Ten years ago, on April 18, 1996, Israel attacked Hezbollah in Lebanon for 16 days in an operation called Grapes of Wrath. The global condemnation of Israel was fierce, especially when it bombed a U.N. refugee camp, killing 107 people, an attack that Tel Aviv said was a mistake.
At the time, the United States did nothing to stop the tide from turning against Israel and President Clinton said, “I think it is important that we do everything we can to bring an end to the violence.”
In private, Clinton seethed at the Israeli attack, saying he had discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres the possibility of concluding a military defense treaty with his nation, pledging U.S. aid in the event of an attack.
“They really want this guarantee from us,” Clinton told me. “I would have given them the commitment, too, but now I can’t because of the uproar over the refugee camp bombing.”
No such treaty was ever signed.
Clinton’s willingness to use American power to force a cease-fire on Israel before it had fully eradicated Hezbollah stands in stark and sharp contrast to George Bush’s insistence on letting Israel proceed with its attacks until the terrorist group is neutralized.
In a nutshell, this illustrates the difference between the Democratic and Republican approaches to Israeli security.
Bush and his administration clearly see the Israeli attack as an opportunity to clean out terrorist cells that have come to be pivotal in Lebanon. With Hezbollah’s power extending into the cabinet in Beirut, it is clear that Israeli military action is necessary to forestall the creation of a terrorist state on its northern border.
While Clinton said he embraced the need for Israeli security, when the going got rough, he bowed to world opinion and called for a cease-fire. When the United States asks Israel to stop fighting, it is like a boxer’s manager throwing in the towel. The bottom line is that true friends of Israel cannot afford to let the Democrats take power in Washington.
But American Jews have voted Democrat in the past and will continue to do so in the future. It is really the Christian evangelical right that stands up for Israel.
The reason Israel has to fight in Lebanon today is that the United States did not permit it to finish the job of destroying Hezbollah in the ’90s. Now, fortunately for Israel’s true friends, the White House is letting Tel Aviv win without reining her in.