Monday, April 29, 1996
Regional history and politics help shed light upon recent
Israeli actions in southern Lebanon
In a school where people are so passionate about their political
beliefs that they often block traffic to express them, I am
hesitant to delve into the emotional realm of politics. Since I am
too lazy to schlep all the way to Wilshire and Westwood, I guess
expressing my views in the Daily Bruin is my next best option.
While the lay Bruin would rather immerse himself in his
sheltered world of mufflers on steroids and fluorescent pagers,
cases often arise in which real-world concerns transcend petty
commentary on Bruin society (see my last column).
One such case is the current Israeli-Hezbollah war. For the past
few weeks, Israeli shells have rained upon the cities of southern
Lebanon and Beirut. Reports of slaughtered women and children
elicit cries of outrage from the short-memoried American public.
News clips focus their so-called analyses on the bungling and
heartless Israeli army, out on a merciless crusade to destroy the
people of Lebanon without discriminating in their attack between
soldier and child. There has been a concomitant plunge in the
usually unwavering support of the American public for the Jewish
While the death of innocent women and children is tragic, the
American public should realize the current political climate and
historical context in Israel which prompted this Israeli action. It
is a history which involves Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Israel. To
view the bombing raids as simply the merciless acts of an overly
paranoid nation inevitably leads to the type of gross misperception
which currently plagues most Americans. This series of events has
adversely affected both Israel-Lebanese and Israel-Syrian
The root of the Israeli conflict traces back to Israel’s
invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Israel sought to destroy the Palestine
Liberation Organization in the southern part of the country which
had organized numerous deadly terrorist attacks. The Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO) would lob grenades into Israel,
conduct suicide bombings and even raid Israel’s beaches and
slaughter sunbathers. The PLO at the time posed a major threat to
Israel’s sense of security.
Guerrilla warfare tactics by the PLO quickly reduced the
invasion to a Vietnam-like quagmire, in which both sides incurred
huge losses. Total Israeli withdrawal meant humiliation, so Israel
kept a nine-mile buffer zone between the two countries to deter
further PLO terrorism. Hezbollah (Party of God) was founded for the
purported purpose of reclaiming this land for Lebanon. Following
the tradition of Islamic fundamentalism, Hezbollah engaged in its
own jihad (holy war) against Israel.
For years, Israel restrained from engaging in an aerial
onslaught due to the close proximity of the Hezbollahs to a United
Nations base. Israeli deaths have exceeded 150, and over 600
rockets have been launched into Israel by Hezbollah gunmen. This
restraint on Israel’s part clearly shows Israel’s dedication to
peace at virtually all costs. Yet, due to the guerrilla style of
the Hezbollah, it has been difficult to pinpoint the
Shimon Peres, Israel’s Prime Minister and a member of the Labor
Party, has engaged in a fierce campaign race with the hard line
Likud Party, with the elections taking place in just under a
The consequences of a Peres defeat in the election would be
disastrous for the peace process. The Likud Party has outwardly
condemned the peace process and says it will refuse to support many
of Israel’s treaties with its neighbors. However, the recent allure
of the Likud Party is not surprising. The Likud Party feels it can
bring a sense of security back to Israel by alienating the Arab
nations and the PLO, which many perceive have stolen it.
Peres’ rating plummeted after the series of gruesome Hamas
suicide bombings. In an effort to garner public support and to
re-establish a sense of security, Peres initiated the bombing
attack on the Hezbollah.
Yet Syria also plays a major role in the equation. It is part of
Syrian President Hafez Assad’s plan to make Lebanon part of greater
Syria. After almost 15 years of bloody civil war in Lebanon, Syria
sent 35,000 troops to stop the fighting. It worked, yet Syria
retained great control over Lebanon’s affairs, partially due to
Lebanon’s lack of any real government. Thus, Hezbollah exists only
if Assad allows it to exist. Even though Hezbollah gets monetary
and military backing from Iran, without Assad’s permission, there
is no Hezbollah.
Therefore, the fate of Hezbollah, possibly the Israeli election
and the Golan Heights are all inextricably linked and dependent on
Hafez Assad. Why is this concept important? Israel has received a
lot of flak for its tenacity with regard to the Golan Heights. For
the lay Bruin, the Golan Heights is a huge plateau that extends
across the Israel-Syria border. Before Israel captured it in the
War of 1967, Syria used it as a sniper’s perch, and launched
rockets at Israeli schools and businesses. Also, the Golan Heights
is Israel’s water source, and per foot, has one of the highest crop
yields in the world.
People claim that Israel should be far more conciliatory towards
Syria. These people argue that it is Iran, not Syria, who supports
the militant fundamentalists. They claim that Assad, although he
has had his lapses of sanity, has been cordial enough toward Israel
to warrant the return of the Golan. This opinion leads people to
view Israel in a poor light.
In short, this argument falls flat on it’s face. These
aforementioned people do not see Assad’s clear link to the
Hezbollah attacks which have terrorized Israel for the past decade.
The fact of the matter is that Assad has given Israel absolutely no
foundation upon which to build an everlasting peace. While it is
true that Hezbollah gets all of its arms from Iran, Syria is
clearly in the driver’s seat. Assad could eliminate Hezbollah with
merely a phone call.
In order to get a better grasp of the situation, one must look
at the issue from an Israeli perspective. Syria is a terrorist
nation led by a stubborn psychotic who has no conception of how a
democracy functions. This psychotic has directly and indirectly
supported the destruction of Israel.
In the wars of ’67 and ’73, Assad devoted his military to the
destruction of Israel. Since then, he has permitted terrorist
activity towards the state of Israel. Last Tuesday, he refused to
see U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who made a special
flight to Damascus for that purpose.
Also, a pact with a despotic ruler lasts only as long as the
ruler himself. In a region in which assassination is not unusual,
Assad’s imminent death is not out of the realm of possibility. His
replacement could conceivably misuse the military capabilities of
the Golan Heights once again. In light of this knowledge, how
likely would you be to give your most militarily essential outpost
to Syria? Your honor, the defense rests.
How does the Golan Heights relate to the Israeli election on May
28? Public opinion in Israel is strongly opposed to the return of
the Golan Heights. Ergo, Peres would commit political suicide if he
were to return the Golan Heights to a psychotic who has endorsed
the slaying of over 150 Israelis in the past decade. It is clear
that Assad has done little, if nothing, to earn the trust and
confidence of the Israelis, and therefore he does not deserve the
One must remember that the Peres administration and the previous
Rabin government have fought for peace at all costs. They have
sacrificed most of the occupied territories and have made
ground-breaking efforts to establish business ties between Israel
and its neighbors. In other words, Israel wants peace, and, after
almost 50 years of carnage, it deserves peace. Israel’s intentions
are crystal clear. It holds no vendetta against any of its
neighbors. Therefore, logic and reality both point to Assad as the
failure in these negotiations, not Israel.
However, public opinion as of late has pointed to quite the
contrary. In order to understand what Israel is doing in Lebanon,
one must look at all of these factors. People should not rush to
condemn Israel for the recent deaths in Lebanon, for as analysis
reveals, Syria and Hafez Assad have infinitely more blood on their
White is a first-year political science and French student. His
column appears on alternate Tuesdays.