THIRTY YEARS ago this week, the Israeli army crossed into Lebanon and started the most stupid war in Israel's history. It lasted for 18 years. About 1,500 Israeli soldiers and untold numbers of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed.
Almost all wars are based on lies. Lies are considered legitimate instruments of war. Lebanon War I (as it was later called) was a glorious example.
From beginning to end (if it has ended yet) it was a war of deceit and deception, falsehoods and fabrications.
THE LIES started with the official name: "Operation Peace in Galilee."
If one asks Israelis now, 99.99% of them will say with all sincerity: "We had no choice. They launched katyushas at the Galilee from Lebanon every day. We had to stop them." TV anchormen and anchorwomen, as well as former cabinet ministers have been repeating this throughout the week. Quite sincerely. Even people who were already adults at the time.
The simple fact is that for 11 months before the war, not a single shot was fired across the Israeli-Lebanese border. A cease-fire was in force and the Palestinians on the other side of the border kept it scrupulously. To everybody's surprise, Yasser Arafat succeeded in imposing it on all the radical Palestinian factions, too.
At the end of May, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon met with Secretary of State Alexander Haig in Washington DC. He asked for American agreement to invade Lebanon. Haig said that the US could not allow it, unless there were a clear and internationally recognized provocation.
And lo and behold, the provocation was provided at once. Abu Nidal, the anti-Arafat and anti-PLO master terrorist, sent his own cousin to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London, who was grievously wounded.
In retaliation, Israel bombed Beirut and the Palestinians fired back, as expected. The Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, allowed Sharon to invade Lebanese territory up to 40 km, "to put the Galilee settlements out of reach of the katyushas."
When one of the intelligence chiefs told Begin at the cabinet meeting that Abu Nidal's organization was not a member of the PLO, Begin famously answered: "They are all PLO."
General Matti Peled, my political associate at the time, firmly believed that Abu Nidal had acted as an agent of Sharon. So do all the Palestinians I know.
The lie "they shot at us every day" has taken such a hold on the public mind that it is nowadays useless to dispute it. It is an illuminating example of how a myth can take possession of the public mind, including even of people who had seen with their own eyes that the opposite was true.
NINE MONTHS before the war, Sharon told me about his plan for a New Middle East.
I was writing a long biographic article about him with his cooperation. He believed in my journalistic integrity, so he told me his plan was "off the record" and allowed me to publish it -- but without quoting him. So I did.
Sharon had a dangerous mental mixture: a primitive mind unsullied by any knowledge of (non-Jewish) history, and a fatal craving for "grand designs." He despised all politicians -- including Begin -- as little people devoid of vision and imagination.
His design for the region, as he told me then (and which I published nine months before the war), was: