerations, and
in some ways is the more important. Paying out large ransoms creates
incentive for further kinappings and inspires escalated ransom demands.
The Talmudic sages understood what Israel's politicians do not.
During the Middle Ages, Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg, one of the last
Tosophists, was the leader of German Jewry. He prohibited women from
wearing tefillin but at the same time was a strong defender of wives
against abusive husbands. Some of his elegies are still part of the prayer
book. (Interestingly, there are reports that he claimed to be a direct
descendent of the evil emperor Nero.)
Convinced that Jews had no future in Ashkenaz (Germany), Rabbi Meir was
leading a contingent of families to the Land of Israel when he was
abducted by the authorities in Basel and held for ransom. He prohibited
the Jewish community from paying for his release, fearing it would
encourage more kidnappings of Jews. He died in a prison near Colmar in
1291, and some years later his body was ransomed and then buried in Worms.
Rabbi Meir chose death over putting the burden of frequent abductions on
the entire Jewish population.
At the time of the capitulation by the Israeli government to Hizbullah in
the 2004 mass release of terrorists, Israeli politicians insisted that
they had no choice and were just following the dictates of Jewish ethics.
While it is nice to hear Israeli politicians (uncharacteristically)
acknowledge the importance of Jewish ethics, they had no idea what those
ethics actually say about hostage redemption (or anything else). They were
simply looking for a pseudo-ethical argument to use as a fig leaf for
their appeasement of terrorists.
Speaking of Jewish ethics, Judaism unambiguously supports the death
penalty for murderers, whereas Israeli politicians are pusillanimously
opposed to it. Let us take note of the fact that no terrorist has ever
murdered anyone else after being executed.
Had convicted terrorists and murderers been executed in Israel all along,
there would be few terrorist prisoners frolicking in Israeli jails,
serving as bait and incentive for Palestinian militias and Hizbullah to
Had Hizbullah villages been turned into parking lots years ago, there
would be no Katyushas falling on northern Israel.
2. Proportionate and Disproportionate:
3. Bomb Damascus, not Beirut:
4. Stop playing and make a ground invasion: