In 1982, after the residents of the Upper Galilee had been forced to spend night after night in bomb shelters out of fear of Katyusha rockets, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon with the intent of rooting out the PLO terrorist bases there.At the outset, the campaign met with almost miraculous success. One enemy position after another fell until the Israelis had surrounded the PLO headquarters in East Beirut. The majority of the leaders of the terrorist groups who had attacked Israel for years could have been captured and the backbone of the terrorist organizations broken.And then Israel stopped. They could have cut off food, water, and electricity; they could have reduced the city to rubble. But they didn’t. Instead of demanding unconditional surrender, they let the terrorists leave – taking their weapons with them.No war is desirable. But if an unavoidable war has been undertaken, if casualties have been suffered, and total victory is in sight, it is ludicrous not to seize it.What prevented Israel from seeking total victory? First of all, criticism at home. Lebanon was Israel’s Vietnam. Israel was forced to fight with one hand tied behind her back because of cries for peace from its own populace.Had they not entered into a war, one might have debated whether it was justified. But they had entered a war; they had already suffered casualties, and the enemies they were fighting were not humanitarians, but terrorists who had killed women and children.Our Sages teach: “Whoever is merciful to the cruel, will ultimately be cruel to the merciful.” The misplaced mercy during the time of the war in Lebanon has been responsible for the death of hundreds of Israelis in the years that followed.The second reason for holding back was fear of US pressure. Once again Israel repeated the errors of the Yom Kippur War. It seems almost too simple to say: No nation sacrifices its soldiers and its critical objectives because of possible censure from other nations. Surgeons do not stop operations in the middle.Moreover, the Israelis misjudged the intent of the Americans. The US had no love for the PLO. Particularly, at that time, Cold War tensions were high and the PLO were identified with Russia. Moreover, they were terrorists who had attacked Americans. If one looked at America’s genuine interest, it was clearly to back Israel.It is true that America may have made some protests to Israel. But they were not accompanied by threats. Indeed, President Reagan undertook a diplomatic mission to Europe for nine days, granting Israel time to complete unfinished business. While on the road he would have had ample reasons to explain why he had done nothing to restrain the Israelis. And shortly afterwards, Secretary of State Haig resigned, giving Israel more time to use while the State Department changed hands. Nothing would have happened if Israel had gone about taking care of her own priorities, and made her explanations afterwards.Not only was this not done. As mentioned above, Israel was her own worst enemy, taking blame for atrocities when there was no need or justification for her to do so. And for her pathetic attempts at proving her humanitarian intent, she was rewarded with censure after censure.The most painful aspect of the war was the months – and years – of limbo when Israel had halted its actions against the terrorists, but kept its army in Lebanon. Why did the soldiers remain? Because the government realized that the objectives of the war had not been achieved. And yet, too afraid to actually achieve those objectives, they left their soldiers in enemy territory, sitting ducks for terrorist attacks. Life after life was sacrificed on the altar of indecision as a government hamstrung by fear of what the world would say ruminated about the steps it should take.Months before the war the Rebbe called in several of Israel’s leading chassidim and directed them to begin writing a Torah scroll, each letter of which would be inscribed for a particular Israeli soldier who had sponsored it. This the Rebbe did as a means to promote the safety and security of the Israeli army in general and of every participating soldier in particular.Throughout the war the Rebbe was outspoken in his criticism of the Israeli government for its vacillation and hesitation, for its willingness to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers and citizens in order to humor the whims of world opinion. Above all, the Rebbe pointed his finger at the root of the problem: the unwillingness of Israelis to look in the mirror and identify their own security as their foremost concern.
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