Thursday, July 13, 2006

Collective Punishment? (or War - huh! - What is it Good For?)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past day or so, you are aware that Israel has responded to a Hezbollah cross border incursion and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers with a massive aerial barrage on Lebanon. Unsurprisingly, Israel's critics - such as the Lebanese Daily Star are referring to its reaction as "collective punishment", a phrase that has made its way into usage in analysis at such venerable sites as Salon as well. The fundamental claim appears to be that because Lebanese civillians - who clearly and inarguably had nothing to do with the Hezbollah attack - are suffering, it follows that Israel's actions are "punishment" of those civillians for the bad acts of a few.

But let's stop and think about this for a second. Israel was attacked, by a terrorist militia that the UN has said must be disarmed. That terrorist militia has - with the Lebanese government's acquiesence, if not blessing - taken up fortified positions on the Lebanese-Israeli border and has consistently fired rockets at Israeli towns and military positions. For six years - since Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon - Hezbollah has operated without even the most token of attempts at prevention from the Lebanese government or army. The Lebanese government, in fact, has no presence at its own border whatsoever, choosing to leave the border in Hezbollah's hands.

Why is it that the Lebanese government has allowed this to happen? Well, there are only two possibilities. Either they have allowed it to happen because they want it to happen or - more likely - because they felt that making the attempt to stop Hezbollah provided too much risk for too little reward. Any Lebanese attempt to dislodge Hezbollah would likely be bloody and (unless Lebanon accepted external help) unsuccessful. More, a sizable minority of Lebanon's citizens support Hezbollah, and attacking Hezbollah might result in a wider conflict. No, for Lebanon's government it was far preferable to sit back and do nothing and hope that Hezbollah would fade away over time (unlikely with Iran supplying it with $100,000,000 a year in equipment and funding, but over a couple of decades who knows what could happen). After all, leaving Hezbollah alone didn't cost Lebanon anything.

Because, in the end, the only ones threatened by Hezbollah were the Israelis. And hey, the Lebanese government could live with that.

Israel, of course, cannot. And Lebanon's refusal to even attempt to curb Hezbollah's presence and actions on the Lebanese-Israele border, and willingness to accept Israeli casualties, makes it almost as culpable in Israel's eyes as Hezbollah itself. The Israeli position on this issue should be recognizable and non-controversial - it's one that the rest of the world endorsed when the ruling government of Afghanistan refused to act against the terrorists sheltering and training there.

And so, Israel has taken its war beyond Hezbollah to Lebanon itself, not to "punish" the Lebanese civillians, but as its only method of ensuring that the Lebanese government lives up to its obligations to at least attempt to prevent the illegal attacks from its territory. Israel has done this by changing the calculus that led to Lebanese inaction in the first place. Leaving Hezbollah alone no longer only endangers Israelis. Now, it endangers the Lebanese as well.

And, with that in mind, it should be clear that Lebanon has a simple - though difficult - way to stop Israel from attacking Lebanon. End the fence sitting. Convey to Israel Lebanon's determination to live up to its responsibilities with respect to securing its border with Israel, by fighting alongside Israel and against Hezbollah.

Do that, and Lebanon will have earned the respect of the world and a just and enduring peace.


At 2:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you know my feelings on it. I'm not a fan of anything what I view as a deconstruct of the current, and that means a terrorist group right in with it.

They exist solely because any kind of retaliation in kind would be harder to hit the anonymous guerrilla, and because any kind of action in response would only be looked at as "hitting innocent civilians".

Which is exactly what they want. Governments act through terrorist organizations because they cannot themselves. Israel and the US would then have a clear target for destruction.

So I say that if they already attempt to murk the waters to deconstruct the definition of nation state by acting through terrorist organizations, then in peace time these same "nations" should not be accorded the synthetic version of equality created of nation to nation.

Let Israel have its generational whip up on its neighbors, and then let it die down.

Red States Rule.

At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're a genious!!

At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are so many inaccuracies that I don't know where to start!
First Hezbollah was created BECAUSE there was no government to protect Lebanon from Israeli agression not the other way around.
Second, trust me on this, most lebanese support Hezbollah don't fool your self. You are using the word terrorism without defining it if you do you will arrive to an interesting conclusion. Third Hezbollah was not attacking Israel but Israeli soldiers on occupied arab land. There has to be a kind of balance here: if Israel has lebanese prisoners Hezbollah has the right to have Israeli prisoners. If Israel bombs us Hezbollah has the right to bomb you. If Israel stops Hezbollah will stop.

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Ramzi said...

I'm not sure the last anonymous really made the case for or against his argument, so allow me to rephrase!

First, of course, Hizbollah came to be the "Islamic Resistance in Lebanon" because Israel was occupying Lebanon. Israel was there because there were Palestinian militias based in Lebanon, the Palestinians were there because Israel displaced them,... you see that this circular argument gets us nowhere.

