Seoul Hero

Realizing “The Hero’s Journey” in Seoul, South Korea

On Israel’s Recent Activities

Filed under: Politics — Sunday, July 16th, 2006 @ 10:54 pm

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.


  1. San Nakji:

    Israel can never win a PR victory by killing civilians. I certainly agree with their attacks against Hizbolla, but I cannot agree with their attacks on general Lebanon infrastructure. Terrorism is as terrorism does to paraphrase Forrest Gump. I can never condone the killing of civilians and I am sickened at the excuses put forward by the Israeli government. I am reminded of other regimes who punish the death of one of their soldiers by the deaths of hundreds of the other side. I don’t want Israel to be this kind of regime.

  2. Nathan:

    I agree with much of what you say, San Nakji, particularly as concerns hitting infrastructure. I have to note, though, that it is impossible to fight a war without killing civilians. In this regard, when Israel causes “collateral damage,” it is always the case that the civilians were not the targets, but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Actually, by “PR,” what I was referring to was the targeting of Hezbollah’s TV and radio stations. As for the whole rock throwing boys vs. tanks stereotype of the Intifadeh, the Israelis have to shoot. Here’s what happens when they don’t: Ramallah. I don’t know if you remember the story, but two Israeli soldiers took a wrong turn and ended out in the town that houses the PA headquarters. They were pursued by a mob and fled to the police station for safety. The police were unable to protect them, and they were tortured and beaten to death. One man was thrown out of an upper story window, and another was doused with gasoline and burned alive. After one of the ring-leaders had finished killing one of the Israeli soldiers, he raised his bloody hands to the adulation of the gathering crowd chanting “God is great!” That picture is still on my hard-drive. To top it off, calls were placed by murderers of those two young conscripts by their killers to their mothers and wives, taunting them that they would never see their sons again. The entire town of Ramallah was complicit in those acts of torture and murder. That’s what many Palestinians will do to Israelis if they can, and that’s why the Israelis have to shoot at the young men who attack them. As to why Palestinians encourage young boys (and girls!) to go off and fight an enemy that largely keeps to itself is another issue entirely.)

    By contrast to Israel’s activities, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups (especially the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) intentionally blow up civilians when they send suicide bombers into packed public places like pizza restaurants, market places, and buses.

    As for what has been happening in Lebanon recently, this quote from a recent article is interesting:

    “The level of damage inflicted by Israel appeared finely calibrated. For example, a missile punched a hole in a major suspension bridge on the Beirut-Damascus road but did not destroy it, unlike less expensive bridges on the road that were brought down. An Israeli strike hit fuel depots at one of Beirut’s two power stations — sending massive fireballs and smoke into the sky — but avoided the station itself.”

    A huge range of Israel is within range of rockets that have been fired with impunity for some time, whether from Gaza or from Lebanon. The psychological strain from living in a country the size of Vancouver Island, where just entering the street is a life or death risk, and where in many places one never knows if one isn’t going to have one’s house flattened by missiles, or be kidnapped and then transported into the Gaza strip or the West Bank, must be incredible. It is simply not appropriate for most of the world, especially western countries that do not experience terrorism, to blame Israel for fighting with governments that allow terrorists to operate from their countries.

    Hezbollah and Hamas are in a war against Israel, by their own choosing. Their stated wishes for the cessation of conflict include the destruction of Israel and the expulsion of the Jewish Israelis, or their subordination under Islamic law. You can’t reason with people like that, you can only guard yourself by being stronger.

    In that regard, the only way to win a war with an implacable enemy is to destroy or maim him. If a foreign government harbours such groups, that government brings war on itself.

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