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May 03, 1996 - Image 73

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-05-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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As For Cease-Fire:
Let The Campaign Begin

s soon as the guns and the
rocket-launchers fell silent
over Southern Lebanon
and Northern Israel, Op-
eration Grapes of Wrath
became a football in the Is-
raeli election campaign.
Prime Minister Shimon
Peres hailed the cease-fire
agreement, brokered by
Secretary of State Warren Christopher,
as "a completely new chapter" in the Mid-
dle East, the first time Israel had Syria
and Lebanon as partners. "This is an
agreement of the first magnitude," he
bragged. 'To a great extent, it exceeds our
expectations."
Which was not, of course, how the op-
position saw it. Likud leader Benjamin
Netanyahu accused the government of los-
ing its nerve.
"Despite the enormous sacrifice and suf-
fering by the residents of the north and
despite the loyal backing of the opposi-
tion," he complained, "the government
failed to achieve any of its goals ... The sad
fact is that Hezbollah is still capable of
launching rockets into Israel. They are
spread out where they were, and with yet
another agreement that allows them to
attack our soldiers, which they will do."
The gloves are off. The hiatus is over.
The campaign, delayed by suicide
bombers, an international summit and a
mini-war, is up and running. Mr. Peres
and Mr. Netanyahu are left with four
weeks — short by Israeli standards, but
long enough in most countries — to con-
vince the electorate that they, and only
they, can deliver "peace with security."
As he showed during his bonus Wash-
ington visit this week, Mr. Peres will ex-
ploit the advantages of incumbency to the
hilt. And both President Bill Clinton and
the PLO's Yassir Arafat are doing their
best for the Labor leader.
The administration, as Israeli reporters
noted, not only announced new defense
cooperation goodies, but timed the joint
news conferences to play live on the main
Israeli television news shows. Mr. Arafat,
for his part, bullied the Palestine Nation-
al Council to annul the anti-Israel claus-
es in its national charter — on Israel's
Independence Day, no less.
Yet the impact of Grapes of Wrath re-
mains uncertain. The 80-85 percent of the
voters who had long ago made up their
minds were reinforced in their respective
commitments.
For the floating 15-20 per cent (mostly
first-time voters and new immigrants), the
72-year-old Peres demonstrated rare au-

There is no shelter from the political fallout
after Operation Grapes of Wrath.

ERIC SILVER SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

thority and resilience. He controlled both
the war and the diplomacy. In contrast to
the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the politi-
cal echelon called the shots. This made
possible a calculated threat to escalate the
conflict by sending in ground troops, re-
layed to Hafez Assad by Warren Christo-
pher, that finally persuaded the Syrian
President to blink.
Mr. Netanyahu projected the same
statesman-like responsibility he had
shown at the time of the Hamas bombings

villages of northern Israel and sheltering
behind Lebanese civilians. Whether that
was indeed achieved will be judged by
events.
During his American trip, Mr. Peres
told Israeli reporters he expected the
cease-fire to hold "at least through the elec-
tions." After that, everything would hinge
on the peace negotiations with Syria.
Inevitably, however, many Israelis
hoped for more. One resident of Metulla,
a supporter of the wider Middle East pelce

AP/JAMMAL SAIIDI

The Lebanese prime minister welcomes Warren Christopher to talks ending the bombardment :

and the Sharm al-Sheik summit. He drove
to Kiryat Shmona to flaunt his solidarity
with the people under fire, but so long as
the Katyushas were winging in, he did not
second-guess the government or the army.
Much will depend on what people ex-
pected of Grapes of Wrath.
Ministers and generals said repeated-
ly that they were not trying to eradicate
the Hezbollah militia. Mr. Peres confessed
at one point that waging war on guerrilla
fighters with a base in their local com-
munity was like eating soup with a fork."
The declared objective was to stop
Hezbollah from rocketing the towns and

process, confided that she was "under-
whelmed" by the agreement. Hezbollah
was still on her doorstep. Mr. Netanyahu
will try to fan this unease.
Mr. Christopher announced the truce
at the end of a seven-day shuttle between
Jerusalem and Damascus. Israel and
Hezbollah agreed not to attack each oth-
er's civilians. The Shi'ite militia also un-
dertook to refrain from using towns and
villages as an umbrella for its military op-
erations.
This effectively reinstated a 1993 in-
formal understanding, but this time put
it in writing so that neither side could dis-

pute its terms. From Israel's point of view,
the agreement was strengthened by the
embargo on using civilians as a shield for
attacks.
Israel tacitly acknowledged, however,
that Hezbollah would continue its guer-
rilla campaign against Israeli troops and
their South Lebanese Army surrogates
operating in the South Lebanese security
zone. But the guerrillas will be more vul-
nerable now to counter-attack and pre-
emptive strikes.
The Chief-of-Staff, Lieutenant-Gener-
al Amnon Shahak, told the Cabinet that
the army would feel free to open fire at
Lebanese villages if Hezbollah operated
from within them. This applied not just to
shooting from the villages, but establish-
ing headquarters in them or preparing at-
tacks in them.
Although this interpretation was not
written into the agreement, Israel spelled
it out in a side letter to the Americans,
which Mr. Christopher reported to Mr. As-
sad. The Syrian president did not demur.
Under the cease-fire, breaches of the
agreement will be referred to an interna-
tional monitoring team, comprising the
United States, France, Israel, Syria and
Lebanon. This may inhibit Israel and
Hezbollah from instant retaliation, but it
does mean that local or unintentional
breaches will not lead automatically to an
escalation of the kind that occurred last
month.
Ze'ev Schiff, the dean of Israeli defense
commentators, criticized the government
(and the Americans) for failing to pressure
the Lebanese government to expel Iran-
ian revolutionary guards, who supply and
train Hizbollah fighters in eastern
Lebanon. Mr. Schiff, writing in Ha'aretz,
also protested that no serious effort was
made to convince Syria to stop the trans-
fer of Iranian arms and ammunition to
Hezbollah via Damascus airport.
Nonetheless, Mr. Assad did agree to an
early resumption of the stalled Syrian-Is-
raeli peace negotiations. They will be a
critical test of his own intentions. Israelis,
on the left as well as the right, had begun
to doubt whether he had made the strate-
gic choice to co-exist in peace with the Jew-
ish state.
Israelis will also be watching to see
whether Damascus uses its leverage, as
the dominant power in Lebanon, to ensure
that Hezbollah honors the cease-fire agree-
ment. If, as some fear, it continues to ex-
ploit the militia as an instrument to
extract concessions in the peace talks. Is-
rael may be forced to reconsider its com-
mitment to restraint. ❑

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