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No Joy In The Streets

Middle Eastern scholar Dan Shiftan, director of Merkaz Choteim for Middle Eastern studies in Givatayim, in a special interview with Beis Moshiach in the wake of the withdrawal from Lebanon * Mr. Shiftan analyzes the situation and discusses the reaction of the Arab world, the Western world, and the public of Eretz Yisroel * Exclusive to Beis Moshiach

Interview by Shai Gefen
 

Mr. Shiftan, as a Middle Eastern scholar, what is your opinion about the withdrawal from Lebanon?

The problem is not simply that we withdrew from Lebanon, but the ramifications of the withdrawal and the message it conveys to all our neighbors and those we negotiate with, particularly the Syrians and the Palestinians.

Israelís basic problem these past few years is one of deterrence. There are three types of deterrence. With the first type, conventional deterrence, we managed to convince the Arab world, despite the Yom Kippur War, that all-out war would not reap any political benefits for them. However, concerning the other two types of deterrence ó deterring the development of nuclear weapons and deterring the use of the local population against Israel ó we have a long string of failures, with Lebanon the most serious failure of all.

Over ten years ago ó Iím talking about the beginning of the Intifada ó the Arabs discovered that Israel consistently fails dealing with its own citizens or dealing with situations involving the local population and terrorist and guerilla groups. Israel is capable of handling these problems, but over the years has not done so.

Instead of Israel chasing after every Hizballah terrorist and every katyusha in southern Lebanon, we should have said to begin with: We will not deal with it as a local issue, affecting only the southern part of that country. In other words, whenever someone does something intolerable to us, we will do something intolerable to the one who can force that individual to stop doing what heís doing.Ē

What do you mean?

It means striking at the Syrians, striking at Lebanon, harming the economy of Lebanon, which would hurt the Syrian economy terribly. In brief, it means forcing the Syrians to do the policing for us against the Hizballah.

For obvious, though unjustifiable, reasons, Israel has refrained from using these methods. Israel has always been afraid that it would escalate to all-out war. Israel has been constantly fearful of international opinion, and Israel did not understand that as long as we are at war in southern Lebanon, and it makes no difference how good we are, we are constantly defeated, since every attack on us is a defeat for us. We played into the hands of the Hizballah. We have failed because we are playing at a game we are guaranteed to lose. This is why I say that Israel had to force the Syrians to do the police work on our behalf in Lebanon.

Do the Syrians rule Lebanon?

Definitely. This is a fact that nobody has denied. Since one cannot fight terror and guerilla warfare except by forcing the government that permits the terrorism to go on to do so themselves, Israel has to force the Syrians to do so.

In other words, Israel should have bombed Syria?

They could have bombed Syria, but there are alternative courses of action. Syria is utterly dependent on the economy of Lebanon. There are a million Syrians who are dependent on Lebanonís economy. There are many Syrian vital interests, absolutely vital, in Lebanon itself, such as drug trafficking, the ability to provide work for Syrians, the Beirut airport, as well the current foreign investment into revitalizing Lebanonís entire economic infrastructure, which brings in billions to Lebanon and is diverted to Syria. The only thing saving Syria from economic disaster is Lebanon.

Syria is a backwards country which has failed at everything. It has been saved simply by its presence in Lebanon. The way to hurt Syria is to attack the economy of Lebanon, which is relatively easy to accomplish.

How can we do that?

Iím talking about foreign investors. As soon as you create fear of instability, fear of a water crisis, of ongoing activity that harms Lebanonís revitalization, etc., the investors will simply flee. Uncertainty is death to business, and it is Israelís most efficient tool, which is easy and simple to effect, were it not for Israeli politics.

The government sometimes gives me the impression that it is being run by military police who somehow became generals, people who think that you have to deal with local problems using local solutions. They should be handling these problems with solutions that consider the global picture, as opposed to responding to isolated Hizballah katyusha attacks.

What do you think made Barak rush the withdrawal from Lebanon?

