Israelis debate whether to get out of Lebanon
November 27, 1997
Web posted at: 10:27 p.m. EST (0327 GMT)
From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In Israel these days, fledgling "get out
of Lebanon" protests do not yet have the venom or fury of
America's anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the 1960s.
But the voices of dissent, and the arguments over Israel's
continued occupation of southern Lebanon, are getting louder.
Even the commander of Israeli forces in what Israel calls its
"security zone," Maj. Gen. Amiram Levine, now says it is time
to discuss a gradual, but unilateral, pullout.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, expresses a desire to
leave Lebanon. But he says Israel can't leave yet because no
arrangement is in place to keep Hezbollah guerrillas from
launching rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
"I am in the unusual situation of being an Israeli prime
minister who wants to leave an occupied Arab land, if you
will, and the Arabs are preventing me from doing so,"
"I would love to get out of Lebanon -- yesterday, not
tomorrow," the prime minister said. "And we would do so if we
would find an arrangement that would prevent Hezbollah from
coming right after us to the border fence and rocketing and
shelling school buses."
Since 1985, Israel has occupied a 23 kilometer wide (14 mile
wide) buffer zone along the border between the two countries
to protect against guerrilla attacks.
But annual Israeli casualties there are now three times
higher than they were a decade ago. Privately, some Israeli
soldiers concede they are losing the war.
Like Vietnam, the terrain favors the guerrillas. Much of the
indigenous Lebanese population sympathizes with Hezbollah.
And the guerrillas have been able to establish safe havens
where Israel cannot strike them.
Ultimately, the decision about whether to stay in Lebanon
rests with Israeli politicians, and there are hawks and doves
on this issue in all of the political parties here. The
official line from Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai
is that a unilateral pullback will make the situation even
But the main reason for staying now appears to be the fear by
politicians that if someone makes a decision to get out,
something could go terribly wrong. And there appears to be
little desire to take that chance.