Last Sunday was the tenth anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from what was used to be known as the "security zone." That day, following the instructions of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack, all Israeli units operating north of the borders inside Lebanese territories were pulled back inside Israeli territories. According to Barack, it was in implementation of the UNSCR 425, issued in 1978 after an Israeli incursion into Lebanon in response to PLO attacks across the borders then. So in the year 2000, 23 years after it entered the country to fight its enemies, Israel's government decided to pull its troops back from Lebanon abruptly. Barack at the time said he was complying with U.N. resolutions and that he expected that no threat will come from Lebanon anymore. That was the Israeli version of the Labor Government then.
But as IDF forces were pulling back, Iranian-backed Hezb'allah militias were entering every single village and town evacuated by the Israelis. According to Hassan Nasrallah, the commander of Hezb'allah, Israel withdrew because of the strikes by the so-called "resistance," which in fact was the Iranian-backed militia. The Hezb'allah story is that southern Lebanon was occupied by the Israelis, who had a proxy militia known as South Lebanon Army. And that Hezb'allah struggled to liberate the land from its Zionist occupiers.
However, there is a third version. It rejects the first two, and it claims it represents the struggle of the people of southern Lebanon, who struggled against Terror and were removed from their ancestral lands -- because of Ehud Barack's policies on the one hand and the abandonment of the West of Lebanon last resisting free people against the hordes of Hezb'allah and their Iranian and Syrian backers on the other. Unfortunately, the third story has no tellers these days. Barack has Israel's media at his service so that he can boast about his betrayal of southern Lebanon and his own Israeli people, and Nasrallah has his Iranian-funded media to claim his victories against the populations who resisted him in southern Lebanon.
A decade after the betrayal of the people of south Lebanon, the truth is going to be blanched. It will take time for the witnesses of that drama to share the facts with the world opinion, but it will happen no matter what.
The population of the so-called "security zone" are Lebanese citizens who had suffered at the hands of Palestinian terror groups since the 1970s and at the hands of Hezb'allah since the 1980s. They are the sons and daughters of the land for centuries. The forces of the PLO then and the Iranian Revolutionary guards are foreign occupation. Israel entered Lebanon twice, first in 1978 and again in 1982, to strike back against Terror forces shelling its territories from inside Lebanon's territories. The Lebanese citizens living in the border towns wanted the Lebanese Army only -- not the Israelis, and certainly the Terror forces. But Lebanon's government had collapsed in 1975, and as of 1990, it was controlled by Syria. The populations of the south had no choice, not one, except to accept aid and support from Israel's occupation forces. To be clear, between the Terrorists and barbarians, who were slaughtering civilians and aiming at establishing a jihadi regime, and the forces of the state of Israel, an ally to the United States and at Peace with Egypt and Jordan, the choice was made against Hezb'allah and the Syrian-Iranian axis.
The South Lebanon Army under control by Israel was far better than ending up in the detention camps of the Iranian Pasdaran or in the torture centers of Hezb'allah and Syria. Hence, a large segment of the population of south Lebanon -- Christian, Druse, Shia, and Sunnis -- adhered to the SLA and stood by Israel's forces as a common front against the Terrorists. Israel's successive governments stood in solidarity with the people of south Lebanon. A brotherhood between the IDF and the SLA was the cornerstone of the common defense against Hezb'allah and Syria.
South Lebanon's civil society would have preferred to be under the direct protection of the UNIFIL, a U.N. force dispatched to protect the peace and the local population as of 1978. But UNIFIL's bureaucrats refused to take the southern Lebanese under their auspices, leaving them to strive for themselves. The SLA and the local populations did the right thing to defend themselves, and they did so under international law, which grants them the right to fight for survival, hoping that when the Israelis wanted to leave, they would allow them to defend themselves and seek U.N. protection.
