Twenty years out of Lebanon: The war with no name that would never end – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on May 21, 2020

It was 3 a.m., May 24, 2000. You could hear the distinct rattle of the tanks treads approaching in the bible-black night. The earth rumbled. Soldiers swung open the heavy iron Fatima Gate, through which so many thousands of Israeli troops have poured into Lebanon over the past two decades. And suddenly history was being made as the armored column rolled into view and the last of the Israeli soldiers left Lebanon. They gazed down from their monstrous battle taxis, unshaven and covered in dust from the wildest night ride of their lives, and didnt even try to hold back their elation. Once through the breech, many shouted, even yelped for joy. Some swapped high-fives, others hugged. One group unfurled the Israeli flag and smiled for the hoard of photographers.There was no evidence of the feared humiliation of exiting the security zone with their tails between their legs. Only relief that the IDF had managed to stage this complicated retreat under fire without even one soldier getting so much as a scratch. I cried the whole way because I was so moved by the situation. Every one of us looked death in the eyes and none of us wanted to die. I never told my parents about it, so they wouldnt worry, said St.-Sgt. Gilad Hadad. I wrote this that night, and now looking at the battered reporters notebooks 20 years later, after burying in my mind all those days and nights and countless stories written during the decades of Israels war in Lebanon its all coming back. And not just for me but for many Israeli men, particularly those in their 40s and 50s who lived it (see box).The IDF presence in Lebanon had become such a given in the national conscience over the 1980s and 90s that likely none of the soldiers withdrawing that night ever envisioned that when they were drafted a year and a half, two years before that, theyd shut the door on one of the most divisive chapters of Israels history. In the summer of 1982, I was a 21-year-old soldier in an NCO course and was dispatched to Beirut where we mopped up the southern neighborhoods. After Christian leader and president-elect Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, our brigade led the charge into West Beirut, taking over one of the PLO headquarters as the Jewish state completely conquered the capital of an Arab state.THE WRITER, clad in helmet and flak vest, at the Egel Gate gets ready to embark on a visit to the security zone in 1998 (Photo Credit: Courtesy)Eventually, I became a journalist, and the IDF withdrew to the south in 1985 and set up a security zone to prevent the PLO and later the Shiite Hezbollah from attacking Israel. It established a 2,500-strong militia called the South Lebanon Army as proxies, arming them and setting them up in outposts.But in a march of follies, the SLA couldnt or wouldnt do the job, and the IDF launched periodic operations against the Palestinians and Hezbollah Operations Accountability, Grapes of Wrath. The IDF eventually set up a dozen outposts in the security zone, whose names would be etched in IDF lore: Rehan, Aishiya, Dlaat, Beaufort, Karkom, Rotem and more. It created the Egoz unit to wage a tough battle of ambushes against a well-respected, growing, Iranian-backed Hezbollah army. Like the War of Attrition, this conflict settled in Israeli consciousness, and the public was reminded of it and the battles only when the IDF lost and casualties mounted, or when Katyushas were fired. In late 1996 I spent some time with Golani soldiers at the infamous outpost at Beaufort, a well-preserved Crusader castle overlooking the Litani River. A young lieutenant, Alon Babayan, looked out at his platoon and warned the soldiers to keep their helmets on. Every mother of these guys is expecting me to return their son healthy and in one piece. The responsibility is heavy. Just thinking about is hard. But we want to kill terrorists. Thats our job and thats why we are here. We came here to kill, the 21-year-old platoon commander said. This, like other outposts, was placed on a highly visible peak to serve as a deterrent. But by this time the hilltop bunkers and trenches were nothing more than targets. Even to go to the toilet, soldiers had to don their flak vests and helmets. It was a place where every hour outside, a man found himself confined in body armor. You cant know what its like, man. At any moment a [mortar] round can hit this outpost. You can go crazy, said Raanan Hartman, a bespectacled 20-year-old radio operator who spent many months on the front.If we werent here, then we would be in Kiryat Shmona and Hezbollah would be hitting civilians. There is nothing imperialistic about our presence here, asserted Sgt. Gil Sharabi.The IDF invested hundreds of millions of shekels fortifying the outposts. All barracks, dining rooms, kitchens, showers and latrines were buried under concrete and iron. The soldiers were chomping at the bit. But Hezbollah didnt fight fair. Adopting classic guerrilla tactics, Hezbollah