Sunday, July 16, 2006

Defensible Action by Israel

How quickly things change. It was only a year ago that Ariel Sharon was making a historic pullout from the Gaza Strip and it appeared to me that a future peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict was at least not an impossibility. Now, the Middle East is engaged in its worst crisis since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon a quarter-century ago. Just last month I was reading From Beirut to Jerusalem, a history of that conflict--now its deja vu on the front pages.

Surprisingly, many people are blaming Israel for this latest flareup, an accusation I believe is unfounded. I think the U.S. position that Israel has the right to stop terrorist attacks (while not using disproportionate force) is a correct one. The current situation is different from those in the past, when I would generally take a more moderate tone with regards to the players. This time the instigator of troubles is very clear--Iran is fully culpable for fomenting instability in the region. This comes after Israel has shown good faith with its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. This comes after Syria ended a decades-long occupation of Lebanon, giving that country its first chance for democracy and freedom to succeed.

But those signs of progress were too much to stomach for Iran and Syria, of course. Hence their war by proxy against Israel through the extremist groups Hezbollah (in Lebanon) and Hamas (in Palestine). Hezbollah, operating as an autonomous entity in Lebanon, makes a mockery of the institution of self-government in that country, and its actions bring suffering upon the Lebanese people. Likewise with Hamas, who lets it militant wing run unchecked while it neglects the basic operations of running a government.

Robin Wright writes in today's Washington Post that, according to U.S. estimates, Hezbollah receives "$100 million annually from Iran in goods, cash, and arms, including an estimated 13,000 rockets and missiles." That malevolent sponsor also happens to be closing in on attaining a nuclear bomb. Faced with enemies with capabilities like that, I echo David Brooks' incredulity that people think Israel is "overreacting." Israel should sit still and do nothing all this while? Of course not. And let's not act like the U.S. can't pick a horse to back here. The Islamist groups and their state sponsors hate the West and are impediments to the spread of freedom and democracy. Israel's actions against its enemies are in line with U.S. interests.

Yet it is important to remember the many, many innocent Lebanese and Palestinian civilians who are victims of this war. What is sad is that they are paying the price for the terrorists that operate from their land. These terrorists know full well the consequences their actions will have on their innocent countrymen, but that doesn't matter to them--only jihad does. Their destructive behavior dooms the people on whose behalf they claim to be fighting.

In this conflict, there is much suffering on both sides. When I see pictures of bombed out buildings and bridges in Beirut, I feel terrible, as I do when I see rockets landing in Haifa. That doesn't change the fact, however, that there is a clear right and wrong. Israel has the right and responsibility to protect its citizens by targeting its enemies. Those enemies aren't just Israel's enemies, they are the enemies of progress and a peaceful future in the Middle East, and everyone would be better off without them.

Is it possible that we can achieve that? Yes, but not with missiles and artillery shells. David Ignatius wrote in Friday's Post about the basic steps needed for a proper resolution to this mess. First of all, this conflict must not be the U.S. and Israel versus the Muslim world, because we are trying to bring the silent majority of moderate Muslims to confront the extremists in charge. The weak central governments that are being eclipsed by the non-state actors must be strengthened: a strong and responsive Palestinian Authority must exist so that it is not hostage to the Hamas militia, and an already pro-Western Lebanese government led by Fouad Siniora must be helped so that it can rein in Hezbollah.

The U.S. should provide assistance in this endeavor, because we--the U.S., Israel, and the Lebanese and Palestinian people--share a common enemy: the extremists. Once they are defeated, then we can look forward to a more hopeful future in the Middle East


Hafiz said...

Dude, you fail to realize that nearly all of the casualties perpetrated by the Israelis are civilians. The Lebanese people are taking the brunt of this conflict. Bridges and even Beirut's airport are being bombed. Defensible? Open your eyes, young man. If just Hezbollah had been targeted perhaps that would be the case. But again Israel seems to not care who it hits. The Lebanese people, even the ones who are pro-Western (the ones who rallied around Hariri as a martyr, kicked Syria out, and sucked up to the West) are sure to resent all Western powers for allowing Israel to indiscriminantly attack their country and make every one of them a target. These so called "non-state actors" you speak of are revered by everyone where they are, and I'm pretty sure Hezbollah is gaining and not losing support for their efforts. Hezbollah ended an occupation by a foreign state which had committed war crimes. The same state seems to have not learned its lessons. Read, perhaps it may give you some insight.

ABT said...

Dude, you've got to stop linking to those pay-only NY Times articles :( Anyway, Rob X and I know a Cornellian trying to get out of Lebanon right now so it's hard to approach the situation objectively, but it does seem like Israel has a tendency to have the right idea but then carry it out recklessly with a lot of negative consequences for civilians. But I really don't know. I do think Israel can justifiably defend itself, but it's quite a conundrum how to do that without doing this.

Jay said...