In 2000, then-Israeli Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barack betrayed an Israeli tradition of solidarity with the SLA and an Israeli natural friendship with the southern Lebanese. He ordered not only the abrupt withdrawal of IDF from the security zone, but also a dismantlement of the SLA. All the southern Lebanese population wanted as villagers living on their ancestral lands was to defend it until they are free or die trying. Barack took away their most sacred right: the right to resist. He ordered his forces to shut off the borders as south Lebanon's border populations were disarmed and about to be overwhelmed by the jihadi barbarians. We know that a majority of the Israeli people was frustrated by that move, and we know that many in the IDF resented Barack's stab in the back of the only population in the Middle East that actually stood by the Jewish people of Israel.
The southern Lebanese were forced to march during the night in a dishonorable exodus into Israel. In one night, Barack and his political allies in government and abroad killed the last free enclave in Lebanon. In one night, he invited Hezb'allah to the international borders. In one night, he terminated the only fighting force that was shedding blood shoulder to shoulder with the IDF in defending that part of the Middle East against the jihadi Terrorists. He took out the only friendship that could have told the world that Israel itself should not be betrayed or abandoned because it has not betrayed its own allies.
Unfortunately, Barack's reckless stab in the back of Israel's only allies in the Middle East opened the path for the jihadist forces to surround Israel further from the north and from the south. Few months later, the Aqsa intifada was shattering the myth of invincibility in Israel, and from there on, Israel is alone in a region filled with hatred. Barack took away the southern Lebanese's own ability to testify that Israel was doing good in the region -- it was protecting its small and weak neighbors in southern Lebanon.
Today, when Israel's image is assaulted by the lethal propaganda machine of the Iranian petrodollars worldwide and in the United States, and anti-Semitism is running high in Western capitals, the only underdogs who would have testified to the world that Israel was defending Christians, Druse, Shia, and Sunni in that free enclave of Lebanon -- these underdogs uprooted from their homes and lands because of the arrogance of a few politicians who thought they had it figured out -- cannot testify to save the honor of their former allies. Blame former Prime Minister Barack and his elitist friends in Israel and the United States for that.
That had to be said, and it will be repeated as long as needed until some courageous leaders in Israel and the United States apologize to the population of southern Lebanon for what was done to them. History is unique in the ways it sends its messages. Three months after abandoning the people of south Lebanon in May 2000, Israel was hit by a jihadi war that has not stopped since, neither across the Lebanese borders nor across the frontiers of Gaza. And one year after that, America was hit by the beast of terror on 9/11. Abandoning the small villages of southern Lebanon to the jihadists didn't appease them. To the contrary, it emboldened them. We hope the free world learned the lesson.
However, we do know that the majority of Israelis does not believe in Barack's pragmatic miscalculations, and they do want a friendship with their neighbors from the north. Naturally, it would have been better to have an SLA fending off the Iranian waves of assault than having the enemy roaming on the borders. Now they have to deal with Hassan Nasrallah's forty thousand missiles to the north, Assad's chemical forces, Hamas terror from the south, and Ahmadinejad's forthcoming nukes. Had Israel not dismantled the southern Lebanese resistance against terror, Hezb'allah would have been opposed by a stubborn indigenous force locally to reckon with. Let's see if Israel's basic instincts will correct the mistakes of its own leaders.
Meanwhile, we the people of southern Lebanon haven't lost hope. We continue to struggle politically around the world for the liberation of Lebanon. We are now part of a vast diaspora that stands firmly with the United States and the international community (including Europe, Russia, and the Arab moderates) in a campaign to defeat the terror forces. Our commitment to freeing Lebanon persists from generation to generation. We are still committed not only to peace with Israel, but also to a friendship with the Jewish people in the Holy Land. Despite the betrayal by some of its politicians, Israel has a full right to exist in the region, and all nations have the right to freedom and democracy. We hope that the democratic forces among Arabs and other nations of the Middle East will soon rise against dictatorship and fascism, and that we will return to our occupied land and live in peace.
May 23, 2000 was a hard benchmark in our history, but it is certainly not the end of it. We will return, and we will live all in peace.
Ret. Col. Charbel Barakat is a historian and a former civil society leader in south Lebanon. He is now a counterterrorism expert in Canada