Barak feared that doing the right thing in Lebanon would undermine two important processes, the first being his negotiations with Syria. Until a short time ago, he was sure it would succeed and he was afraid to ruin the celebration by solving the issue of Lebanon. The second is his negotiations with the Palestinians. Barak wants to create a good atmosphere in his dealings with the Palestinians, so from his perspective, he was afraid to ruin this by successfully dealing with the problem in Lebanon.

Perhaps the biggest problem was his specifying a date for a withdrawal from Lebanon.

That is merely a secondary problem, because one doesnít have to interfere with the other. When they shot katyushas at Kiryat Shímoneh we could have reacted strongly, but Barak preferred not to endanger his political considerations.

When you look at the bigger picture, the ramifications of the withdrawal from Lebanon are terrifying. For years Israel has created a situation that strongly hurt its deterrent abilities, but now our image in the Arab world is that, for the first time in history, they have managed to chase Israel away through military means, not political means. It wasnít through negotiation, but the I.D.F. simply was forced to flee because of military pressure. This has very far-reaching ramifications.

Do you think the situation is hopeless?

Not yet. Israel has outstanding power. We are in trouble because of mistakes we have made, but it is possible to recover. We have reached a point where if we donít react decisively when attacked, the result will have long-term ramifications.

Our real problem is that the Palestinians can learn from the situation in Lebanon. They are constantly saying that you can chase Israel away through violence on behalf of the local population, together with political propaganda, which makes it hard for Israel to respond.

So what can Israel do to stop what you see as a difficult and long-range problem for the future of Israel?

I think Israel has to use the first opportunity it has in Lebanon. It will be very hard for the Syrians to prevent Israel from having such an opportunity, so Israel will be able to show the Arab world that the party is over. We have to show them once and for all that we will attack them even if this will anger the entire world.

There is a saying: ďSpeak to the tree so that the donkey will listen.Ē We must speak to the tree, which is Lebanon, so that the Palestinian donkey hears us. We must create a situation in Lebanon in which it is clear to the Palestinians that their attempts to continue the type of actions they did two and three weeks ago will be very damaging to them.

For every Palestinian terrorist act, we must establish an immediate and severe punishment that will damage and even degrade them, so that it is absolutely clear that Israel will not tolerate similar activities. For the lesson in deterrence is that the later you act, the more force you have to use. So itís better to use less force, but as soon as possible. The earlier we wake up and respond, the better off we will be.

I think we should have acted this way years ago, but now it is our final opportunity to use less force. The next time we will have to either cave in as we did in Lebanon or use extreme force.

As a senior scholar of Middle Eastern studies who observes developments in the Arab world, tell us how they interpret the withdrawal from Lebanon.

The public sees the withdrawal as an Israeli defeat, plain and simple. However, those in the Arab world who are responsible for strategic decisions know that the withdrawal did not eliminate Israelís aerial superiority.

We know that in the Middle East everything works according to illusion, so that a withdrawal impacts greatly those who make the decisions.

Itís not so simple. Thereís truth to what you say. In the Arab world, like everywhere else, if public fancy leans towards the other, weaker side, it can eventually succeed in pushing the policy makers into taking chances, and eventually into taking drastic action which they had never intended doing.

That is what happened exactly 33 years ago in the Six-Day War. Nasser knew Israel was militarily stronger, but the Arab public, two or three weeks before the war, actually forced a war, and Nasser had no choice but to fight. You know how it endedÖ

Similar phenomena take place all over, particularly in the Arab world. So an attack on the public image of the I.D.F. as a result of the withdrawal can have far-reaching consequences.

At what point did Israel lose its power of deterrence?

It goes back quite a while to the Intifada. Iíve been screaming for ten years now that our politics in Lebanon are off track. The first time the Israeli government did something right was when the Netanyahu government, after it was already on the verge of collapse, bombed important strategic sites which harmed Lebanon in June 1999. But that was too little, too late.

Our biggest military failure was the Grapes of Wrath campaign. Our situation after Grapes of Wrath was much worse than it was before. Thatís because of the stupid agreements they settled for following the campaign. It was pure foolishness, both the campaign itself and the resulting agreements. However, it didnít start with Grapes of Wrath; it just came to a head with that disgraceful campaign.

