4/10/2002 12:00:00 AM - Charles Krauthammer
WASHINGTON--Watch Lebanon. If you want to know where the Israeli-Palestinian war is going, watch Lebanon. If the war goes--literally--ballistic, the fuse will have been lit by the Iran-backed Hezbollah guerrillas now firing rockets into Israel from Lebanon.
But did Israel not withdraw from Lebanon almost two years ago? Why is there still a problem with Lebanon?
Indeed, Israel had been in Lebanon for about 20 years. It was a classic (BEG ITAL) defensive occupation. Israel laid claim to not an inch of Lebanese soil. It diverted not a drop of water. It had no interest in staying. It was in there for one reason. To protect Israel's northern frontier from various guerrillas--first Yasser Arafat's PLO, then the Lebanese Shiite Party of God (Hezbollah)--using south Lebanon to attack Israel.
Yet for two decades, Israel was hectored to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding Israel's withdrawal. In May 2000, it complied. To ensure that there could be no possible residual territorial dispute, Israel asked the United Nations to draw the line demarcating the true Israeli-Lebanese border--the so-called Blue Line--then pulled back behind it.
Hezbollah was not mollified. While its ostensible mission was the liberation of Lebanese territory, it did not disband. On the contrary. It occupied south Lebanon, imported huge new supplies of weapons from Iran, and began sporadic cross-border attacks on Israel.
Hezbollah has killed Israeli soldiers situated in Israeli territory. It kidnapped three soldiers who have never been seen since. Just one month ago, infiltrators from the Hezbollah territory shot and killed seven Israelis on a road in northern Israel. And now, since the end of March, Hezbollah has embarked on a serious and deadly escalation, firing rockets into Israel.
Hezbollah is armed with 8,000 Katyusha rockets. Practically all of northern Israel lies under its guns. They are ready for firing. Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah threatened Monday to hit Haifa with Katyusha rockets if Israel dared respond to Hezbollah attacks.
Were that to happen, the entire northern front would explode. Israel has been sending urgent messages through the United Nations and the United States that it would not tolerate such aggression. It would be forced to counterattack--on Lebanon, on Syrian army positions in Lebanon and possibly even on Syria itself, Syria being Hezbollah's boss and patron.
Syria could not withstand such an Israeli attack conventionally. It might then launch its missiles equipped with chemical weapons into Israeli cities. And that could trigger Armageddon. Israel was established so that never again would the gassing of Jews be permitted.
Not only, therefore, is Lebanon the most dangerous piece of tinder in the region. It is the most instructive. The Arabs claim that their grievance is Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Give it back and you'll have land for peace. Like the Lebanon peace?
Western observers totally missed the irony of the Arab summit whose ``Saudi peace plan'' ostensibly offered Israel peace in return for full territorial withdrawal. The offer was made in Beirut, capital of a country from which Israel had done precisely that--fully withdraw--and received in return a more entrenched, emboldened, heavily armed enemy ready to trigger a general war.
It gets better. To justify carrying on the war (BEG ITAL) after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah concocted a territorial claim on a few acres called the Shebaa Farms. Hezbollah says it is Lebanese territory, and therefore occupied--a position totally contrary to the internationally sanctioned Blue Line drawn by the U.N., hardly a partisan of Israel.
What is the Arab League position on all this? Few Western observers actually read the Saudi peace plan adopted by the Arab League. If they had, they would have seen that the plan demands not just the usual withdrawal from Palestinian and Syrian territory but also from ``remaining occupied Lebanese territories.''
But (BEG ITAL) there are no remaining occupied Lebanese territories. Thus the Arab League, in precisely the same document--no, the same breath--in which it ostensibly offers land for peace, endorses a totally fabricated, post-withdrawal Lebanese land claim that even the U.N. rejects. Why? Because it serves as an excuse for continuing the war against Israel.
Just end the occupation of the West Bank, say the Arabs, and we will guarantee Israel peace. Do you want to see Israel's future if it caves into that demand? Look at Lebanon, where Israel gave up a defensive occupation and is now looking squarely in the face of Armageddon.