Why Drag It Out?

Israel has announced plans to complete the second stage of its phased withdrawal from Lebanon within three months, and has reaffirmed its aim of a full pullout by next fall. But why wait until then to write finish to the ordeal of occupation and its accompanying agony of repression? Certainly there is no reason to think that Israel can obtain better security along its northern border by dragging out its stay. On the contrary, the longer Israel keeps its army among a hostile population, the longer the inevitable cycle of attacks on its forces and retaliation against the suspected attackers continues, the more future trouble is invited.

It is political stubbornness rather than military need that prolongs Israel's stay in Lebanon. The Labor Party members of the coalition government seem eager to get out of Lebanon, all the way out, in the shortest time that logistics considerations allow. The Likud Party members of the coalition, including officials of the former government that was responsible for the Lebanon fiasco, won't hear of that. For no credible military reason they continue to favor a leisurely pullback, as if doing things that way can somehow erase the consequences of earlier blunders. But no possible good can come from uselessly extending the time that Israeli troops remain exposed to guerrilla assaults, and the time that brutal and brutalizing responses to those assaults go on.

Surely no one seriously expects the local Israeli-financed mercenary force known as the South Lebanon Army to be any more capable of policing a big chunk of the border in some months' time than it is now. Neither is there reason to think that the Lebanese army can soon make a miraculous leap toward efficiency and trustworthiness so that it can assume responsibility for keeping south Lebanon pacified. The south, like the rest of Lebanon, seems destined to have its component parts pass under the control of the strongest local faction. If that is going to happen in any case, why prolong the withdrawal?

Continuing the occupation does not add to Israel's security, but in fact detracts from it. Rousting villagers, blowing up homes, shooting or arresting suspected assailants--all in the name of self-defense--only serve to poison the future in a region where grievances become enduring memories. There is no good reason for Israel to stay in Lebanon. There is ample reason why it should decide now to get out as quickly as possible.

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