Friday, July 28, 2006

What is self-defense?

"And you must also be aware that this attack isn't a self-defense action; only a move to erradicate Hezbollah."
This quote - taken from a comment to Chayei Sarah's pitch-perfect satire/explanation of the war - is a perfect illustration with what's wrong with much of the analysis of this war - the instinctive and unjustifiable separation of "self-defense" from "erradicating Hezbollah"

The fact is, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization sitting on Israel's northern border, quite openly threatening to destroy Israel and regularly attacking it. They have chosen a war of attrition as the best means of doing so, since they are not yet capable of defeating the IDF in a full-scale assault. The analysts criticizing Israel's response as "disproportionate" are essentially saying this:

"Israel, Hezbollah has chosen a war of attrition. Therefore, you must respond in kind."

Absurd. Hezbollah thinks it's best chance of defeating Israel is a war of attrition. So why should and how could international law demand that Israel accede to the strategy preferred by its enemies for its destruction? When a terrorist militia like Hezbollah decides that a war of attrition is in its interests, the only rational form of self defense is to decline to fight the war on Hezbollah's terms, and instead fight it in the way that Hezbollah would prefer to avoid.

Hezbollah wants a war of attrition? Well, then the only proper response - the only meaningful form of self defense - is an all out war dedicated to their erradication.

In other words, "a move to erradicate Hezbollah" is not distinct from self-defense; it is the meaning of self defense.

I have only two problems with the way Israel is conducting this war. First, they have been too reckless with civillian life in several attacks, and that is both strategically harmful and - more importantly - morally wrong.

Second, paradoxically, they are being too timid in their ground assault. Yes, Israel suffered losses in Bint Jbeil, yes, they will likely suffer more, and no, that's nothing that should be minimized. But the objective of erradicating Hezbollah - or at least degrading its capabilities enough that it ceases to be an existential threat to Israel - requires exactly that.


At 6:55 PM, Blogger Ramzi said...

Akiva, you speak of a war of attrition as if it were a strategic choice or a condition set by the international community.

No land invasion into inhabited villages and towns proceeds except this way, house to house and street to street. It took the Allies one day to land at Normandy, but months to advance to Berlin.

Unless of course you believe the Israeli army has the right to just nuke the place.

You and I agree on many things but this is where we diverge. Israeli soldiers are invading another country. My country. This is not Gaza or the West Bank. This is an international border dear. Every single Lebanese whether with or against Hezbollah does not want your army boots over our soil, me included. And if I were in the South and armed I would kill those soldiers myself. This may come as a shock to you, I don't know, perhaps because Israel has become used to invasion it doesn't seem like a big deal. But reverse it for a while and imagine the Lebanese army was marching onto Haifa, what would you do?

I don't want Hezbollah in Lebanon. I don't want it firing rockets into Israel. But if you think that I will for a moment prefer seeing your soldiers flying your flag on MY land over them, you are gravely mistaken.

At 10:09 PM, Blogger Akiva M said...


I completely understand that. And I know that a war of attrition is not what YOU want.

But it absolutely is what Hezbollah wants. And that means if Israel is to survive, it cannot fight on Hezbollah's terms.

Ramzi, I hate this war. Not as much as you do, I'm sure - you're living in it. But personally, I'd like nothing more than for Lebanon and Israel to be at peace, for Lebanon to be a place where I could go visit despite my jewish name and my yarmulke, that I could meet you for a drink in beirut without a second thought, that I could bring my wife and kids along. And I know you probably feel the same. And I doubt any of that will be possible for a good long time, now.

But the same way you feel at the sight of Israeli army boots on Lebanese soil, that is exactly the way Israelis feel at the sight of Hezbollah operatives kidnapping Israeli soldiers from Israeli soil and at the rockets fired into Israeli territory. Which is why the vast majority of Israeli reaction that I have seen is deep anguish at the toll in Lebanon and a heartfelt cry of "what would you have us do!"

That's the biggest human tragedy of all of this, I think. That people of good faith on both sides of the border are increasingly finding themselves with no good options at all other than to act in ways they hate but have no choice.

Please, Ramzi, do me a favor. However much you feel that you would kill Israel's soldiers if you could for being on your land, forgive them their trespass once they leave it. I know what a huge request that is - but I think it's the only hope for us all.

My dream for Israel and Lebanon is that one day soon, Lebanese boots will indeed travel all over Israeli ground, and Israeli boots all over Lebanese - as friends and invited guests, not hated invaders.

Do you think that's still possible?


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