Hafiz, please don't mistake my post as out-and-out advocacy of war. I prefer peace as much as the next guy, but in this case firmly believe Israel's right to respond is justified. If its neighboring governments can't control their territory, Israel must step in to ensure its own security. Exercising infinite patience is not an option here, and with the lack of a viable diplomatic avenue, Israel unfortunately has to respond militarily. Honestly, if you were in their place, could you rationally act in any other way?

With regards to warfare and the impact on civilians, you present an impossible case. There is no easy way to separate the Hezbollah guerrilas from amongst the Lebanese people. They operate from the same neighborhoods and they hide their rockets and missiles not in easily identifiable forts or other clearly delineated military installations, but rather in civilian homes and garages. Israel, with no choice to go after Hezbollah, will unfortunately hurt Lebanese civilians in the course of fighting the guerrillas. In fact, this makes me all the more mad at Hezbollah for exposing their innocent countrymen to danger. These bastards know that civilian casualties will inflame the population against Israel and solidify Hezbollah's position. I only hope that the ordinary people, the real victims here, realize what is going on and get the strength to sideline the extremists. In the mean time, Israel must proceed with the utmost caution to avoid looking like indiscriminate attackers--I am sure they are already more than aware of this. With regards to attacking infrastructure like bridges, I know it is regrettable, but in war it is a necessity to hinder the enemy's ability to mobilize, organize, and execute. By the way, Israel says the airport was bombed because it served as a central hub for transporting weapons and supplies to Hezbollah...

Anyway, according to this al-Jazeera column,my hopes are at least partially founded that some Lebanese are tired off being led down a futile path by Hezbollah. Especially encouraging is the way some Lebanese feel about how Hezbollah must be made subordinate to the (democratically chosen) Lebanese government. "Whatever the agenda of Hezbollah is, it is not necessarily the agenda of the Lebanese people," says a man quoted in the article. "They have not been designated by the Lebanese people to decide what is best for the country."

Amen. I think people realize this is not the same Hezbollah of two decades ago; here it is easier to see Hezbollah's role as provocateur in the current crisis. I hope there are many Lebanese like that man quoted, though I understand that there will never be a Lebanese movement against the extremists while Israel is attacking. Hence, I hope a cease-fire comes soon.

Let's try and come up with a solution to this problem that works for everyone. I think what needs to happen is that an international group is going have to broker a cease-fire, enable Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah, and have Israel withdraw to proper and defendable borders. Better pray that this happens soon, or we're all going to see a lot more unfortunate images on the nightly news.
* * *

Andrew, I feel your pain about the subscriber-only New York Times columns. What I would recommend doing is typing the author and name of the column into Google; there are unofficial blogs and other sites which republish the restricted access columns for free and available to all. While the official position of Citizens Band remains pro-subscription, I think this work-around might benefit you. :-)

Regarding your Lebanese friend, I hope he or she is ok. I do wonder, though, if this person has managed to take any interesting photos; at the least, I'm sure there's a story worth telling. I guess it's weird that this is one of the first thoughts that goes into my head, but in this era of digital cameras, blogs, Facebook, et al., it'd be almost a shame not to have some record, no?

ABT said...

Thanks for the advice about the columns, I'll try that! I should clarify I guess, our friend isn't actually Lebanese but just an American visiting, unfortunately at the wrong time. He's been updating facebook frequently so it's good to have that reassurance. Though I haven't seen more than a couple pictures, I'm sure we'll have more soon :)

Jay said...

A few quick items of note before I hit the hay...

FRIEDMAN in today's New York Times:
"On the peace front, let’s see, Israel gets out of Lebanon and Gaza, and what is the response of Hamas and Hezbollah? Build schools, roads and jobs in their recovered territories? Nope. Respect the border with Israel, but demand that Israel continue to withdraw from the West Bank? Nope. The response is to shell Israel from Gaza and abduct Israeli soldiers from Lebanon. Hamas and Nasrallah replaced the formula 'land for peace' with 'land for war,' said the former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross."
KRAUTHAMMER from today's Washington Post:
"The other Arabs have spoken, too. In a stunning development, the 22-member Arab League criticized Hezbollah for provoking the current crisis. It is unprecedented for the Arab League to criticize any Arab party while it is actively engaged in hostilities with Israel. But the Arab states know that Hezbollah, a Shiite militia in the service of Persian Iran, is a threat not just to Lebanon but to them as well. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have openly criticized Hezbollah for starting a war on what is essentially Iran's timetable (to distract attention from Iran's pending referral to the Security Council for sanctions over its nuclear program). They are far more worried about Iran and its proxies than about Israel. They are therefore eager to see Hezbollah disarmed and defanged."
THE DAILY STAR of Lebanon reports today that an Israeli major general says "the fighting in Lebanon will end within a few weeks." His comments give support to the idea that Israel is not seeking to occupy Lebanon as it did back in '82. THE GUARDIAN (UK) says that Israel seems to have the "green light" from the U.S. and Britain, temporarily at least.

By the way, it should be noted that the same Daily Star article points out that the number of Lebanese civilian casualties thus far is above 230, while the number of confirmed Hezbollah killed is only 5. Yikes! The Wikipedia entry on the Israel-Lebanon conflict, I believe citing AP reports, says 12 Israeli soldiers have been killed along with 13 civilians.