How do you explain the fact that guerrilla fighters have defeated a vaunted army?

In my opinion, the I.D.F. is not who was defeated, since the I.D.F. was put into an impossible situation. What has been defeated is the mistaken notion at the very source of it all, which put the I.D.F. into this impossible situation.

But the western countries saw what happened as Israelís defeat.

Right, but I think that is reparable. Israel will have, unfortunately, many other opportunities to show force. So Israel can correct its image if it stops doing stupid things.

When Israel will do the right thing, world criticism may be greater, certainly in Europe and the U.S. But it would raise respect for Israel. Criticism doesnít hurt, but what does hurt a country is when it is estimated as being weak. The challenges we are still facing are old challenges, so Israel can still repair its world image and get back its deterrence capability.

What about the Israeli public?

There are two factions within the Israeli public. There are some who have decided to commit national suicide. They are a small minority, but they are heard more than the others. Then thereís the other faction among the Israeli public which has taken too much unpleasantness for too long and could possibly lash out one of these days.

How do you explain the publicís joy at leaving Lebanon?

That is a mistaken impression created by the Left and the media. There is no joy in the streets. There is a great deal of fear and anxiety.

The Israeli public is far wiser than its leaders. I avidly read public opinion polls, and my fear diminishes when I see there is no widespread national support for the destructive policies of a portion of the Israeli public.

I saw a poll publicized in the newspapers with a question: If you could choose a Jewish state or a democratic state Ė ? I was shocked to see that 70% of Barakís supporters prefer to concede on a Jewish state despite the survey showing that most Jews are not ready to give up on a Jewish state.

The Arabs in the Galil went to the border with Lebanon to encourage the Hizballah. What exactly is the Israeli Arab population going through right now?

The first thing I suggest is not to call them Israeli Arabs, but Palestinians who live in Israel. They do not call themselves Israeli Arabs. They identify with the enemy.

In my opinion they are the most problematic issue we have to deal with. We must decide whether, in a democratic country, we can allow citizens to actively identify with the nationís enemies.

Is this something new?

No. It has been developing for years, starting in Ď67. In the last ten years, particularly in the last two to three years, it has reached new levels.

Is there a connection between what is happening in Yesha and Lebanon and what is happening with the Palestinians living in Eretz Yisroel?

There is an indirect connection. Israel is perceived to be unable to deal with an Arab population. Over the years, the Palestinians in Eretz Yisroel have learned the extent of the patience of most of the Jews. They have learned that Jews have only one red light, and that is terror and acts of violence. The Jews tolerate everything, which is what has led to what is going with the Israeli Arabs. They realize that Israel will make peace with almost anything that is not in the category of an outright attack.

In the future, will the Palestinians living in Israel ask for autonomy in the Galil, Yaffo, or Lud?

Something worse is going on here. The Arabs in Eretz Yisroel are telling us: Stop being a Jewish state. They have a great deal of support among the Israeli Left. They will capture the state without firing a shot.

You closely monitor the Arabs in Eretz Yisroel, and you do extensive research and have published a book on the topic. Whatís going on in the Arab newspapers in Israel?

Itís interesting to note that the Arabs convey their messages via the Israeli Hebrew newspapers, and to far greater effect when it is conveyed by our own. The most anti-Semitic newspaper is the paper belonging to the Islamic movement. Surprisingly, the most shocking statements made by Israeli Arabs are reported in the Jewish papers.

Isnít that frightening?

The internal Israeli situation, when entire groups head in the direction of dismantling the country and donít want to fight, give me greater anxiety. When Yaron London justifies those who deny the Holocaust, I have a problem. When HaAretz opposes the goals upon which our state was founded, I really have a problem.

Where will this lead in the end?

It can lead toward one of two things. The suicidal inclination of some of the Israeli public might grow. Historically we see that we have never kept our Jewish independence for more than a few decades. This self-destruction is one possibility.

