Arens Says Withdrawal Plans Encouraged Terrorists To Act

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KIRYAT SHMONA, Israel — The attack by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia against Israel’s northern border yesterday and the major Hamas raid ago that led to a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip are direct results of the “failed” Israeli policy of unilateral withdrawal, a former Israeli defense minister, Moshe Arens, said in an interview with The New York Sun.

Mr. Arens, a seasoned Israeli diplomat who has served several times as defense minister, including during Israel’s foray into Lebanon in the 1980s, told the Sun that Israel’s deterrence against Palestinian Arab terror groups and against regional foe Hezbollah has been lost by what he called a “lack of major military response” to repeated attacks in the past few months, emboldening terror organizations, he said, to carry out more and more daring operations.

“Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the uprooting of Jewish communities there was interpreted by Hamas and by the Palestinian people as a victory for terrorism,” Mr. Arens said.

He pointed out that since the Gaza evacuation last summer, more than 1,000 rockets have been fired at nearby Jewish communities, Hamas has been elected to power, and both Israel and the Palestinian Authority say Al Qaeda has moved into the territory.

In the last 10 months, Israel has responded to the regular Palestinian Arab rocket attacks with aerial and artillery bombardments of suspected missile launch sites, failing to stop or even to slow the rate of rocket launchings.

Israel Defense Force ground troops entered Gaza two weeks ago in response to a Hamas raid against a major military station and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit.

“The Palestinian terrorists [were] bombarding Israeli towns with missiles and saw very little Israeli response,” Mr. Arens said. “So they carried out a daring raid against Israeli troops. They are not afraid of Israel when it retreats.”

Mr. Arens said the Hezbollah raid yesterday along the Israel-Lebanese border was a “direct result of the failed Israeli withdrawal from that country” by Prime Minister Barak in 2000.

“Barak threatened Lebanon with the harshest reprisals if any aggressive cross-border acts were carried out by Hezbollah,” he said. “We have seen many aggressive acts — missile attacks the past few months, killings and kidnappings of Israeli soldiers — and no major Israeli retaliation. The clear message received by Hezbollah is one of Israeli weakness. Deterrence has been lost.”

Hezbollah terrorists earlier yesterday attacked Israeli positions along the country’s northern border with Lebanon, infiltrating Israeli territory and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers.

A Hezbollah team attacked two IDF armored Hummer patrol jeeps with gunfire and explosives amid shelling and gunfire on northern Israeli towns. Three soldiers were killed in the attack.

Four more Israeli soldiers were killed when their tank hit a mine about two miles into Lebanese territory, apparently during an initial attempt to rescue the kidnapped soldiers. The IDF sent troops across the border to search for the missing soldiers, marking the first incursion into Lebanon since Israel withdrew from the country in May 2000.

Immediately after the attack, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, announced a prisoner exchange was the only way to secure the release of the soldiers, who he said were being held in a “secure and remote” location.

Sheik Nasrallah called on Israel to free thousands of security prisoners and linked any prisoner deal to the release by Hamas of Corporal Shalit.

Sheik Nasrallah also warned Israel against attacking within Lebanese territory.

Prime Minister Olmert, meanwhile, declared the Hezbollah attack an act of war.

“It is an act of war by the state of Lebanon against the state of Israel in its sovereign territory,” Mr. Olmert told a news conference

“There are elements, to the north and the south, that are threatening our stability and trying to test our determination,” Mr. Olmert said. “They will fail and pay a heavy price for their actions.”


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