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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Lebanon anniversary sparks debate
Celebrations a year ago after the Israelis left southern Lebanon
Hezbollah guerrillas and supporters celebrate Israel's withdrawal
The first anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon has sparked fresh debate in Israel on whether the pullout, widely seen in the Arab world as a victory for Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas, is responsible for inspiring the current Palestinian intifada.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat: Said to draw inspiration from Hezbollah
According to the Jerusalem daily newspaper Ha'aretz debate is polarised "between those who claim there is a direct connection between the withdrawal and the Palestinian violence, and those who reject the argument".

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the paper in an interview published earlier this week that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "was impressed by what happened in Lebanon and Kosovo and wants to replicate those models here".

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak: Warned of the consequences of withdrawal
It is understood he was alluding to the perceived success of Hezbollah's guerrilla campaign, as well as to the successful efforts of ethnic Albanian guerrillas at "internationalising" the Kosovo conflict.

Retired Israeli general Effi Eitam, who served as commander of the Lebanon battalion, told Ha'aretz he had warned the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak of the dangers.

"I told him 'It's not that you're taking the IDF (Israel Defence Force) out of Lebanon, you're bringing Lebanon into Israel's territory'," Eitam recalled.

He said he had no doubts that the Lebanon model - "Lebanonisation" - had spread into Israel.

Suicide bombings

"The consortium of terror that was very successful in Lebanon is now emptying roads and malls and sparking a feeling of fear," he said.

Palestinians concluded that if they used enough violence, they too could get all they wanted from Israel without having to compromise

Jerusalem Post commentary
He added that the decision to withdraw without an agreement had "left a huge hole in our deterrent ability".

A signed opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post took a similar line.

"The greatest consequence of the Israeli retreat was felt among the Palestinians. That impact is partly practical, with Hezbollah providing instruction and arms to the Palestinian authority," the commentary said.

It said that Palestinians had taken up "Hezbollah's distinctive tactics and tools", namely suicide bombings and roadside bombings.

It seems that the decision to leave the land of cedars was courageous and wise

Yed'iot Aharonot newspaper editorial
"They even adopted the Hezbollah technique of filming themselves carrying out attacks on Israelis, then making the film available to the Arab and Muslim media."

The Palestinians had "watched Hezbollah impose every last one of its demands on Israel, without having to sit around a table with Israeli diplomats; this served as an object lesson".

"Palestinians concluded that if they used enough violence, they too could get all they wanted from Israel without having to compromise," the commentary said.

'Glad it's over'

But an editorial in the Yed'iot Aharonot daily newspaper emphasised the positive, saying that after one year "it seems that the decision to leave the land of cedars was courageous and wise".

"Soldiers were killed, soldiers were kidnapped... and all those who still remember the sleepless nights of thousands of parents, the agony-ridden days of all Israelis, are glad it's over," the paper said.

"At this stage - regardless of the new perils daily arising in that area - the decision seems commendable.

"The only poignant question is this: Why didn't they pull out sooner?"

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See also:

29 Jul 00 | Middle East
UN gets Lebanese go-ahead to deploy
25 Jul 00 | Middle East
Lebanon blocks UN border deployment
30 Jul 00 | Middle East
UN spreads out on Lebanon border
26 May 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Lebanon's fragile peace
23 May 00 | Middle East
Q & A: Leaving Lebanon
24 May 00 | Middle East
Bitter retreat for the SLA
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