located the IDF weak points they were the supply convoys, the umbilical cords to the combat troops. Just one foot across the border and you were deep inside Lebanon. Half the casualties in Lebanon were from roadside charges while patrolling or moving in convoys. The IDF paved alternative, less exposed routes across the security zone. Bulldozers cleared away all large boulders 20 meters from the sides of roads and set up cement walls at sensitive sites to block Sagger missiles. Between the walls, drivers simply sped up. Every time a convoy moved, it required a military operation of minute detail. Soldiers were sent from their outposts to guard suspected ambush sites. The 20-kilometer ride to Beaufort Castle became a 50-minute roller coaster. Every civilian was suspected of being a Hezbollah gunman, every car a potential suicide bomb. Just after this, in early 1997, the IDF decided to start ferrying in troops by helicopter, a move that proved to be devastatingly tragic. On February 4 of that year, two transport helicopters collided above Shear Yashuv, killing 73 servicemen aboard.As a military reporter I got the news early, and as the young soldier in the IDF Spokesmans Unit read out the names to me, I checked off nine Golani soldiers Id recently interviewed in Beaufort, including the young lieutenant Babayan.I collected the photos Id taken of him and his troops and paid a shiva call to the family in Jerusalem. I told them how sorry I was for his death, and shared with them the article I wrote, how Id made him and his soldiers heroes.Over 112 soldiers died in 1997. In the fall of 1998 the IDF suffered a wave of defeats, as Hezbollah found a chink in its armor, and a squad of the IDFs top commandos were wiped out. When Shaul Mofaz took over as chief of staff that year, the tactics changed. Because of casualties and Israels increasing hypersensitivity to casualties, he admitted to military reporters that he ordered reduced initiated actions, a euphemism for going out and hunting down Hezbollah gunmen, and instead increasing use of warplanes and high technologies. If I can kill the terrorists from afar, or if I know how to do it by other methods without endangering soldiers, then I should do it, Mofaz said. Dont judge the amount, but the results. The results were that the IDF had been able to extract a heavier toll from Hezbollah, about 45 terrorists a year. But the IDF also knew that without proving its might from time to time, it could turn into a paper tiger in the eyes of the enemy.THE GOOD Fence crossing, Metulla, May 23, 2000. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)ONE NIGHT, in February 1999, I got a beep about 2 a.m. to inform me that three officers, including the head of a paratrooper reconnaissance unit, had been killed in a firefight with Hezbollah guerrillas up in Lebanon. By 5:30 a.m. I was on the road, headed north.It was to be one of those days where you keep coming to forks and have to make decisions. It started with the decision to leave home or not. I decided to head to Tel Aviv. Once there I had to decide whether to head north.The army hadnt decided if there would be a press conference, but I could see that with three officers dead and not one dead Hezbollah gunman to account for, the army had a lot of explaining to do.I couldnt catch a ride since the other military reporters, who formed a small community then, lived north of Tel Aviv and were just then leaving. So I caught a taxi to meet a bus. The bus was filled with soldiers heading to the North, Golan, Lebanon.I was one of the few people in the country who knew what was happening in Lebanon, because the military censor had prevented the reporting of it until the families were notified. I spoke to a young lieutenant who was headed back up to his platoon in Lebanon and told him. He was devastated. Unlike in Vietnam, I imagine, officers here are respected, followed and revered.I got to the town of Rosh Pina and hitched a ride up to Safed, where the Northern Command was located, and walked into the wooden shack just before the briefing started.Ilan Roeh, the jovial, heavyset Israel Radio reporter for the north, was clowning around as he moved the flags back and forth over the podium.Afterward I hung around the headquarters, chatting to the officers there, and tried to find out more about the clash. I chatted for a while with a young brigadier-general named Erez Gerstein, the commander of the IDF liaison unit to south Lebanon a sort of Lawrence of Arabia to the SLA. (He had a hell of a job training that ragtag militia made up of Christians, Druze and Shiites. Dont judge them by Israeli standards, hed say. Compare them to the other Lebanese militias.)I was surprised at his light attitude. I expected depression. He told me and a couple of other military reporters that in Lebanon its the luck of the draw. Whoever fires first usually wins. These paratroopers simply stepped on the equally surprised Hezbollah gunmen. The fact that they got away was the main screwup. The Hezbollah gunmen turned up in Sidon later that day not only