Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East History: It Happened in August; Begin's Admission in 1982 That Israel Started Three of Its Wars

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East History: It Happened in August; Begin's Admission in 1982 That Israel Started Three of Its Wars

Article excerpt

MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN AUGUST; Begin's Admission in 1982 That Israel Started Three of Its Wars

By Donald Neff

It was 12 years ago when Prime Minister Menachem Begin admitted in public that Israel had fought three wars in which it had a "choice," meaning Israel started the wars. Begin's admission came in a speech delivered on Aug. 8, 1982, before the Israeli National Defense College. His purpose was to defuse mounting criticism of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, which had begun two months earlier on June 5 and was clearly one of Israel's wars of "choice." The others were in 1956 and 1967.

At the time of Begin's speech, the Israeli siege of Muslim West Beirut was already five weeks old. Israeli U.S.-made aircraft were launching daily air strikes and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians throughout the country were being killed, wounded, starved, terrorized and uprooted from their homes, most of them by munitions made in America. On July 29, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Israel lift its siege. Only the United States abstained in the 14-0 vote. 1 When Israel refused, the council voted again on Aug. 4 to censure Israel with a vote of 14-0, with the U.S. again abstaining. 2 On Aug. 6, the United States exercised its veto to block a council resolution condemning Israel's occupation practices, the sixth time in 1982 the Reagan administration had used the veto to shield Israel from international criticism. 3

Despite the Reagan administration's lonely support of Israel, there was increasing disillusionment within Israel itself at the terrible toll being inflicted on Lebanese civilians. An estimated 10,000 Israelis had already staged a protest rally in Tel Aviv as early as June 26. 4 Another hundred thousand Israelis demonstrated against Begin's government on July 3 under the banner of Peace Now. Other antiwar groups--Yesh Givul (There is a Limit), Soldiers Against Silence, Parents Against Silence--soon sprang up as the siege continued. 5

The anti-war mood increased when Israeli Colonel Eli Geva, head of an elite armored brigade involved in Israel's invasion of Lebanon, resigned his commission in July to protest the siege of Beirut. It was the first time that a senior Israeli officer had ever resigned in protest during any of Israel's wars. 6 When Prime Minister Begin asked Geva why he had refused to continue in the siege, the tankman replied that he could see children when he looked through his binoculars into Beirut. "Did you receive an order to kill children?" snapped Begin. No, said Geva. "Then what are you complaining about?" demanded the prime minister. 7 Yesh Givul became the strongest of the groups, with 2,000 reservists eventually signing a petition not to serve in Lebanon; 150 of them were court martialed. 8

In his speech to Israeli security experts on Aug. 8, the prime minister sought to counter these growing anti-war protests by enlisting the military's support. His method was to link the unpopular war in Lebanon with Israel's triumphant victories in 1956 and 1967, which he was careful to point out were also wars of "choice." Now, Begin said, Israel was involved in another war of choice that would finally bring victorious peace.

Excerpts from Begin's speech:

"The Second World War, which broke out on Sept. 1, 1939, actually began on March 7, 1936. If only France, without Britain (which had some excellent combat divisions), had attacked the aggressor, there would have remained no trace of Nazi German power and a war which, in three years, changed the whole of human history, would have been prevented. This, therefore, is the international example that explains what is war without choice, or a war of one's choosing.

"Let us turn from the international example to ourselves. Operation Peace for Galilee [the Israeli name for the invasion of Lebanon] is not a military operation resulting from the lack of an alternative. The terrorists did not threaten the existence of the state of Israel; they `only' threatened the lives of Israel's citizens and members of the Jewish people. …

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