Patriotic citizens throughout the United States just commemorated Memorial Day, when we honor those courageous Americans who were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice so that others can live in freedom. We remember with gratitude, for example, those courageous men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, in which 2,500 American soldiers lost their lives in a single day.
This pivotal operation during World War II was the beginning of the turning of the tide by the Allies against the Nazis. I shiver to think where we would be today without the heroism of those brave American men.
Sometimes, freedom takes the ability to look squarely into the face of evil and to acknowledge that we have no choice but to confront that evil. If not for our sake, then for the sake of our children.
Which brings us to another anniversary.
This past weekend, we also commemorated 20 years since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, on May 24, 2000, after an 18-year occupation. Israel originally went there to protect the predominantly Christian Southern Lebanese Army, which was besieged by Hezbollah. The Israelis had created a narrow “security zone” they felt was necessary to provide Israel with the protection from Hezbollah’s attacks into northern Israel from Lebanese territory.
The Israel Defense Forces were instructed not to act offensively, but simply to respond when they were directly confronted by Hezbollah. In the eyes of many in the Israeli public, it was excruciating to watch their sons be “like sitting ducks” for Hezbollah and to return home in body bags.
Beginning in the late 1990s, “Four Mothers” began protesting every Friday in the middle of a prominent intersection in Jerusalem. This movement caught on like wildfire, and by the time Ehud Barak ran for prime minister in 1999, he promised a total withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
Now is the time to reflect upon how this has worked out in the long run. The short answer: not very well.
Hezbollah immediately perceived this as “a victory against the Zionist entity” and swooped in to fill the void. Six years later, on July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fired rockets at an armored vehicle patrolling the northern border, killing three Israeli soldiers, and then abducted two more. This provoked a ground invasion by the IDF, resulting in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, culminating in approximately 1,200 Lebanese fatalities, and 165 Israeli fatalities.
U.N. Security Resolution 1701 called for an immediate cessation of violence and for all foreign troops, including Israeli and Hezbollah’s troops, to be removed from south of the Litani River to the “Blue Line.”
Of course, Israel complied, removed every last soldier, and has remained south of that line ever since.
In 2006, Hezbollah had an arsenal of 12,000 missiles. Today, it has an arsenal of approximately 150,000 missiles. Additionally, it now has “conversion factories” where they take their dummy missiles and convert them into precision-guided missiles. They have also increased their velocity and can hit critical points within Israel’s infrastructure, and have the ability for them to swarm down in droves.
Israel’s highly acclaimed Iron Dome air-defense system costs $50,000 to fire at each oncoming missile. A battery costs approximately $100 million.
The cost of a human life? Priceless.
The Iranian-backed terrorist proxy Hezbollah has now grown to a mid-size army. There are many neighborhoods in southern Lebanon that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) will not dare go into without the accompaniment of Hezbollah. In 2006, the IDF saw many American-made armored vehicles that have been given to the LAF driven by known Hezbollah members. They even share their uniforms with them.
Although Lebanon is a complex country with a mosaic of cultures, Hezbollah has taken exponential control of the government. Its prime minister, Hassan Diab, although Sunni, was nominated by Hezbollah and is therefore beholden to the terrorist group. Additionally, two very important government ministries, including the important Health Ministry (particularly crucial in the time of the coronavirus), are in control of Hezbollah.
Many Israeli generals, including Gen. Michael Herzog, have recently said “there is now absolutely no distinction between LAF and Hezbollah.”
According to Lt. Col. (Res.) Sarit Zehavi of the IDF and founder of ALMA, the LAF website proudly displays pictures of its members together with Hezbollah members, with flags of both organizations. Zehavi remarked that “in the next war, we will see the Lebanese Armed Forces fighting alongside Hezbollah.”
On these somber anniversaries, it’s important to take note of the lessons of the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as well as the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
We certainly have learned from the Gaza withdrawal that land ceded by Israel in the interests of peace is used as a base for terrorist organizations to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians, and terrorize the surrounding communities. Israel totally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, uprooting every last civilian. Subsequently, two bloody wars have been fought: “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008 and “Pillar of Defense” in 2014, costing thousands of lives.
There is absolutely no substitute for territory and for control of the topographical high ground, particularly because Israel lives in such a tough, unstable neighborhood, where enemies mean business and where Iran is on the march.
The government of Jordan is tittering on the brink of failure. Syria is already a failed state and has opened up a power vacuum for every nefarious power that wants to swoop in and fill it, including Iran, Turkey, Russia and the Islamic State.
That is also why it is critically important for Israel to contemplate the lessons of these earlier withdrawals while the Israelis are considering extending sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley.
We cannot make the mistake that was made by listening to the “Four Mothers” or any other group that argues for Israel to take the easy way out. Better to stand one’s ground and fight a battle today then a major war tomorrow.
As former President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States when men were free.”
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.