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Ira Sharkansky


Is Israel now losing the Lebanon peace?, September 9, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEMóWe have heard time and again that Israel wins every war and loses every peace.
The great powers have limited tolerance for Israeli success. They have given Israel a few days or a few weeks to work its military magic, and then demanded a halt. Afterwards, the beaten parties are given a way out of Israel's trap, and provided face saving accomplishments in whatever arrangements are settled after the fighting, and further accomplishments in the implementation of those agreements.
In 1973, an Egyptian army surrounded by Israel on the west side of the Suez Canal was allowed to go home, when a period of bombing would have destroyed its equipment and soldiers. Israel pulled back from the Canal, and Egypt was allowed to continue occupying a substantial slice of the Sinai. Israelis are now warned not to visit Sinai resorts on account of ineffectual Egyptian efforts against terrorists; and Egyptian commitments to stop arms smuggling to Gaza have been worthless.
In the summer of 1982, Israel was pressured into letting Yasser Arafat and his cadres leave Lebanon for Tunis, even while the IDF was in Beirut working to destroy Arafat and his fighters. During this intafada foreign governments and international organizations have demanded that Israel behave humanely and recognize its agreements with Palestine, even while Palestinian authorities have done little to prevent violence, or even encouraged it.
Now in the early aftermath of Lebanon II, we are seeing the latest chapter in this story.  We are arguing as to who won this war, but there are clearer signs that Israel is losing the peace. Its captive soldiers will spend more time with Hezbollah, if indeed they are alive. Foreign troops seconded to the United Nations are beholden to Lebanese control, and the Lebanese army may be subject to Hezbollah control. Foreign navies that undertook the task of patrolling the coast of Lebanon to prevent the smuggling of arms likewise are agreeing to Lebanese demands: that they remain far from shore, and ask Lebanese permission before challenging any ship they suspect of carrying arms.
The cease fire agreement involving Israel, Lebanon, and the United Nations specified details much different: that the captive soldiers would be released without conditions; that foreign troops along with the Lebanese army would take the initiative to disarm Hezbollah and prevent its being rearmed by munitions arriving by land, air, or sea.
A human rights organ of the United Nations is investigating what it calls Israel's practice of endangering Lebanese civilians, while it is not investigating Hezbollah's practice of targeting Israeli civilians.
Israelis are protesting their government's acquiescence in these moves. These protests are mixed with other events in a political arena that is boiling with unrest. Therefore they are likely to be diluted in whatever effects they have. Along with them are demands for a more thoroughgoing inquiry into the war than the prime minister wants; calls for the resignation of the prime minister, the defense minister, and the head of the IDF; and that the president resign or at least suspend himself while under police investigations for serious sexual charges. One doubts that Israel will go to war in order to reclaim what many of its residents thought it would be getting from the cease fire agreement.
I used to tell my students one of the cardinal rules that individuals must learn if they will be involved in government, politics, or bureaucracy: "Every day you have to eat some shit."
This applies to governments and countries, as well as individuals. "Agreements are meant to be broken."  "They are not worth the paper they are written on." I recall those as American expressions, directed against agreements meant to settle issues during the Cold War, and to end American involvement in Vietnam.
Are officials so dumb that they cannot anticipate what will happen? Or do they recognize that international agreements signed by weak states are valued at a discount, like the bonds issued by weak enterprises. Even if discounted, the agreements may be better than the alternative of further bloodshed. The United States was better off when it left Vietnam, even if its fig leaf of an agreement crumbled and the South Vietnam regime went down the tubes. It was a corrupt regime that did not do its share while receiving American lives and treasure.
There are several explanations for Israel's losses after the end of the fighting. The majority of countries are not inclined to support Israel, and so the United Nations and its organs interpret every clause in favor of Israel's adversaries, while demanding that Israel make the gestures of forgiving a lack of perfect compliance with the written agreement. European governments and the United States urge or demand Israeli flexibility after the agreements are signed, perhaps to aid their own efforts to appear "even handed" between the parties. It is common to view Israel as strong enough to survive, while hoping that an implementation of the arrangements that is generous to the Arab side will contribute to quiet, at least for a while.
It is important to ask if Israel really loses in these arrangements.
As a result of making concessions to Egypt in 1973, Israel helped pave the way to its first peace agreement with an Arab country. And Egypt was the strongest of the Arab countries. Since then, Egypt has occasionally been nasty, but never violent. The lack of military threat from Egypt helped Israel greatly in dealing with Palestinians in Lebanon during 1982; in the West Bank and Gaza since then; and with Hezbollah this year in Lebanon.
Letting Arafat and the PLO out of the bag in 1982 may have helped pave the way to Oslo. That was not a successful agreement. But it did free Israel from the responsibility of providing social and economic programming for the West Bank and Gaza. Since then the IDF has gone in and out in response to Palestinian violence, without having to manage Palestine between those visits. That is not a small advantage.
It is much too early to assess what is happening as a result of Lebanon II. We do not know the impacts of IDF activity, much less the post-war machinations underway.  An optimist would say that the arrangements, even if substantially different from those in the cease fire agreement, will strengthen a secular Lebanese regime, and might advance something like peace on Israel's northern border. Pessimists have a substantial list of complaints. Next time we go to war, we will have to be more decisive and forceful in using the time allotted by the international community. If we do not, Israel may go the way of South Vietnam. 
We have eaten several days' portions of shit in the working out of this cease fire. May we hope that there is a pearl in the pile?

Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem