How Barak sold out Lebanese Christians

By Joseph Farah

For 23 years, the Israelis had an Arab ally in a small band of mostly Christian Lebanese who fought for freedom against an onslaught of Muslim Lebanese, Syrian intelligence agents and Iranian-backed Hezbollah troops.

All that changed in 2000 when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak precipitously – and without warning – announced the removal of all Israeli support to “Free Lebanon.”

In “The High Cost of Peace,” a new book by terrorism expert Yossef Bodansky, Barak is portrayed as nothing short of a duplicitous, double-dealing betrayer of the southern Lebanese Christians who were sold out without warning in the Jewish state’s desire to make unilateral peace concessions to win favor with the Clinton administration.

Bodansky is also the author of the best-seller, “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America,” a prophetic book written well before the Sept. 11 attacks. He is the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. In addition, he is the director of research at the International Strategic Studies Association and a senior editor for the Defense and Foreign Affairs group of publications. He has authored a total of eight books on international terrorism and global crises.

Bodansky makes the case that President Clinton tried to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into making unilateral concessions to Arafat without regard to the way they might compromise the Jewish state’s security. Getting nowhere with demands to appease Arafat, Bodansky writes, Clinton decided to intervene in Israeli politics by going on an all-out campaign to boost the candidacy of the Labor Party’s Barak. After the election, Barak became little more than a pawn in Clinton’s Middle East chess game.

For his part, the commander of the South Lebanese Army, Gen. Antoine Lahad, told the Israelis his soldiers were nearly ready to stand on their own two feet and hold the line against the Syrian-dominated government troops and Hezbollah terrorists.

They would prefer to “die on their own land” rather than live in Israel as refugees.

“I’ve never feared for the SLA’s future,” he said. “After the withdrawal, you’ll see the SLA standing on its feet.”

All he wanted was a little notice – and enough ammunition and supplies to hold off the attacks on their small militia and the civilians they protected just north of the Israeli border.

Everyone knew the withdrawal of Israeli forces in the region was coming – it was set for July 2000. The plan was to expand the territory controlled by the SLA, reinforce its defenses and resupply it with weapons and ammunition.

“The SLA high command had no reason to suspect duplicity from Israel,” writes Bodansky. “Reinforcement of the SLA started immediately, with Israel supplying 20 to 25 long-range 160-mm self-propelled mortars installed on tank chassis, as well as several 130-mm artillery pieces and large quantities of ammunition. SLA crews were being organized to train on, and pick up, additional tanks and other heavy weapons.”

The SLA’s morale was high, he writes.

Lahad asked for just three things:

  • Continued Israeli financial support so he could pay his soldiers;

  • Logistics so the small army wouldn’t be short of ammunition; and

  • For the border to remain open so that his wounded could be transported to Israeli hospitals.

“When I have those three things, I can hold for 200 years,” Lahad said.

Then Terje Larsen, the United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process came to Jerusalem. He had been talking to the Lebanese government and the Syrians – one in the same actually in occupied Lebanon. The key issue in the talks, he said, was the dismantling of the SLA. The Lebanese government made assurances, he said, that Hezbollah would not harm the civilians.

Barak didn’t bother even consulting with his own Israeli Defense Forces officers. He immediately began the process of a unilateral withdrawal based on these vague guarantees. He sent Lahad to Paris, supposedly on a mission to negotiate with the French government. Bodansky implies it was really a mission only to get him out of the region. While he was there, Barak pulled the final plug on Israel’s support of the Christians in south Lebanon.

While Lahad had no idea what was coming, the Syrians and Hezbollah did. They immediately launched an offensive that drove the final stake through the heart of “Free Lebanon.”

Lebanon’s free Christians had time only to cross the border into Israel with the clothes on their backs.

Bodansky says Barak thought this unilateral action would demonstrate his sincere desire for peace with the Arabs. It had just the opposite effect.

“Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi immediately traveled to Lebanon to congratulate the Hezbollah leaders,” he writes. “He proclaimed that all Arabs must learn from Hezbollah’s ‘reconquest’ of southern Lebanon, that ‘this is the way to liberate occupied Arab lands,’ and he promised Iran’s unyielding support for the campaign for the liberation of Palestine. In Gaza, thousands celebrated in the streets, chanting: ‘Lebanon today – Palestine tomorrow.'”

Four months later, the uprising began.

Israel has not had a day of peace since.

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Purchase Yossef Bodansky’s “The High Cost of Peace”