The other possibility is that people will wake up and understand that this isnít populism, but that we are giving the Arabs the tools with which to undermine the Israeli state in order to establish an Arab state upon its destruction.

What do you think will happen along the Good Fence now?

First of all, letís forget the idea of the Good Fence, a useless phrase, particularly now. The Bad Fence would be more like it. The answer to your question depends on a number of factors. How much is Syria ready to endanger itself? Generally speaking, the Syrians are cautious. How much can an ungovernable force entangle Israel and Syria in something neither of them want?

Another question is: What will Israel do? If Israel will continue to refrain from reacting, I think there is no doubt what will happen. The only thing stopping the Arabs from harming us is their fear of the price they will have to pay. If Israel allows them to throw Molotov cocktails without properly responding, the fence will be full of Molotov cocktails. Whoever wants to harm you and sees that you donít respond, will attack you.

Will Israel have to enter Lebanon in order to react?

I donít think we have to enter Lebanon in order to react. There are many other ways of harming Lebanon without entering it. We have an air force and other methods.

The secretary of the Hizballah says that despite Israelís nuclear reactor, they will be victorious because we are so weak.

Thatís what the weaker side always says. The real question is whether Israel will confirm what Nasralla says as correct or not. Unfortunately, in many instances, Israel has acted in ways that justifies what he says, and we played into his hands.

This week, it became public knowledge that Syria is training Palestinians to be used in Lebanon against Israel.

Thatís nothing new. We knew about this long ago, so when one of these forces takes action, Israel better act against Syrian interests and against Syrian targets.

What do you think about Barakís giving away Abu Dis?

It just provides more proof to the Palestinians in Eretz Yisroel and elsewhere that Israel is ready to offer far-reaching concessions while the Palestinians attack us. They see a big difference in that Israel has made peace with Palestinian violence, which gives the signal that soon they too can begin stepping up the violent attacks.

Palestinians in Eretz Yisroel want to destroy Eretz Yisroel from a Jewish standpoint, and they want to destroy the State of Israel as a Jewish state. They learned that they can receive greater funding and they can be even more radical. In recent months you see extremely negative trends among the Arabs in Eretz Yisroel. You see that itís the Palestinians in Eretz Yisroel who are destroying the Temple Mount.

There are people who realize this, but key people try to say it is our fault, saying so in the media and in the political arena. There is still the sense that our army is strong but the Israeli society is very weak.

We are talking about a very difficult process of moving the war from the military arena to the internal-political arena. Although it is a less immediate danger, in terms of its implications it is ever more serious.

Are you prepared to state your views in the Israeli media?

I am often asked to give my professional opinion in the Israeli media, in order to provide specific analysis on a particular matter. But when it comes to more fundamental positions, I am not asked, since I am considered too mainstream. It is far easier for them to bring someone from the extreme Right, whom nobody will seriously relate to, then to bring a Middle Eastern scholar who is in the center of the political stage.

In conclusion, what can you say about the problems we face on all fronts?

I think it is a very difficult challenge, but one we can handle. It is ten times harder to deal with challenges when there is dissent amongst ourselves. When I see what is going on, I find it very problematic. I am very afraid of our ability to present an effective deterrence for long if we donít use our strength.


 
    

  

 
BIO
Dan Shiftan heads the Merkaz Choteim for Middle Eastern studies. He is considered one of the greatest Middle Eastern experts, an authority on the Arab nations. He has been involved in Middle Eastern studies since the sixties, and has written a number of critically acclaimed books on Arab politics in which he analyzes their politics and characters. Shiftan is presently doing extensive research on Arabs in Eretz Yisroel, and is writing a book about the Palestinian problem within Eretz Yisroel.
 
 

  
   

ďWe have to show them once and for all that we will attack them even if this will anger the entire world.Ē

   

 

 

 

How do you explain the publicís joy at leaving Lebanon?

 

That is a mistaken impression created by the Left and the media. There is no joy in the streets. There is a great deal of fear and anxiety.
 

 

 

 

 
 
 


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