Hafiz said...

All of these op-ed writers you are infatuated with so much are just like the idiot pundits on all the 24-hour news networks that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert mock every day. This isn't going to last a few weeks, there's going to be a "Security Zone!" Defensible? [url=] I still advise you to open your eyes, young man. [/url]

John Brooks said...

Sorry, for the error first off with the double post.

Second, I earlier deleted my post as those who know me, know that politics are one things that I'm very heated in, and have tried to distance myself from since high school.

*Though we must remember, what is Hezbollah's goal and sole purpose of existance?: The destruction of Israel. Is this just, is the firing of rockets into Haifa and Northern Israeli towns just?

The deaths and casualities of innocent Israeli citizens by Katyusha rockets, and kidnapping of Israeli soliders? We must answer that question, what about it?

*No country can sit back why there people and country are tormented by Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

*Yes, it's is pathetic and sick that Hezbollah hides in apartment buildings, by placing there HQ there and places their rockets near civilian outposts like with the UN outposts and near Lebanese cities, towns, and villages to maximize civilian deaths to turn the tide against Israeli.

*Another reason why Israel is taking less brunt of this is because of the missle defense systems with the AH-64D Apache's that can locate and destroy many of the missles before they hit Israel. Plus, cities such as Haifa, Tel Aviv, and the such have warning systems that warn them before unlike Beirut.

*I feel terribly for all of the victims of the war on both sides, but Israel has no choice. These terrorists organizations exist for one reason: For the destruction of Israel.

Hamas has said it doesn't recognize the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords and vows the destruction of Israel.

*UN Resoultion 1559 called for the disbanding and disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias in Lebanon, which Hezbollah is. Almost 2 years later, the Lebanese government has failed to exert control over their southern territory or disband Hezbollah which they consider a resistance movement.

This is the problem, Lebanon has done nothing to solve the problem.

*In conclusion, I want to see a peace here too, but I want to see a lasting peace. Not a flawed peace plan that will send us back here a month, 6 months, or a year from now with Hezbollah armed and striking rockets into Israel.

*The U.S. should provide assistance into this process as we have so far, with the a map for peace.

We need to help strengthen the weak governments such as the Palestinian Authority that is held hostage because of a Hamas election sweep. Also we must help Lebanon with Hezbollah so they can exert control over their territory so we can prevent these types of conflicts.

Though it must not only be us in this process: Europe, Middle East powers such as(Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia), and the UN must step up to the table also and help with this.

Because we all share the same enemy, the fundamental terrorists. Only by defeating them, can we hope to see a true change in the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

hey jay, um okay i'm not trying to restate everything that's already been said, and it's possible that i don't know what i'm talking about, butt...i agree with your second post b/c it doesn't seem to me that attacking civilians in Lebanon is an effective way of destroying hezbollah or fundamentalist movements in general. hezbollah provides the lebanese with a government, with social services, and with an illusory protection. if the lebanese are attacked by israel, i think they're much more likely to hate israel than to hate hezbollah; if they're helping hezbollah survive in this war by hiding their weapons, soldiers, etc, that means they're on hezbollah's side. what you said about lebanese supporting their original govt and not hezbollah...i wonder if those are the sentiments of most lebanese or just a select few; either way, i think that a significant number of lebanese would support hezbollah even more during wartime and hence join their forces. a war right now could temporarily disable hezbollah, but i think that it would just fuel fundamentalism overall b/c it'd make more lebanese (such as those that support hezbollah already) hate israel and hence join the other side, which happens to be fundamentalists; people who may not be fundamentalist terrorists at heart would become fundamentalists because that is the party opposing israel, and they would want revenge and protection, both of which they'd get by joining the fundamentalist movement. perhaps i'm just rambling and don't know what i'm talking about, but it seems like the only effective way to destroy an organization like hezbollah is to first of all somehow remove it's fuel, which appears to be foreign money in this case, nad second of all give its people (Lebanese civilians) protection and basic social services (food, shelter, medical care) to get back on their feet with their own govt so they have an alternative to the terrorists...and i guess all of that is something the UN could/should be involved in...which is why i agree that a cease-fire some time soon would be a good thing.....just a thought -neha

ABT said...

Dude, where'd all the posting go? I don't care about sports, give me politics and economics!

Anonymous said...

Israel is the major power, and holds the upper hand.

As the major power it is, or should be, entirely capable of controlling the pace & nature of this interaction.

The fact that controls in these hands leads to 10:1 ratios of Palestinian civilians being killed for every Israeli --

Is indicative either of supreme strategic incompetence, or wilful political atrocity.

Are the Jewish race, unable to act like adult human beings & cease their squabbling justification and slanted arguing?

Before people argue with this.. grow up. You need to do better than slanted self-justifying argument, try behaving like adults & decent human beings -- if you *genuinely* wish to live in peace.

You have the upper hand. You have the power. Nobody else.

Try acting like you deserve it.

-- Thomas