alive, but with an IDF-issue M-16 and even a bloodied uniform and radio they took from the officers. It was a real insult to the IDF.A WEEK later I got a phone call: thered been an explosion in Lebanon. There were wounded. I called the Northern Command, and the speaker could only tell me: Its bad, but I cant say anything else.I called the special spokesmans unit for military reporters in Tel Aviv, and was told that four people had been killed. It looks like Ilan Roeh was one of those killed, one of the soldiers said. My heart jumped. A reporter? Killed? Ilan? It could just as easily have been me on one of my journeys to Lebanon. And then I heard another casualty was Gerstein. I couldnt believe it. What a blow by Hezbollah. What a loss for us. The army seemed to be in a mess. Obviously, I had to go to wherever there was going to be news. The army couldnt say if or when there was going to be a briefing. Its still going on, Arieh was all I could get.I had to think. The IDF couldnt sit quietly by as its generals were killed. It was bound to react. Any reaction would draw Katyusha rocket retaliation. It could get nasty. It was Purim. A colleague called and told me he was heading north.I made a plane reservation and flew from Tel Aviv to the small airfield in Rosh Pina. Joining up with Alan Ben-Ami, the military reporter for Israel Radios English news, we grabbed a taxi and sped up the mountain road to Safed. I called ahead and told them to hold the generals briefing until we got there.There were so many questions. Did Hezbollah target Gerstein? Did his fearless, swaggering, nothing-can-hurt-me recklessness kill him? What about Roeh? He should be there asking the questions as he always was.The army made us military reporters sign a waiver every time we crossed the border into that killing zone, so they would not be responsible for any harm that might come to us. Roeh did that afternoon, but when tragedy struck, the army did the right thing and posthumously drafted him as a reservist, and he was honored with a military funeral.It was clear that the army couldnt let this incident pass quietly, but it was caught in a double bind. If it lashed out at Hezbollah, attacked its leadership in Beirut or in any way struck at civilians, then Hezbollah would start lobbing Katyusha rockets into Israel.Maj. Oliver Rafowitz, IDF media liaison of the Northern Command, a Frenchman who was the only son of a Holocaust survivor, told us to stick around. Things are bound to heat up. We hitched a ride to Kiryat Shmona, listening to Israels leaders on the radio saying that Israel was going to strike back. As we approached the Galilee Panhandle, the cars heading south started to increase and became a constant flow of fleeing residents. The rest were headed to shelters.We decided to head up to Metulla and checked into the old familiar Arazim Hotel, where journalists used to gather during crises. CNN had arrived, and the foreign reporters, too. It looked like war was brewing. I filed my story only half an hour before we closed the paper.On the way to my room, I asked the manager where the bomb shelter was.Really?! Its down there, but you wont be going there, he said.He told me to leave the tap running for a bit for the hot water to run. I gave up after 15 minutes and went to bed. It was quite a night. The Israeli Air Force ended up surgically destroying a number of empty cement buildings across Lebanon, claiming they were Hezbollah headquarters. No civilians were killed and by Lebanese accounts, no guerrillas were killed either, and the night passed without Katyushas. I got up at the crack of dawn because most Katyusha attacks happen then. Nothing. Quiet.By morning the whole gang was there, eating olives and cheese and drinking cups of coffee like in the good old days of Operation Grapes of Wrath and Operation Accountability. The people of the entire northern border region were still ordered to remain in their shelters. By noon I realized that the war was over. SLA FIRE 120mm mortars at Hezbollah targets, SLA outpost Tel Nahas, September 1999 (Photo Credit: Courtesy)BUT THE incessant guerrilla warfare against Hezbollah was taking a toll on the IDF, and soldiers found themselves for the first time openly saying the IDF should quit the security zone because they dont want to be the last to die. Ehud Barak was elected prime minister after running on a campaign promise to finally withdraw the IDF from south Lebanon by the summer of 2000. It was getting harder and harder to interview troops in Lebanon. The IDF steadily refused. Yediot Aharonot and Maariv began splashing large headlines quoting soldiers saying they were scared and that they no longer had any reason to be in Lebanon, and quoting commanders deriding them as sissies.In what may become for historians a memorable point in the IDFs Lebanon dilemma, OC Northern Command Gabi Ashkenazi was widely quoted as calling soldiers who voiced these fears rags and crybabies.Israeli soldiers could hardly be characterized as ruthless or brutal, but were they sissies? What did the army expect, since