The hard blow from the north that befell us has again generated the automatic, almost Pavlovian reaction to “stick it to them,” so they know that if it hurts us, it has to hurt them as well. The rage is understandable, but it must not be turned into policy. On May 25, 2000, we left Lebanon unilaterally, even though we preferred to do so in the framework of a comprehensive agreement with Syria and Lebanon. As someone who was one of the leaders of the struggle for leaving Lebanon, I stated my opinion then, and it hasn’t changed: From the moment that we left Lebanon down to the last centimeter to the international border, our right to act in the north against anyone who raises his hand against Israel is increased. In my eyes, the question is not the basic right to take action in Lebanon or in Syria, but only what the purpose of the operation is. Will this or that military operation allow for the release of the kidnapped [soldiers] and reduce the chance of a repeat of such an attack in the future?
An attack on the Lebanese electric system, or a blow to infrastructure, would be a bad mistake. This would be pointless collective punishment that would again link the pragmatic elements on the other side to the extremist elements, in common hatred of us and a desire to take revenge. On the other hand, direct action against the Hizbullah is what is most called for, and I would not reject out of hand operating against military targets in Syria as well. Syria is the element that enables Hizbullah’s activity in Lebanon and which is preventing the Army of Lebanon from moving down to the Israel-Lebanon border. Syria is the intersection at which the Palestinian terrorist organizations meet up with the Lebanese terror organization, while the government itself zigzags between public encouragement and turning a blind eye while offering tacit encouragement.
I hear the voices calling for “going back to the stone age.” We remember the “stone age”; we remember the days, the nights, the soldiers who were killed, the soldiers who were burned, the red-eyed parents, the fear of turning on the radio every day, every hour — the feeling that the strip of land known as the Security Zone was turning into a strip that was strangling us — until people on the right and the left came together to put an end to that terrible mistake. We must not go back to it, and there is no reason to go back to it.
A unilateral departure, by its very nature, is a temporary solution. After a unilateral step, there had to have been a supreme effort to reinforce the withdrawal with a comprehensive agreement. We did not do so in Lebanon, and we did not do so in Gaza. One of the lessons of these withdrawals is that, in their wake, we must reach an agreement that turns the unilateral measure into a bilateral one.
We must not delude anyone into thinking that this or that military operation can bring about the longed-for quiet. Even the commander of the Israel Air Force recently said that neither an aerial operation nor a ground-based operation would stop the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza. Instead, we must head towards an immediate cease-fire. Quiet can be achieved as it was with Egypt, as with Jordan, only when we sit at the negotiating table and reach agreements. To my regret, due to bad mistakes by Israel and by Syria, we have missed several opportunities to reach a settlement, and even after the military confrontation we will need to look for the option that is always and ever the last one: to talk.
This was translated by Meretz USA’s assistant director, Ron Skolnik, from a posting on the Meretz-Yahad Hebrew-language website.