Moshe Arens

KIRYAT SHMONA, Israel – Today’s attack by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia against Israel’s northern border and the major Hamas raid two weeks ago that led to a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip are direct results of the “failed” Israeli policy of unilateral withdrawal, former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens charged in a WorldNetDaily interview today.

Arens is a seasoned Israeli diplomat who has served several times as defense minister, including during Israel’s foray into Lebanon in the 1980s.

He told WND Israel’s deterrence against Palestinian terror groups and against regional foe Hezbollah has been lost by the what he called a “lack of major military response” to repeated attacks the past few months, emboldening the organizations, he said, to carry out more and more daring operations.

“Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the uprooting of Jewish communities there was interpreted by Hamas and by the Palestinian people as a victory for terrorism,” said Arens.

The former defense minister pointed out that since the Gaza evacuation last summer, over 1,000 rockets have been fired at nearby Jewish communities, Hamas has been elected to power, and both Israel and the Palestinian Authority say al-Qaida has moved into the territory.

Israel in the last 10 months has largely responded to the regular Palestinian rocket attacks with aerial and artillery bombardments of suspected missile launch sites, failing to stop or even slow the rate of rocket launchings.

Israeli Defense Forces ground troops two weeks ago entered Gaza in response to a Hamas raid against a major military station and the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“The Palestinian terrorists bombarding Israeli towns with missiles and saw very little Israeli response,” said Arens. “So they carried out a daring raid against Israeli troops. They are not afraid of Israel when it retreats.”

Arens said the Hezbollah raid today along the Israel-Lebanon border was a “direct result of the failed Israeli withdrawal from that country by [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak in 2000.

“Barak threatened Lebanon with the harshest reprisals if any aggressive cross border acts were carried out by Hezbollah,” he said. “We have seen many aggressive acts – missile attacks the past few months, killings and kidnappings of Israeli soldiers – and no major Israeli retaliation. The clear message received by Hezbollah is one of Israeli weakness. Deterrence has been lost.”

Hezbollah terrorists earlier today attacked Israeli positions along the country’s northern border with Lebanon, infiltrating Israeli territory and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers.

A Hezbollah team attacked two IDF armored Hummer patrol jeeps with gunfire and explosives in the midst of massive shelling and missile attacks on northern Israeli towns. Three soldiers were killed in the attack.

Four more Israeli soldiers were killed when their tank hit a mine two miles into Lebanese territory, apparently during an initial attempt to rescue the kidnapped soldiers. The IDF sent troops across the border to search for the missing soldiers, marking the first incursion into Lebanon since Israel withdrew from there in May 2000.

Immediately after the attack, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced a prisoner exchange was the only way to secure the release of the soldiers, who he said were being held in a “secure and remote” location.

Nasrallah called on Israel to free thousands of security prisoners, and linked any prisoner deal to the release by Hamas of Shalit.

Nasrallah also warned Israel against attacking within Lebanese territory.

Olmert, meanwhile, declared the Hezbollah attack an act of war.

“It is an act of war by the state of Lebanon against the state of Israel in its sovereign territory,” Olmert told a news conference.

“There are elements, to the north and the south, that are threatening our stability and trying to test our determination,” Olmert said. “They will fail and pay a heavy price for their actions.”

Israel air-force jets struck roads, bridges and Hezbollah positions today in southern Lebanon, according to Lebanese security officials. The air raids were apparently intended to block any escape route for the kidnappers who may be taking the captured IDF soldiers to areas further removed from the border in order to prevent an Israeli rescue mission.

Following a security meeting today, Olmert was expected to order a large-scale operation. Reserve units were being called up to fortify Israel’s northern border and possibly to embark on an incursion into Lebanon.

Arens said he did not want to recommend an Israeli military response to today’s Hezbollah attack, but he said the Lebanese government should “pay a price” for failing to disarm Hezbollah in spite of multiple pledges to do so.

“Lebanon is a sovereign country. It has an army, police forces, and it is quite vulnerable. That vulnerability needs to be targeted,” Arens said.

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