it treated soldiers like children?For dinner dessert, soldiers were given krembos. If these were just any normal worldly grunts, the soldiers would have thrown them back and demanded whiskey or beer or dames. But not Israeli soldiers. In Lebanon, soldiers set out into the bush with an ambush mattress so they were comfortable when they lay in pursuit of Hezbollah guerrillas. Their pouches were filled with power food, they had heated underwear and the best radio and night vision equipment money could buy. Field commanders in Lebanon said there had been an upsurge in appeals by parents not to take their sons to Lebanon. Those whose sons who were already there were asking for them to be returned, and those whose sons were about to go up were asking that they not be taken. They reportedly used excuses, personal problems and illnesses. What am I to do when a mother threatens to self-immolate? I am in a bind, one officer told me.The grassroots group Four Mothers began gaining momentum, and its pressure was having an effect.SINCE THE IDF wasnt allowing reporters into the security zone, I took advantage of an offer to join then-deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh in south Lebanon. We flew north in an old, rusty chopper from the Yom Kippur era. Cruising low, about 230 meters, we landed at the provisional IDF headquarters in Marjayoun and packed into armored Mercedes cars for a short ride from the chopper pad to the base. The old fortress was the French equivalent to the Tegart forts the British built across Israel.We dont allow any SLA guys in here, said a general. The IDF was becoming increasingly wary of its south Lebanese allies. Inside, Sneh met with SLA commander Gen. Antoine Lahad, a frail 72-year-old man who spoke little English. There had been a lot of talk about us pulling out of Lebanon unilaterally, and that would basically leave our SLA allies to the dogs. We soon headed out toward an IDF outpost. I popped open the trunk of our Mercedes and pulled out a flak vest and helmet, and off we went. Didnt Ilan Roeh wear one of these? I asked, knowing full well that it didnt help my Israel Radio colleague when the roadside bomb blew his Mercedes to tiny bits. After a nerve-wracking ride in south Lebanon, we made it finally to the outpost of Shani. A young Ethiopian lieutenant briefed Sneh, a former brigadier-general, in the trenches, and I looked out to the ridges across the Litani gorge, spotting the outposts of Sujud, Rehan and Aishiya.Mortar shells fired by Hezbollah guerrillas were dropping onto the IDF and SLA outposts, puffing in explosions as they hit and sending pillars of smoke spiraling to the sky. Be we couldnt hear the explosions. They were so close, yet so far away. Israeli warplanes hit back, turning the horizon into a gouache of fire and smoke. War and a front-seat view. It was almost pornographic.We then made our way to the SLA outpost of Tel Nahas, where the deputy defense minister assured the officers that Israel had no intention of withdrawing unilaterally. We have a moral responsibility here, Sneh said in Arabic. The SLA are our allies, our brothers in arms, and we cant let you down. We arent going to turn anyone into refugees. We didnt fight together for 23 years to get up and abandon you here.In January 2000 Hezbollah succeeded in killing Col. Akel Hashem, the unofficial deputy commander of the SLA. Hezbollah will get their just deserts sooner or later, Sneh announced. They wont go without punishment.But the IDF kept its response proportionate, and instead of destroying bridges and plunging Beirut into darkness with a massive air assault, as it did following Hezbollah Katyusha attacks the previous summer, this time airstrikes hit just three Hezbollah targets.The IDF was being severely restrained by the near-zero casualty tolerance of the Israeli public. Its whole doctrine in south Lebanon was based on preventing casualties. But with Hashems death and Israels declared intention to quit Lebanon by the summer, soldiers in the SLA sensed they were about to be abandoned. The IDF was getting out in July. It was to be a withdrawal to the recognized border based on UN Security Council Resolution 425. That was the official version. It was being meticulously planned. The operation was dubbed Orech Ruah (Stamina). The army began diluting its positions, so by May soldiers were down to eating battle rations and living out of a small bag.Dont worry, Ashkenazi told us military reporters. When we pull out of Lebanon, you will be with the last of the soldiers in the outposts. Relations between the IDF and military reporters were tense. The army refused to let any of us into the security zone. Matters had come to a head in what was supposed to be an off-the-record briefing with Ashkenazi. The gruff, Golani-bred general was not known to like journalists at best, and in this case ended up in a shouting match with some of us over just this matter. Ashkenazi had been critical of then-Channel 1 reporter Alon Ben-David for speculating in a broadcast that the IDF was about to pull out of its