Joy In The Streets
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
by Shai Gefen
Shiftan, as a Middle Eastern scholar, what is your opinion about
the withdrawal from Lebanon?
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.
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.
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
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
do you mean?
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.
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.
the Syrians rule Lebanon?
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.
other words, Israel should have bombed Syria?
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.
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
can we do that?
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.
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.
do you think made Barak rush the withdrawal from Lebanon?
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.
the biggest problem was his specifying a date for a withdrawal
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.
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.
you think the situation is hopeless?
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.
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
what can Israel do to stop what you see as a difficult and
long-range problem for the future of Israel?
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.
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.
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.
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.
a senior scholar of Middle Eastern studies who observes
developments in the Arab world, tell us how they interpret the
withdrawal from Lebanon.
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
know that in the Middle East everything works according to
illusion, so that a withdrawal impacts greatly those who make the
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.
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
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.
what point did Israel lose its power of deterrence?
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.
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
do you explain the fact that guerrilla fighters have defeated a
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.
the western countries saw what happened as Israelís defeat.
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.
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.
about the Israeli public?
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.
do you explain the publicís joy at leaving Lebanon?
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
this something new?
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.
there a connection between what is happening in Yesha and Lebanon
and what is happening with the Palestinians living in Eretz
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.
the future, will the Palestinians living in Israel ask for
autonomy in the Galil, Yaffo, or Lud?
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.
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?
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
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
will this lead in the end?
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.
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.
do you think will happen along the Good Fence now?
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?
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.
Israel have to enter Lebanon in order to react?
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.
secretary of the Hizballah says that despite Israelís nuclear
reactor, they will be victorious because we are so weak.
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.
week, it became public knowledge that Syria is training
Palestinians to be used in Lebanon against Israel.
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.
do you think about Barakís giving away Abu Dis?
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
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.
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
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
you prepared to state your views in the Israeli media?
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.
conclusion, what can you say about the problems we face on all
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.