Sunday, May 6, 2007

Beware the Siren Lebanon

N Y Times

"ARIEL SHARON wakes up from his long coma in a sweat and says he’s had a terrible nightmare. “What was it?” ask his aides. “I dreamed we were back in Lebanon.”

The bitter joke, which has been making the rounds here since the war against Hezbollah last summer, goes to the heart of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s broken career. For a quarter-century, Lebanon has been the graveyard of Israeli politicians reckless enough to venture there.

Some, like Menachem Begin, never emerged again. That may be the fate of Mr. Olmert......

So Lebanon has become a marker, he said, for “the inability of the Israeli public in general, and the political system in particular, to adapt to the fact that it can’t hold governments and armies to the same standards in Lebanon that it was holding them to before 1982 — before Lebanon.”

In 1982, Mr. Sharon, as defense minister, pressed Mr. Begin into a full-scale attack on the P.L.O. and Yasir Arafat, to deny them Lebanon as a theater of operations for attacks on Israel.

At first, the war went spectacularly well, and Mr. Arafat had to slink off to Tunis. But Mr. Sharon and Israel fell victim to the classic trap of assuming that Lebanon could be restructured to Israel’s liking. The hand-picked Christian president, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated nine days before he was to take office; the initially welcoming Shiites of southern Lebanon revolted against their occupiers. Hezbollah, with the help of Iran, took hold.....

Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, said, however, that it was easy for Mr. Olmert to be seduced by the claim that “air power alone can do it.”

“That thesis,” Mr. Feldman said, “fell on very receptive ears, and for good reason — because the civilian and military leadership were traumatized by the 18 years in Lebanon.” The half-hearted war, he said, “was precisely the heritage of the demons of Israel’s previous experiences in Lebanon.” "

No comments: