With the final act in Beirut not yet concluded it is surely premature to try to gauge the precise depth and breadth of the upheaval brought about by the war in Lebanon throughout the Middle East, and the rumblings far beyond. What is already clear is that some illusions have been shattered.
Among the Israeli soldiers, who after all represent a cross section of the people, there are those who had naively accepted the notion that the PLO was in fact an idealistic liberation movement. They have now learnt the truth. Suddenly they were confronted with the phenomenon of 12 year old children who had been drafted into the terrorist organization and put through a course in killing. In the Israeli soldiers' first contacts with Lebanese towns and villages, they learned how the members of the PLO, from the moment they imposed themselves on the countryside in the mid-70's had ravaged the population.
They learned of the mass slaughter of the Christians in Damour; and of the masses of refugees who had fled their homes in the south, from Tyre and Sidon and Nabatiye, five, six and seven years ago, to find shelter in Beirut in the north from the regime of robbery and murder and rape to which the "fighters" of the PLO subjected them. They were soon accorded dramatic visual corroboration of what they had heard. Hardly had they effected the occupation of the south than tens of thousands of those refugees began choking the roads returning, after the enforced years of exile to their now safe Nabatiye and Sidon and Tyre. Suddenly the IDF soldiers discovered that they were not an occupying army: the people whose country they had invaded saw them and treated them as their liberators from a ruthless band of oppressors.
Suddenly light was shed on the true roots of the conflict over Palestine. To the astonished eyes of the IDF, and subsequently to television viewers, there were revealed gigantic, indeed "unbelievable" stores of arms, mainly Soviet (but also some of Western including American manufacture), which Chief of Staff Eitan confirms must have been built up since the cease fire of July 1981. More and more quantities continue to be exposed. Scores of trucks will be busy for many weeks, day after day, shipping these arms to Israel; and nobody yet knows what volume of arms is stored in Beirut and the north.
Only a tiny fraction of these arms could possibly be required for terrorist operations, even on an international scale. The volume and professional variety of these arms relate to needs far beyond the capacity of the PLO. They could be intended only for a considerable force from abroad, whether from Arab countries, like Libya, South Yemen or Algeria, which have no frontier with Israel, or from eastern bloc states like Cuba or East Germany, already expert in the despatch of Soviet surrogate expeditionary forces. What is certain is that Operation Peace for Galilee has not only achieved peace for Galilee, but has also destroyed the foundations of a formidable new front with immense destructive power in the war planned against Israel by the coalition of Arab states.
With all eyes focused on Lebanon, on the PLO and on Syria, and with minds boggling at the magnitude of events, little attention has been paid to the other Arab states. Special attention should indeed be paid to Egypt. What should Egypt's reaction be at this stage, with Israel poised at the gates of Beirut to ensure the departure of the PLO from Beirut and from Lebanon?
After seven years of the most horrendous bloodshed loosed upon Lebanon by the Syrians and the PLO, after obliteration of Lebanon's independence and its domination by Syrian power and PLO gangsterism, Israel has opened up the prospect of internal peace and the honorable restoration of that independence. Syria's wings have been clipped and it is clear that its imperialistic ambitions will now be checked. Moreover, Lebanon, which has no quarrel with Israel over territory or anything else, can now freely establish relations with this country and add another brick to the building of peace in the area, which Egypt claims to have initiated by its treaty with Israel.
The revelation that the PLO is an organization of barbarians not only towards Jewish civilians, but no less to Arabs (Moslem as well as Christian), must have been brought to the attention of the Egyptian leaders in their own intelligence reports from Lebanon, as well as by the tremendous wave of gratitude that welcomed the Israeli army and the visible flood of refugees returning, after years of PLO imposed exile, to the safety now afforded by Israel's presence. All this should surely have moved the Egyptians to welcome the prospect of a peaceful completion of the salutary revolution Israel has all but accomplished in Lebanon.
Given the Egyptian much vaunted concern for the Palestinians, they should surely shudder at the thought that they have been campaigning for the installation of the PLO thugs as the Palestinians' rulers. Whatever the ultimate outcome in Palestine, they should surely now be pleased from their own point of view, at the prospect opened up at the gates of Beirut, that an authentic local Palestinian leadership, free of terrorist pressures, might now emerge. This is the picture that should be in the minds of all those who believed, or allowed themselves to be persuaded, that the Egyptians, because they signed a "peace treaty" with Israel, are really and truly interested in peace in the region and in a living Israel.
This has always been an illusion; and Egypt's behaviour and reactions have been quite, quite different. The swift advance of the IDF destroyed all the PLO bases and laid bare the astronomical stocks of arms it was preparing, inflicting tremendous blows on Syria. It stunned and shocked the whole Arab world, and not least Egypt. Nowhere, in fact, were the early Israeli announcements about the IDF's limited objective of a 40 km. security belt more successfully misleading (deliberately or otherwise) than in the Arab world.
Far from manifesting a quiet satisfaction at the breaking of the power of the PLO, at the cessation of its atrocities against the Lebanese people, and at the possibility of a restored independent Lebanon, the Egyptians have been moving heaven and earth to prevent the final consummation of the prospect. There are indeed clear elements of panic in their behaviour.
They are engaged in a last minute effort to prevent the PLO from being forced to leave Beirut, to keep the terrorist organization in being as a living entity, and to "force" Israel to leave Lebanon. Egypt in short is desperately trying to save the PLO (and the devil take the Lebanese).
Moreover Israel's success in putting an end to the cosy situation of bloodshed and anarchy that had reigned in Lebanon has been met by veiled threats from Cairo. President Mubarak has said that the autonomy negotiations would not be renewed unless Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and deputy Foreign Minister Butros Ghali (heading the diplomatic offensive against Israel) has even threatened Israel with "economic sanctions." These somewhat toothless pronouncements are being outdone by a renewed campaign of vilification of Israel in the most extreme terms in the Egyptian press.
Nobody should be in the least surprised. Egypt and the PLO are both parts of the same spectrum. The PLO is first and foremost an arm of the Arab states. It was sponsored by them, financed, armed and trained by one or another of them, and given shelter and diplomatic cover by all of them, as required. It has been cultivated, and indeed recognized, as the thrusting sword of the Arab nation for the elimination of the alien, infidel Jewish state. Its task has been to keep the kettle of violence boiling against the day when it will be possible and necessary (failing Israeli suicide) to launch the final attack upon Israel across all its borders at once.
Egypt and the rest of the Arab world are still vibrating feverishly in consternation and confusion at Israel's blow to this long term strategy, and the war in Lebanon has provided the people of Israel, unexpectedly, with a new warning of Egypt's aims.