Israel’s Lebanon War.
By Zeev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari.
Allen & Unwin 12.95.
As Israel, in the midst of renewed conflict and violence, painfully attempts to disengage itself from the Lebanese maelstrom, the publication of this book is ironically timely. Written by two of Israel’s leading journalists, it is an objective description of how democratic procedure can be manipulated and governmental control circumvented by those with the motivation to do so.
Defence Minister Ariel Sharon told the Israeli Cabinet that it was to be a forty kilometre, forty4eight hour operation, yet he successfully converted it into his own personal campaign to create a new political order in Lebanon with his fickle and ambitious ally, the Christian Phalange. He did this in defiance of the wishes of members of the Israeli Cabinet, the intelligence community, the senior eschelons of the Army, the political opposition and sections of the free press. By what amounted to an internalised and discreet coup, Sharon was able to position himself as controller of the flow of information from the Army to the Cabinet and vice-versa. Selectivity of facts and faits accomplis became the basis of Cabinet decisions. The authors show conclusively how too many politicians and senior officers simply buried their heads in the sand rather than confront reality.
It is also clear that Sharon was quite incapable of appreciating the deep divisions within Lebanon. In backing one warlord, Bashir Gemayel, he believed the others would somehow evaporate. The climax of the debacle, the Christian Phalangist massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla became one more bloody page in internecine communal atrocities in Lebanon.
Neither do the PLO come out of this episode with much credit. While ordinary Palestinians fought courageously against superior odds, the PLO elevated the use of civilians as a military shield into a tenet of faith in their cause. In one sense, the war was a war of ultra-nationalist opposites. At the start of the conflict, Arafat sent a message to Begin in which he acknowledged his enemy as his mentor “I have learned more from you as a resistance leader than from anyone else about how to combine politics and military tactics”.
Opposing the forces of irrationality was the peace camp in Israel. However, very little is mentioned in this book about its rapid growth during the war or indeed the vast demonstrations which took place.
This is an Important book for observers of defence establishments and righteous leaders or leaderenes. And especially for those who do not view the Israel-Palestine conflict from a prejudiced position as a propaganda pastime. It is not a book for polarized ideologues. Today Israel is wiser and sadder for the Lebanese experience. It has paid a high price to pass from adolescence to maturity.
Times Education Supplement 16 March 1985