Syria has been the de-facto occupier of Lebanon from 1976-2005, and the Lebanese government is not a year old. Still, in these months the government had taken serious steps to implement UN resolution 1559 that calls for all militias and armed factions to be disarmed and the army sent to the southern border. Of course, as you said, Hizbollah has significant clout and support from Syria, so it was not going to be an easy task. Even Condi said that Lebanon needs time to implement this resolution and we were granted that time. Hizbollah of course did not wish to wait to be painted into that corner and so decided to (or was persuaded to) rock the boat by abducting 2 Israeli soldiers to swap for Lebanese prisoners (who have been there for 20 years, so it's not like the demands are something as ridiculous as "death to israel" or "down with freedom" or some cliche terrorist claim like that). The end was justified, the means were sadly not. The rest is history.

Now, you mock the 'collective punishment' interpretation. Then perhaps you should explain to me what Israel is doing. Because I honestly don't see how bombing factories that produce milk for children and kleenex breaks hizbollah. And I don't see how bombing all the highways, asking the civilians to flee without patent roadways, and then just bombing them anyway helps break hizbollah. Or bombing the airports, seaports and Lebanese army barracks either. Do you know what one of the innocent child victims' brother brought to him as a gift at the hospital? A toy gun. To get back at those who hurt him "when he grows up".
Tell me, truly, how does this break Hizbollah?

At 12:34 AM, Blogger Ryan said...

You are rationalizing the war crimes of your government. There is no humane way to bomb and kill. For every Israeli killed, a village in Lebanon has been wiped out. Until Israel retreats to its 1967 borders, bloodshed will continue. The Occupation must end!

At 6:35 AM, Blogger Ramzi said...

See? He thinks I'm Israeli now.

At 7:43 AM, Blogger Akiva M said...

Thanks all for the comments:

Red States, I think you are both right and wrong on this one. Some terror groups are allowed to exist to give "legitimate governments" cover, to do the dirty work that the government wants to, but for some reason cannot, do. That was certainly the case in the Palestinian territories under Arafat, who continually exhorted and supported attacks by groups such as Hamas, IJ, and the Tanzim while simultaneously denying responsibility for them.

But that's not the case in Lebanon, I think. Lebanon is a legitimately weak government, and Hezbollah is perhaps the strongest Arab army in the middle east. Lebanon could not have stopped them on their own if they tried.

Anon at 715 - you know it :) (for the rest of you, that was my wife. Ah, positive reinforcement . . . ) But I'm still not getting up with the twins the rest of the week!

Anon at 4:38 - First, it doesn't really matter why Hezbollah was created. We could argue history all day - I could go back to the Palestinian state-within-a-state launching attacks on Israel from Lebanese territory, you could go back to 1948, I could go back to 1923, and it would never end. What matters is that today, right now, there is absolutely no reason for Hezbollah to exist. NONE. There is a Lebanese government now, and how much Israeli aggression was there against Lebanon since 2000?

Second, I've said the same thing to Jij over at LBF - if "most Lebanese support Hezbollah" then how can you complain about Israel attacking Lebanon? Those complaints make some sense when people say "Hezbollah is not Lebanon, they are a minority, it's not our fault." They make no sense if, in the same breath, you say that Hezbollah=Lebanon. Pick a POV and argue from it without contradiction if you want your arguments to have an impact.

Third, terrorism is violence by a non-state actor that targets civillians or uses civillian guise to attack others. Non-state actor because states cannot be guilty of Terrorism - they are su8bject to the laws of war and any violations of those laws are war crimes, not terrorism. Hezbollah targets civillians (its initial attack was accompanied by a rocket barrage on civillians in the north for cover, and its responses since the offensive began have been primarily directed at civillian targets), is seeking the release of Samir Kuntar, another terrorist, and has openly stated that its goal is the destruction of Israel. Thus, it fits the bill.

Fourth, you say that the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov is occupied Lebanese territory? Well, the rest of the world disagrees. And even if you were right, negotiation would achieve better results than violence.

Finally, the "lebanese prisoner" Hezbollah is most seeking to free is Samir Kuntar, an animal who killed a four year old girl by crushing her skull against a rock. He should rot in prison for the rest of his life.

Ramzi - thanks for coming by. Again, the Lebanese prisoner that Israel has in its jail is Samir Kuntar. Do you think he should be released? And while its "demands" are not "death to Israel" those are certainly its goals (Nasrallah has said that quite openly), which means Israel should be careful to avoid aiding Hezbollah (and giving them a huge propaganda victory would do just that). And of course Hezbollah's demands are ridiculous - they want to exchange 2 prisoners for several hundred.

As for the conduct of the war, I partially agree with you. Israel needed to bomb the airport, and the ports, and the roads, because that cut Hezbollah off from its suppliers in Syria and Iran. But the other things? Abba Eban once said - correctly - that the Palestinians "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Well, this was Israel missing an opportunity. Some collateral damage was necessary and unavoidable - the Hezbollah compound in Beirut was a legitimate target, even if civillians living next to it were sure to die (and that is a tragedy nonetheless, but a necessary one). But some of the Israeli attacks have been just reckless, and have killed more civillians than necessary (like bombing a road at a time when civillians were on it). Those needless deaths - aside from being tragic in their own right - have all but eliminated the possibility that Lebanese would be more angry at Hezbollah than Israel after this is over - and that's a major strategic blunder for Israel.

Ryan - Ramzi said it best.

But here's a question for all of you - why do the 1967 borders have such totemic value?


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