Eye on Lebanon: Optimism Should Be Response to War

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With luck, a tragic war may lead to a more stable region and a setback for the forces of terror.

The press in Israel reported this week that Egypt is increasing its supply of palm leaves to the mostly Jewish country to meet the demand for lulavs, the bundle of four plant species used in the forthcoming holy days.

So? Well, not so long ago Egypt was Israel's archenemy, sworn to destroy it and trying every chance it got. But thanks to a handshake on the White House lawn under Jimmy Carter's gaze, Egypt has changed from existential threat to active trading partner. As for Jordan, once a hotbed of terrorism, the joint economic and technological projects with Israel are too numerous to mention.

After a costly monthlong war, a question mark hangs over the Middle East and the world that could be answered with hopelessness. It doesn't have to be.

Yes, Hezbollah is still strong in Lebanon — and don't forget, these are the very same people who killed 241 U.S. servicemen, mainly Marines, in 1983, including five Georgians.

That barracks bombing was the biggest one-day death toll for our Marines since World War II and the deadliest terrorist attack until Sept. 11. So Israel is fighting our enemies, too.

It's also true that Iran, the real power behind these terrorists, is as strong as ever, and (unlike Saddam Hussein) close to going nuclear. When Adolf Hitler said he would get rid of the Jews, neither the Jews nor the world believed him. Now we take these things very, very seriously.

President Ronald Reagan called the Lebanese terrorists "cowardly, skulking barbarians," but he was blocked by some in his administration from taking timely action against them. Those who think Israel should not have responded the way it did in Lebanon should listen to Osama bin Laden's tapes from the '80s and '90s. He said the Marine bombing proved the United States would not stand up to terror, and he went on to kill thousands of Americans.

Still, as many in Israel say, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. Israelis are a bit discouraged right now because the victory in Lebanon was not decisive enough, and they fear that it will have to be done all over again. But some very important things have changed.

Hezbollah suffered substantial losses. It never allowed its fighters to be shown during this war, even on Arab TV, alive or dead. We were only allowed to see civilian casualties. But the terrorists were there, and they were killed in substantial numbers. The small portable rockets never stopped, but the larger, much more dangerous missiles were destroyed by Israeli planes. And the supply routes that allow Hezbollah to stock and restock weapons were severely damaged.

Most important, the balance of forces has been changed. Ever since the days of the Marine barracks bombing, the Lebanese army was too afraid of Hezbollah to deploy in the south or the east, so Lebanon left a large portion of its own land to be controlled by Iran's terrorist clients. Now 15,000 Lebanese army troops are where they should have been all along, protecting and stabilizing the entire country.

But no one thinks this alone will do the job. That is why the U.N. Security Council made the cease-fire hinge on the deployment of an equal-size international force, with the skill and courage to really protect Lebanon and Israel from terror.

Will this work? Ask the French. After beating the drum for a strong international peacekeeping force, led by them, they initially offered to provide — count them — 400 soldiers. They have now increased that offer to 2,000.

Fortunately, other nations are stepping up to the plate. Italy has pledged 3,000 troops, and multilateral negotiations in Brussels are focused on building this force up properly.

In the past five years, we Americans have learned that it is hard to defeat people who claim to love death. Like us, Israelis love life, and so do most Lebanese.

If the international community puts its power where its mouth is, Lebanon may soon be free of Iranian-sponsored terror and become a partner for Israel, just as Egypt and Jordan did. That could be the lasting legacy of this latest Lebanon war.