In its' 58 year history, Israel has been more than capable of defending itself. In this latest spiral of violence, it is worth pointing out that the provocateurs of this action are Hamas and Hezbollah and their state sponsors in Iran and Syria. As the violence extends deeper into Lebanon and Gaza and once again threatens the region and the world, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to be lashing out Bush style. The Israeli government is correct both politically and morally to punish the murderers and kidnappers of Israeli soldiers through the cross-border raids of terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza. But to declare that this was an act of war by the Lebanese government is a mistake.
To obliterate the constant menace of Hezbollah requires striking them in southern Lebanon and in South Beirut where their offices and power bases are located. This is how the Israeli army uprooted the P.L.O. from Jordan in 1971. After the P.L.O. launched assaults on Israel, King Hussein, tired of retaliatory attacks by the Israeli army, expelled Yasir Arafat and his colleagues from Jordanian territory and joined in peace efforts sponsored by the U.S. saying, "There must be peace, or war." The Lebanese government has announced the risky proposal of sending the regular army to take control of the South. After fifteen years of civil war and the occupation by Syrian troops, Lebanon's government is fragile and lacks the backing of the other Arab states. And their army may not only be outgunned by Hezbollah, it is questionable whether Lebanese soldiers would fight their countrymen who are in league with the militants. Israel would do well to remember that only last year, the Lebanese people conducted massive street demonstrations to force Syria to remove their army. Outside of Israel, this was the only popular uprising favoring democracy in the Middle East that I can remember.
Although Israel has dropped leaflets warning civilians in Lebanon to stay clear of Hezbollah's installations, their massive response plays into the hands of Iran and Syria, who want war. Every civilian death is a tool for jihadists to "prove" that Israel devalues Arab life and is a recruitment bonus for terror organizations. For Israel to bomb Lebanon's infrastructure and fuel depots punishes the wrong people and Hezbollah knows it. It offers the opportunity for jihadists to further radicalize the Lebanese and moderate Arabs in the area against any peace plan with Israel. While U.S. troops are bogged down in Iraq trying to create a democracy in the Middle East, the one successful democracy in the region is fighting on two fronts. The terrorists know they cannot defeat Israel militarily. They are hoping that Israel's response will be unfocused and indiscriminate enough to rally sympathizers to their cause and create the wider war against the West that they desire. Al Qaeda's own propaganda states, "Today London, Paris, and Madrid; tomorrow Los Angeles and Melbourne."
One thing the current crimes by Hamas and Hezbollah should lay bare is the fiction that the problem has been Israel's occupation of Arab land since the 1967 war. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip unilaterally, Hamas had the opportunity to actually govern Palestinian territory. But instead, they used it as a base from which to attack Israel with rockets and bombs. The Palestinians could have a state tomorrow in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem by recognizing Israel's sovereignty and reigning in the terrorists, but their desire to kill Jews seems to be greater than their desire to live next to the Jews. Now we know why Yasir Arafat could not deliver for his people in 1999. Had he accepted a peace agreement with Israel, he would likely have suffered the same fate as Anwar Sadat. In an early video appearance, Osama bin Laden urged jihadists to kill Americans and Jews. He never mentioned Israelis by nationality. The underlying message to Hezbollah and their Iranian sponsors is to never make peace with Israel. Their goal is not a Palestinian state that would co-exist with Israel, but one that would replace Israel. Is there any question that if Iran were to acquire the technology to produce a nuclear weapon, or a dirty bomb, they would use it on Israel?
As the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. told his Lebanese counterpart yesterday, both Israel and Lebanon will benefit from the destruction of Hezbollah on Israel's border. The Bush administration's newly discovered interest in diplomacy will not work here. The war in Iraq has cost the U.S. its' traditional roll as a fair broker of peace because of wide distrust in the Arab world. Critics who claim the war in Iraq is really to further protect Israel will have to live with the irony that the Israelis had to approach Putin and the Russians to exert any diplomatic authority over Iran. The Muslim world was already a tinderbox before George Bush set a fire in Iraq like David Koresh in Waco. Now that the Islamic reactionaries have become emboldened and the region is ablaze again, we can only hope the flames will be contained by responsible diplomacy before they engulf us all.