The “Iron Lady,” Britain’s former prime minister, died this week.
To be sure, Lady Margaret Thatcher deserves much of the praise being heaped on her by Jewish leaders here and in Great Britain, and by officials in Israel. For most of her stewardship of Britain, she was regarded as an ally of Israel and a friend of the Jewish community of Great Britain. If not for her bringing Jews into leadership positions in the Conservative Party, Baron Andrew Feldman most likely would not be the co-chair of the Tories today.
There is, however, another side to Thatcher’s record that is not being mentioned. There was a time when she accurately could have been labeled the Great Hypocrite.
On April 2, 1982, Argentinian troops invaded the offshore Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Argentina laid claim to the islands in 1833, when Britain seized them for itself. Now, 149 years later, it sent its troops to take back the islands, inhabited by more penguins than people.
Even as intense diplomatic negotiations got under way, Thatcher prepared for war. Supporting its cause was the fact that a majority of the 2,500 or so islanders wanted to remain with Britain. That is understandable; Argentina at the time was under the thumb of a cruel and oppressive military junta that in today’s world would stand guilty of crimes against humanity.
In a matter of days, Thatcher dispatched what she told Parliament on April 14 was “a formidable force, comprising two aircraft carriers, five guided missile destroyers, seven frigates, an assault ship with five landing ships, together with supporting vessels. The composition of the force and the speed with which it was assembled and put to sea clearly demonstrate our determination” to reach a peaceful settlement.
She said Britain wanted a peaceful resolution but insisted that war had to remain an option. The “argument of no force at any price” was simply out of the question, she said.
In the end, Britain landed 9,000 troops on the islands. After 74 days, 908 dead, and several thousand wounded, Argentina surrendered on June 14, 1982.
Eight days earlier, on June 6, Israeli troops crossed into Lebanon for “Operation Peace for Galilee,” the First Lebanon War.
The Palestine Liberation Organization had occupied portions of southern Lebanon for over a decade. Being a stone’s throw from Israeli settlements made it easy to launch terrorist raids into Israel and to rain down missiles on nearby kibbutzim and towns.
By 1981, Israel had established a strategic relationship with Maronite Christian forces in South Lebanon and maintained forward bases there. The June 6 “incursion” was meant to end the PLO threat against northern Israel and the Maronites of South Lebanon once and for all.
Thatcher, still fighting a just war against a repressive Argentinian regime 8,000 miles away from her comfortable home at 10 Downing Street, could not see the justice in Israel’s cause. She led Europe into a virulent condemnation of Israel for doing next door what she was doing at that very moment halfway across the world.
On June 11, Thatcher wrote to Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, that “[t]here can be no justification for Israel’s action.”
On June 14, the day Argentina surrendered to Britain, she echoed that sentiment in a letter to Jordan’s King Hussein, telling him how “appalled” she was at Israel’s invasion.
She also sent a “Dear Ron” letter to President Ronald Reagan, urging him to end the special relationship with Israel and adopt what she called an “evenhanded” approach to the Middle East and its problems.
Lady Thatcher was a person of great stature who did many great things. Amid the accolades and the testimonials between now and her funeral next Wednesday, however, this part of her story also must be told.