outpost at Rehan. After the broadcast, Hezbollah began to heavily shell the position and a number of soldiers were wounded. But in the third week of May, Shiite villagers and Hezbollah gunmen armed mainly with cameras and flags preempted the IDF and converged on the SLA outpost of Taybeh. The SLA militiamen, mostly Shiites, fled and set into motion the disintegration of the security zone.Chaos was starting to appear. The IDF beefed up its forces along the border.At this stage, we are adjusting our deployment to the reality on the ground, Ashkenazi said. There is not a decision for getting out, and when it is made, we will be found ready.Still, while not purely lying to the press, the senior command as well as prime minister Ehud Barak were telling reporters that a withdrawal would take time. June 1 was mentioned. Barak was rebuffing pressure from the IDF echelon to move it forward, even though preparations along the international border were not yet ready. I was summoned to a briefing of military analysts with IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz in the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday, May 22, and he told us it could take at least a week to get the soldiers out. It turned out that the orders had already been given to be out by dawn Wednesday. We military reporters started feeling like pawns in a disinformation campaign. Despite the swift and total collapse of the SLAs 70th battalion, the IDF still had faith in the remaining regiments, which were made up of Christians and Druze. But like in most wars, the end came like lightning. Tuesday, May 23, I was back up in Metulla hanging out at the Fatima Gate, trying to get a story. Crowds of people started to flood into the village of Kela on the Lebanese side of the border.Putting on Ray-Ban sunglasses and tucking my polo shirt into my trousers to look like a Shin Bet agent, I slipped across the border and stepped into a human tragedy streams of refugees fleeing in fear of their lives, carrying battered suitcases filled with clothes, photos and anything else they could grab at short notice. An Israeli man had also sneaked across the border and was handing out bags of Bamba and Bisli to the children. Sweat trickled down the face and neck of Capt. Suleiman Nahak and slid over the gold cross dangling from a chain. He was clutching two bags of his worldly possessions, as he moved with his wife and two daughters toward a bus that would take them away from his homeland, perhaps forever, to Israel, where they would have to build new lives. A stream of automatic gunshots rang out not 200 meters away, and the hundreds of panicking refugees shrieked: Hezbollah! Hezbollah! They pressed against Israeli soldiers and riot police in full regalia, who were brought in to keep order, as troops ran off in the direction of the shooting.I am not afraid to fight, said the 36-year-old SLA officer. But I have my family to worry about. I leave my home. I dont think Ill ever return. With Hezbollah we cannot live. They make peace with no one, not with Jews, not with us. Everybody is fleeing. They are bad people. While most were Christian, Nahak said there were also Muslim and Druze militiamen fleeing as well, many with the ubiquitous Mercedes vehicles. The sun was casting its rays over the Rimal ridge, silhouetting the Beaufort Castle and the IDF outposts guarding the Litani gorge. IAF helicopter gunships hovered overhead, as IDF artillery near Metulla fired suppression rounds to keep the Hezbollah guerrillas at bay for as long as possible. The refugees were streaming in from the towns and villages, such as Ain Iblin and Remshe, which were being taken over by Hezbollah. Just as they were coming over, the IDF called on all residents in the North to return to their bomb shelters in anticipation of a Hezbollah rocket attack. Two rockets slammed into the countryside near Biranit. Ironically, it was also Lag Baomer, and tens of thousands of Israelis, mostly haredim, were converging on the grave of Shimon Bar Yochai at the foot of Mount Meron to celebrate. Police were desperately trying to unravel horrific traffic jams as throngs of people headed toward the mountain, seemingly oblivious to the war taking place just 20 minutes up the road. My driving thought was to get this story in before the paper went to bed. By nightfall, we understood that the end was near, very near. Military reporters, all with sheepish grins on their faces and anguished that we were not riding back with the troops, gathered at the Egel Gate adjacent to Metulla to see the convoys return. AN IDF radio reporter interviews a squad of Golani soldiers, Beaufort, November 1996 (Photo Credit: Courtesy)THE PULLOUT began at 8 p.m., Tuesday, May 23, for the Golani and Armored Corps soldiers at Rehan, the deepest IDF stronghold. About 19 kilometers north of Metulla, the outpost had been one of the most attacked positions, and suffered a number of casualties the week before from incessant Hezbollah mortar attacks. We blew it up, said Sharon Shetubi, 20, of Ramle. The flash was amazing, lit up the