Small World

Jewish World Review May 31 , 2000 / 26 Iyar, 5760

Israel's Left Lebanon —
Iran & Syria Must Go, Too

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- RETREAT IS HARD TO DIGNIFY. And Israel's very wise decision to withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon had its moments of indignity, even chaos.

Yet in the end, it was carried out efficiently, without sacrificing Israel's principles or its Christian allies in Lebanon, many of whom have now received refuge in Israel. In the end, the Israeli military presence was just too costly, not entirely efficient, and most Israelis — especially the mothers and fathers of army-aged young people — wanted out.

Some Israeli right-wingers are moaning. So are some Syrian Army officers who fear a cutback in the size of their presence in Lebanon — and therefore a cut in the bribes they can squeeze out of Lebanese businessmen, smugglers and terrorists.

The problem now is that the Lebanese government is still not the master of its own land. Iran has major influence, as well as revolutionary militias that control much of Lebanon's mountains and valleys. Syria's army and functionaries — even in diminished numbers — control much of the rest of Lebanon like an omnipresent Big Brother.Trakdata

Worse yet, say senior Mideast intelligence sources I've spoken with, since last May, large quantities of clandestine weapons have been finding their way into Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon, especially the Ain Al-Hilwe camp near Sa'ida — a notorious bombshell in itself.

As you might guess, the source of these clandestine arms is Iran, and the transfer is being coordinated by a dangerous new military command in Lebanon established by Hezbollah — the Iranian-backed Islamic terrorist army — together with seven other Islamic and secular terrorist organizations opposed to any Arab-Israeli peace.

The plan is to use the arms to train a new military force of Palestinian refugees loyal to the new terrorist command.

The blood-drenched groups involved in this horrific scheme number among the Mideast's worst thugs. In addition to Hezbollah, they include the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Al-Saiqa and veteran terrorist Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command), the group that many experts are still convinced had something to do with the downing of Pan Am 103.

What Hezbollah and its sinister pals hope to do is deepen their penetration of the Palestinian refugee camps and strengthen their control over its inhabitants, especially the increasingly desperate young.

The aims are to enhance the unrealistic determination of many of the Palestinians in Lebanon to achieve the right of return to what is now Israel, erode political support for Palestinian mainstream leader Yasser Arafat and blow up any hope of Mideast peace by launching new terrorist attacks against Israel from Lebanon.

My sources say the decision to form this joint operational framework was formed at an emergency secret meeting in Tehran this year, soon after it became clear that Israel was intent on withdrawing from Lebanon.

There is one important hitch. Any and all operations of the new guerilla army are going to require approval from both Iran and Syria. The fanatic Iranians, who control Hezbollah, always seem ready to attack Israel. But the Syrians like to play a more delicate hand. In fact, ailing Syrian dictator Hafez Assad is thought to believe that only selective use of the terrorist card in Lebanon will help pressure Israel to hand back the Golan Heights.

Assad and his Iranian buddies are playing a dangerous game. Having decided to withdraw from Lebanon, Israel did just that. But Prime Minister Ehud Barak also has made it clear that neither he nor the Israel Defense Forces will take kindly to any renewed attacks from the territory of their neighbor to the north. If it comes, Iran, Syria and Lebanon will have to prepare for some heavy visiting from the sky by Israel's air force.

The United States, France and other nations that have some influence in Syria should warn Assad not to push the terror envelope — and everything should be done to try and make Lebanon as truly self-determining as possible. Now that Israel is gone, it's time for the world to demand that Syria and Iran go home as well.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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