“Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal”: Guardian Mid-East editor misleads on roots of ’82 Lebanon War

A February, 2012 piece by the Guardian’s Middle East editor, Ian Black, which attempted to draw an analogy between Israel’s 1982 war against the PLO in Lebanon and current tensions with Iran, suggested that both scenarios demonstrate the Israeli propensity to cynically use a phony “pretext” to start a dangerous war.

Black wrote the following in the final paragraphs of his story:

“…In June 1982 an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to London by the renegade Palestinian faction led by the Iraqi-backed Abu Nidal provided the pretext for war against Yasser Arafat’s PLO in Lebanon, despite a ceasefire that had held for nearly a year. Ariel Sharon, then defence minister, was pressing to attack and persuaded the prime minister, Menachem Begin, to go ahead

“Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal,” Begin reportedly replied as his security chiefs explained the crucial detail and significance of the London attack. Full scale invasion, thousands of dead and years of war and occupation were the result.” [emphasis added]

Black, evidently delighted by the chance to cite the alleged use, by an Israeli leader, of the Yiddish-inspired verbal tradition (using “sh” or “shm” to dismiss something with mockery) in order to, himself, dismiss Israel’s motivation for entering the war, evoked the the same alleged quote – which, interestingly, has alternately been attributed to Israel’s then army chief, Rafael Eitan – in his piece on Friday, ‘January 4, ‘Arabs are losing faith in America: Lessons from Lebanon 1982‘.

Black, in an effort to buttress his narrative that the ’82 war was the beginning of the Arabs’ disenchantment with an America unwilling, evidently, to check Israel’s reckless aggression with a stern and mighty hand, writes the following:

“The war began in a sense in London, where, on June 3, a Palestinian gunman shot the Israeli ambassador, Shlomo Argov. It was clear from the start that the hit team was not from the PLO but from the dissident Iraqi-backed outfit run by Abu Nidal, Yasser Arafat‘s sworn enemy. Israel‘s prime minister, Menachem Begin, egged on by his defence minister, Ariel Sharon, went to war against the PLO in Lebanon anyway. “Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal,” another Israeli minister said.” [emphasis added]

Black’s breezy dismissal of Israel’s decision to enter the Lebanon Civil War (which, by 1982, had already been raging for seven years) is historically unserious.

No, the war didn’t, “in a sense”, start in London.

The roots of the Lebanon war lay in the bloody expulsion of the PLO from Jordan, their relocation to Lebanon in 1971 and subsequent attacks against the Jewish state by the Palestinian terrorist group.

In March 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel, hijacked a bus and ended up murdering 34 Israeli civilians on board.  In response, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist bases, pushing the PLO away from the southern border.  The IDF shortly withdrew and allowed UN forces to enter, but UN troops were unable to prevent PLO terrorists from re-infiltrating the region and acquiring new, and more dangerous arms. 

A series of PLO attacks and Israeli reprisals ended briefly due to a U.S. brokered ceasefire agreement in July 1981, but the PLO repeatedly violated the cease-fire over the ensuing 11 months(Between July 1981 and June 1982 26 Israelis were killed and 264 injured.)

Meanwhile, over 15,000 PLO fighters were encamped in locations throughout Lebanon, armed with an extensive cache of weaponry – which included mortars, Katyusha rockets, an antiaircraft network and even surface-to-air missiles.

Israel was unable to stem the growth of the PLO militia, and the frequency of the attacks had forced thousands of Israeli residents in the Galilee to flee their homes and take refuge in shelters.

So, while the final provocation occurred in June 1982 when a Palestinian terrorist group led by Abu Nidal attempted to assassinate Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Black’s suggestion that Israel may have cynically exploited the assassination as a pretext break a peaceful “truce”, in order to launch an unnecessary war, is patently untrue.

The casus belli for Operation Peace for the Galilee was self-evident, building for years, and needed no “pretext”.

What country on earth would permit a terrorist group (with an increasingly deadly arsenal of weaponry) on its border to launch frequent terror attacks against its citizens without a robust military response?

Today, as in 1982, the Jewish state can not afford to shy away from confronting clear and present dangers it faces, and, more importantly, need not morally justify – to Ian Black and others who evidently fancy themselves sophisticated political sages – a robust defense of its national interests and its citizens’ lives.