Uri Dromi: Israel, this time, is overwhelmingly united

The war in Lebanon in 1982 was not about our survival; this one is
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The Independent Online

Why is there such unity across the Israeli public, politicians and commentators, on this war, when there was no such agreement on, for example, the 1982 Lebanon war? The answer is simple: because the war in Lebanon in 1982 was not about our survival; this one is. Let me explain.

In 1982, as, indeed, in the present crisis, there developed a situation which for Israel has become intolerable. In southern Lebanon, independently of the Lebanese government, there emerged a mini terrorist state, which harassed Israel at will with Katyusha rockets and deadly raids. In 1982 it was the Palestinians; today it's the Hizbollah.

No wonder, then, that when Israeli forces went into Lebanon 24 years ago to drive the Katyushas away, there was across-the-board support in the Israeli public, much like today. Only when the Israelis found out that the architect of the war, then-defence minister Ariel Sharon, had much more far-reaching goals on his mind - to kick the Syrians out of Lebanon and to establish a pro-Israeli Maronite regime - the consensus started to break up.

Having learned the bitter lessons of the 1982 Lebanon war and the long entanglement which followed, Israelis have become very suspicious of their leaders. Nevertheless, today they are united behind their government, and they will probably stay united, for two reasons: the blatant, unprovoked act of war by the Hizbollah; and the clear knowledge that nothing hides behind the simple, limited and just demands of the government, that the kidnapped soldiers be returned, and Hizbollah's capability of harassing Israel is curbed.

There is, however, another difference between 1982 and today, which brings me back to the issue of Israel's survival. Back then, the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians was still open-ended, with only the guns talking. The Palestinians could have argued that hitting Israel from southern Lebanon was their only way of keeping their cause alive. Since then, however, things have changed, with the Oslo process opening another, peaceful option.

In contrast, what was the excuse of Hizbollah to commit the atrocious act which sparked the present war? After all, Israel has fully complied with UN Security Council Resolution 415, by deploying its forces on the international border. So what was this, brothers from Lebanon rushing to the aid of their Palestinian brothers, pressed in Gaza? I wonder how genuine this Shia-Sunni fraternity is, in the light of the overall scheme of Iran, Hizbollah's patron, to take over predominantly Shia southern Iraq, and outflank the Sunni Arab world.

So again, what is it all about? It's about the question that for many in the Arab world is still an open one, even with the Jewish state existing in their midst for 58 years: is Israel here to stay?

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, has no doubts about it. The movement's charter calls for "the liberation of Jerusalem", which is euphemism for the destruction of Israel. It has long been his theory that Israel has gone soft, and eventually it could be torn apart, like a spider's web. Needless to say, Hizbollah alone cannot accomplish that, but under the umbrella of its Iranian patron, whose president calls openly for the destruction of the Jewish state, and if not stopped, will soon be armed with nuclear weapons, the threat becomes real.

To sum up, then, Israelis support this war overwhelmingly, and will continue to support it as long as it takes. They are not warmongers: most of them would rather flock to the Upper Galilee, to the annual music festival scheduled for next week (I, for one, have tickets). But they want the kidnapped soldiers back, and they want to see the Hizbollah pushed away from the border and the Lebanese government assuming its authority there.

They don't know for sure if bombing Lebanon will guarantee that, or rather will backfire on them, with more Arab hatred. On the other hand, they listen to voices coming from Saudi Arabia and from Lebanon itself, condemning the Hizbollah, and hope that they will materialise into something meaningful. However, one thing they know for sure: doing nothing in the face of such aggression is not an option at all. If Hizbollah gets away with its present act, then the message for the more demanding challenges in the future is bleak.

Finally, if all of the above doesn't sound convincing enough, let me try the way by which we Jews are used to best explain our Tsures (troubles, in Yiddish): jokes. An old woman comes to the Rabbi, demanding a divorce. The Rabbi is perplexed. "How old are you?" "82," she says. "And how old is your husband?" "87." "And how long have you been married?" "60 years." "And now you want a divorce? For God's sake, why?" "Because," she says, "enough is enough."

The writer was chief spokesman for the Israeli governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres