Brigadier-General (Ret.) and Member of Knesset Ephraim Sneh has held a number of important positions in the army, including Commander of the Medical Teams during the famous Entebbe Rescue Operation and Commander of the Security Zone in southern Lebanon during the first Lebanon War. A member of the Labor Party, Ephraim was first elected to Knesset in 1992 and has served as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in addition to holding various Ministries, including Health and Transportation. Ephraim recently held a Q&A session by phone with Ameinu callers. What follows is an edited transcript of our talk.
Over the weekend, there was a commando raid that raised concerns that the ceasefire might break down. What are the chances that it will hold?
Well, if I analyze through the interests of Hezbollah, now they have to prove that they are contributing to the reconstruction of south Lebanon and Lebanon in general. Many Lebanese rightly accuse them of having brought the chaos and destruction to Lebanon, so Nasrallah and Hezbollah will have to prove that they will pay – out of Iranian pockets, of course – for the rebuilding of Lebanon. We may face a quiet time as they go about rebuilding. Maybe even our two abducted soldiers will return, but I believe this decision ultimately is in the hands of Tehran.
What do you think the war accomplished?
For six years, from Lebanon, we have been under a leverage of terror – of thousands of rockets and missiles that have threatened Israel.
It was not a matter of punishing the Lebanese population. The Lebanese population in the south has no say. The Lebanese government was too weak, until now, to seriously impose something on Hezbollah. For the first time in thirty years, the government has sent the Lebanese army to the south. This was a result of our operation. I’m not sure if it will hold but the rules of the game here are different.
Hezbollah has to know the price of provocation. The Lebanese government has to know that as long as they host Hezbollah; as long as Hezbollah is a member of the government; as long as Iranian mercenaries operate freely in the south – then the economic prosperity they enjoy will not last. This is the new balance which we’ve succeeded in establishing in this government and the region.
There has been speculation that the US has been pressuring Israel to be their point people against Iran. Does that ring true? Has there been pressure like that?
No, and I totally disagree with the notion that you hear in some places that this was a proxy Iran-US war. This was an Iran-Israel war on the ground in Lebanon. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, does not threaten to wipe America off the map. But he does say time and again that he wants to wipe Israel off the map.
As long as his regime is there, this “war” with Israel will continue. However, Ahmadinejad might reach some sort of agreement with the US administration in regards to Iraq. Israel is acting and should act in the future only according to its own interests of survival and national security. I don’t think we have to ask Americans to fight for us, and we do not fight for them. We fight for the survival of the Jewish people. That’s it.
What percentage of the arsenal of Hezbollah actually has been destroyed?
Hezbollah lost about half of its stockpiles of rockets. I believe the Syrians will try to replenish it, and this effort must be stopped. If the international force or Lebanese army will not stop these shipments we will have to do it ourselves, which may lead to another confrontation. Going back to the first question, about how fragile the ceasefire efforts are: a replenishing of the missiles will necessarily lead to our intervention.
Will this mean conflict with Syria?
Not necessarily, but it may. The regime in Syria seriously considers – and speaks more – about resumption of hostilities in the Golan Heights in order to regain it. And we have to be on alert that this regime – which is very shaky – in order to score points in Syrian public opinion would try to do something stupid.
In Israeli newspapers there has been talk of resuming discussions with Syria on peace. We understand that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has appointed an advisor and Minister of Defense Amir Peretz called for that as well. How realistic are these initiatives?
They’re not totally baseless. Let me explain to you what is reality and what are fantasies. Syria today is isolated. They help the insurgents in Iraq, they help Hezbollah in Lebanon. They are allies of Iran. They have turned themselves into the North Korea of the Middle East.
There are important Syrians – maybe the president himself – who want to change Syria, and who think about returning to the family of sane nations. One idea is the following: let’s go to the Syrians and offer them a Qadaffi-like deal. If you, Syrians, one, stop helping the insurgents kill American soldiers in Iraq; and two, if you stop shipping weapons to Hezbollah and kick away the militant head of Hamas; then you will be treated differently as far as commercial affairs and other international measures. You will be back as a member of the international community, and will again receive investments, relations, all things which you are denied today. This is the deal. This is the possible deal. What chance will it work? 10%. But it is worth trying.
However, the Golan Heights is not a currency in this trade off. Israel in the present regional situation cannot give up a vital area just to stop Syria giving rockets to Hezbollah or supporting the terrorists in the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Golan can be discussed on a different level, if Syria is willing to normalize relations with Israel and discuss security measures. The Golan Heights is not a currency in the deal I spoke about before.
One hears in the media that this war has damaged Israel’s deterrent capability. Not, perhaps, so much because of the reality of how much Hezbollah may have been punished – but because they are seen as the first Arab army to “hold out” against Israel.
Our deterrent image is not damaged. I think the devastation that we brought to Lebanon shows to every Arab country that it’s crazy to mess with us. I don’t believe that any Arab government wants its capital to look like south Beirut. The air forces ability to strike hard and precisely was especially well demonstrated. Where we didn’t entirely succeed was fighting with Hezbollah on the ground. The fact which we can’t deny is that they could launch 250 rockets on Israel on the last day, and one mile from the Israeli border they succeeded in killing Israeli soldiers. We can’t deny it.
Herein lies our mistake in running this war. We didn’t use enough force quickly enough. The management of the war was too slow and too hesitant. If there is something that could use a thorough inquiry it is the pace and the scale of the war.
Ultimately, the picture is mixed. However, the most important task ahead is preparing for the next round with Iran. Without any question, we should have a decisive victory in the next round – the inevitable, unavoidable second round with Iran. Maybe it will be with Hezbollah, maybe elsewhere.