whole sky.Rehan and the rest of the dozen IDF outposts were destroyed by IDF sappers, to prevent them from being used by Hezbollah guerrillas.Nothing was left. For three months it was my home. I know this sounds weird, but Ill miss it. Im ready to return there right now, said Avichai Cohen of Maaleh Levona. The IDF planned for a withdrawal under fire, and indeed Hezbollah came through, dropping shells throughout the night. There was also the fear that Hezbollah guerrillas would try to ambush the convoys as they made their way back to Israel. The convoy from Rehan set out but only inched along, as commanders made sure not to expose their flank. At one point, one of the Nakpadons, a mean-looking, homemade armored personnel carrier designed for the Lebanon conflict, flayed out one of its treads, and that took precious time to fix. A tank fired at suspicious movement. They continued.We passed Aishiya and they blew it up. We passed Dlaat and saw that being blown up, too. The explosion from Beaufort was something else, said Guy Segel, 20, from Hayogev.He had spent four months operating a Merkava tank at Rehan. Just before they were to end their tour, the army told his platoon they would remain for the duration.They said we would stay there till we pulled out of Lebanon. That was three months ago, said Segel, dressed in his Dacron tankers suit. Im glad its finally over. Convoys set out during the night from the other outposts, as warplanes swooped down and delivered the death knells to the vacated IDF and SLA positions. Some posts burned, bathing the night horizon in an orange glow. Throughout the withdrawal, IDF artillery kept up a steady but light barrage at suspected Hezbollah mortar emplacements. In the distance, another convoy of Artillery Corps soldiers from the Shareife outpost crossed into the country and flicked on their headlights as they passed in through a different gate.Once in the country, the soldiers made the de rigueur phone calls to the folks.Thats it. Its over, Dad. Were back in the country, said St.-Sgt. Moshe Shuni from Shaarei Tikva. Even at 3:30 a.m., no parent was likely upset to hear this from his or her son in Lebanon. Will I miss it? Ill miss the episodes with my mates, but not Lebanon, Shuni said. One soldier from the Golani 13th Battalion said they were careful not to take any needless actions in the end, because no one wanted to be the last soldier killed in Lebanon.Ill miss the days in Lebanon. There is nothing like it. You learn how to be a soldier there. You go through a lot there. There is where a soldier can test himself. There is where friendship is measured, said the soldier, who refused to give his name but still had the number 26 written on his hand, as each convoy numbered its soldiers.At about a quarter to seven on the morning of May 24, Brig.-Gen. Benny Gantz locked the Fatima Gate and suddenly became unemployed. As commander of the IDF liaison unit responsible for the eastern sector of the security zone and the SLA, Gantz was given the symbolic honor, captured by photographers and transmitted around the world.Im happy it was carried out without one injury. We were really anxious about this, said Gantz. Ive been in and out of Lebanon since the [1978] Litani invasion. It was a very strange feeling now. I guess Im unemployed, said Gantz, who would go on to become IDF chief of staff and then, maybe, prime minister.I hung around for a press conference with the IDF brass, who tried to paint the retreat as a victory because not one IDF soldier had been hurt. But back in the Arazim Hotel in Metulla a man sat collapsed on a couch, a shadow of himself. He was broken, chain-smoking in the corner. A general without an army.AN EGOZ commando in camouflage at the Lebanon border, 1998 (Photo Credit: Courtesy)As Hezbollah guerrillas were ransacking his villa a few hills away, Lahad, commander of the now defunct SLA, was full of bitterness toward Israel for its total and complete withdrawal from the security zone. The manner in which the retreat was carried out was unfair and unreasonable. The IDF was humiliated because it retreated so fast, and it gave Hezbollah a victory it never even dreamed of, Lahad said in his characteristic hoarse whisper.For over 24 years we were together, and you decided within 24 hours to change direction. What do you want us to do now? Go with Hezbollah? Please, their flags are flying from the fence, Lahad said. Israel destroyed in 24 hours relations that were built over 24 years. We worked hand in hand, but suddenly Israel pulled back its hand and shook us off.But for Israelis, the withdrawal gave us something strange, even a little scary, something we hadnt encountered in years: a border. A demarcation, an end we hoped. We go only this far; and from there on, its them. And thats a fact. The writer was the defense correspondent for The Jerusalem Post from 19962006.

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Twenty years out of Lebanon: The war with no name that would never end - The Jerusalem Post

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