Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The war in Lebanon

Commentary by David Reinhard


David Reinhard

First, the good news: Calls for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah went nowhere at last week's confab of global leaders in Rome. The misguided diplomacy of moral equivalence and just-stop-the-killing appeasement failed.

Thanks to the United States and Great Britain, Israel won't be acting in the teeth of a united global community as it continues to fight the war on terrorism in the Israeli-Lebanese theater. It has more time to declaw Hezbollah—and thus create the conditions for future diplomacy and maybe real peace.

In addition to leaving much of Hezbollah's infrastructure in place across southern Lebanon, an immediate cease-fire would have conceded the notion of moral equivalence between Israel and Hezbollah and its benefactors in Iran and Syria. Nothing would have been more shameful—or damaging to the prospects for lasting peace in the region and beyond.

Seeing Israel and Hezbollah as simply two opposing forces that need to be stopped from fighting first misses the way this conflict started. After pulling out of south Lebanon six years ago, Israel simply wanted to live in peace behind its U.N.-recognized northern border. What the Jewish state got was something else: First came the creation of Hezbollah's well-armed state within a state and a worthless U.N. resolution promising to disarm Hezbollah. Finally came the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and air attacks on Israeli cities two weeks ago.

Is Israel supposed to stop its military operations against a terrorist group that still has tens of thousands of rockets and missiles—rockets and missiles more powerful and sophisticated than anyone anticipated—because some in the "international community" think it's time for the two sides to cease and desist? Can Israel afford to bet again that the international community will see to it that Hezbollah is disarmed? Especially when Hezbollah's chief sponsor, Iran, has a president who talks about wiping Israel off the map and a program to develop nuclear weapons?

A favorite theme of the moral equivalence crowd is civilian casualties. It's true, both sides produce civilian casualties, but there the similarity—the equivalence—ends. For Hezbollah, each civilian casualty inflicted on Israel is a deliberate triumph; the terrorists hail the killing of innocent Israeli civilians.

For Israel, each civilian casualty is a tragedy and failure that relies on the hard fact that Hezbollah relies on blending in with the civilian population. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni couldn't have been clearer about the lack of moral equivalence in her interview with the German magazine Spiegel. "I very much regret the civilian victims ... ," she said. "[W]e are defending ourselves against anyone who attacks us and use every means possible to prevent hitting civilians. The Hezbollah, however, intentionally aims its weapons at the houses of uninvolved citizens, at women and children. Israel only attacks areas where, according to our knowledge, there are terrorists. The problem is that the Hezbollah hides some of its weapons in apartment houses."

In fact, consider what Israel does to minimize harm to innocent Lebanese. It uses Lebanese television, radio, fliers and even automated calls to warn Lebanese residents in advance of military operations. That's before Israel provides humanitarian aid to the Lebanese victims of this conflict.

It's worth noting what Hezbollah was doing while world leaders were gathering in Rome: firing rockets at civilian populations in northern Israel. On Tuesday, July 25, it fired 90 rockets. The casualties included a 15-year-old girl who was killed when a rocket struck a home in a Muslim neighborhood in a Galilee village and a 78-year-old Haifa resident who suffered a heart attack while trying to reach a bomb shelter. On Wednesday, another 100 rockets hit northern Israel.

Did Hezbollah issue warnings or statements of regret? No, one of its leaders promised Wednesday to soon fire missiles even deeper into Israel.

Which suggests Israel has more work to do before there's any cease-fire. As Israeli Deputy Consul-General Omer Caspi said Wednesday while visiting The Oregonian's editorial board, if Israel stops short of degrading Hezbollah's capability, "it will be the end of stability and chances for peace for decades."

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