It has been interesting to see how much activity has been happening in the Levantine region lately, but what is most remarkable of all is how little Arab rage has accompanied the Israeli missions in Gaza and Lebanon. As usual, the usual suspects lined up in the UN to denounce Israel, and as usual the US came to the rescue. Despite the rhetoric of “moderation” and “restraint,” however, it is remarkable how much President Bush has gotten away with his firm statements in support of Israel’s right to defend itself. Equally eye-opening have been the remarks from a Kuwaiti newspaper, and other comments from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt that have severely criticized both Hamas and Hezbollah for starting the last round of conflict.
The right of Israel to defend itself is one I entirely agree with, strange as the current activity in Lebanon is. On the one hand, it certainly seems that in attacking Lebanon’s capital city, the Israelis are barking up the wrong tree. Wouldn’t it make more sense just to flatten every mountain in southern Lebanon, making it impossible for militants to operate there? [Update: July 17th: this is now happening.] Or perhaps to attack Hezbollah’s offices in the neighborhood pupeteer’s shop, Damascus? Instead, Israel is taking out Hezbollah offices in the suburbs of Beirut.
I have a lot of sympathy for the Lebanese, because they have just elected a democratic government, and have just finished, or have almost finished, throwing off the yoke of their Syrian masters. Israel tells them to disarm Hezbollah, but then bombs the roads and bridges that the army must travel on to do so.
On the other hand, I also have a lot of sympathy for the Israelis, and Lebanon wasn’t going to disarm Hezbollah anyway. Northern Israeli towns have been getting shelled off and on from Lebanese territory for decades. Tiberias, Safad, Nahariya, Haifa: I know those towns. I’ve been in each of them, and in the case of Safad, I was there for three weeks some years ago while on an archaeological dig. One day after I left one northern city, it was shelled. Israel cannot allow Hezbollah to fire at the north with impunity. In this regard, I agree with a statement made by Putin recently, in which he said that he felt Israel was pursuing wider goals than the mere rescuing of the two kidnapped soldiers.
The goals the Israelis are pursuing in Lebanon include sending a message to the Middle East that they will not continue to take terrorism lying down. They hope to discourage neighboring regimes from supporting and sympathizing with those who commit terrorist attacks against Israel. In this regard, attacking Lebanon involves substantially less risk than an attack on Damascus would. As such, Israel is using Lebanon as a proxy for attacks on Syria and Iran, just as they have been using the country against Israel. Finally, and most crucially, Israel is also attacking the local problem itself in the most strategic areas: its supply lines, public relations, organizational structure, and leadership. These are areas the Israelis must win if they hope to avoid disaster.
Given the fact that Hezbollah has now targeted Haifa, Israel knows it cannot let up, otherwise Hezbollah might succeed in bringing in much worse weapons or weapon heads with which to attack the city, Israel’s third largest, or others. The attack on Haifa should, incidentally, have serious repercussions for Israeli politics, as Haifa is the home of the liberal intelligentsia, the the bedrock of support for the left-center Labor Party. It is probably fortunate that Hezbollah has chosen to attack Haifa now, while the Israelis can use the opportunity to learn from the attack and prevent a worse one.
Given what is transpiring in the Middle East nowadays, including some welcome condemnations of Hamas and Hezbollah from Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, one can hope that this endless cycle of violence will not continue. Ultimately, however, the “cycle” is kept going by an international community, including those three countries, that condones terrorism, winks at the Arab world’s stated wishes for Israel’s destruction, and in the name of “restraint” refuses to allow Israel to press for victory against a foe that openly calls for, and fights for, its destruction. Writing on the subject of the hand-wringing, spineless, and intellectually barren international community, a recent WSJ editorial closed powerfully:
Israel can and will handle the immediate military threats on its two borders. But ultimately there will be no resolution in Lebanon and Gaza until the regimes in Syria and Iran believe they will pay a price for the wars they are waging through their proxies. The referral this week of Iran’s nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council is a start, although we have little confidence it will lead anywhere. The White House has cited Syria and Iran as the culprits behind this week’s events, but more forceful words and action are called for. The Middle East stands on the cusp of its worst crisis in a generation, and this is no time for formulaic statements calling for “restraint from both sides.”
UPDATE: I think that this article, notwithstanding the writer’s hangup over “proportionate response,” is among the most appropriate the BBC has ever written on the subject of Israel and the US.
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