Six years have passed since we pulled out of Lebanon. Six years in which residents of the north have successfully rebuilt their economic security, tourism has flourished. Even opponents of the pullout have praised the results.
At the same time, Hizbullah has gotten stronger along the northern border. Occasionally they have made good on their threats, but the Israeli government has acted with restraint rather than ignite the entire region.
Peace and quiet
A month after the pullout, a group of "Four Mothers" activists visited the north, to call on the government to strengthen settlements
there in terms of social welfare, the economy and security. At one meeting, a woman told me, "the quiet hurts my ears." Another added, "I wake up in the morning, but instead of the blasts of artillery that I've become accustomed to, I hear the birds chirping."
I told her I hoped the birds would become the music of her life, I prayed for the quiet to continue to hurt the first woman's ears. But I wasn't so sure my hopes would be realized.
Response or restraint?
The situation in the north today continues to be stressful. Three soldiers have been kidnapped, we've been repeatedly attacked and soldiers and civilians killed. But the government continues to react with restraint. It's a brutal dilemma: Do we respond strongly immediately – after all, we pulled out of every millimeter of Lebanese territory – or do we not allow them to escalate the situation and drag us back into war. There are opinions on both sides.
For years, I have believed that the power of restraint is greater than the power of response. It would seem that we should have acted after the murder of seven civilians and soldiers at Metzuba. But hindsight is 20-20, as the saying goes.
And now, we, the women of "Four Mothers," stand accused of causing the second intifada. This evil accusation sometimes borders on incitement to murder. Without going into the question of whether we were right to go into Lebanon in 1982, there is no question that in 1990, when drastic changes took place in the Middle East following the Gulf War, we should have taken the opportunity to get out of there.
But it took us many long years. The IDF "security" zone provided no security for northern Israel. Every time settlements in the north were bombed, the ritual would begin again: They shoot, we shoot, and the losses were terrible.
We got into a terrible rut, one that played games with both the IDF and the home front. 20-25 dead soldiers a year grew to more than 100 when two helicopters collided on a rainy night in 1997 while ferrying soldiers to the security zone. It was a mental rut that led to a political-strategic-tactical rut that plagued four Israeli governments. Our presence in Lebanon became a tragedy.
The greatest achievement of our generation was the withdrawal from Lebanon without as much as one casualty or fatality. We didn't run away; the withdrawal was the result of exact planning by the prime minister and the IDF.
Even if there were opponents, it was carried out with the knowledge of the entire world. Even if it happened years too late, when it did happen it was a fantastic success.
Those who attack this success give the feeling that they would once again feel some honor had the pullout been accompanied by blood-soaked battles – our blood, that of our enemies, and that of our allies in the South Lebanon Army, and if many soldiers had come home wrapped in the flag.
Even if we'd stayed…
Many people claim we fled Lebanon, thus allowing Hizbullah and the Palestinians to think that ongoing killing would be enough to send us fleeing once again. But they forget that even if we had remained in Lebanon, Hizbullah would have continued to receive Iranian weapons via Syria.
The security zone would not have prevented the organization from getting stronger, it would still have obtained its long-range missiles, and those few kilometers of separation would continued to have been non-strategic.
Our pullout from Lebanon and the policy of restraint Israel has followed for six years has brought about international support for Israel, support we presumably would not have gotten beforehand.
At the moment, we enjoy the support of all countries of influence in the world. It is clear that we were attacked inside our own sovereign territory, with no provocation at all.
There is no question that we must now strengthen both the IDF and our political echelon to allow them to obtain two main objectives: Bringing our kidnapped soldiers home and disarming Hizbullah, and pushing that organization away from the Israel-Lebanon border.
I am not naïve. I do not think this will bring an end to our war with Hizbullah. But such action would presumably get us a few years if quiet.
The home front has taken some tough blows. But despite the pain, we must not push the IDF to make rash moves or to move too quickly. We must remember that the IDF is more than just an abbreviation. These initials are the names of our children. Unprofessional action taken as a result of pressure from the home front will bring about many deaths of IDF soldiers. The deaths of our children.
Orna Shimoni is a founder of Four Mothers