Saturday, July 15, 2006

Peace or Pointlessness?

What in the world is Israel doing? Many very intelligent people are asking that very question this week. I am not one of them. Even if Hezbollah has decided to couch their real business in the guise of political respectability, their true nature is as clear as that of the Genco Olive Oil Company run fictionally by Vito Corleone. Make no mistakes whatsoever; Hezbollah is a terrorist organization as intent on the annihilation of Israel as Al Qaeda is on creating a pan-Islamic counterweight to western culture and political dominance.

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 to resist Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. To call them an Islamist organization may be a bit generous in the usage of that term. They are an Islamic organization, but they are in partnership with other Lebanese parties, including Christians. They don’t appear to seek an Islamist state in Lebanon. It should be noted that Hezbollah is a Shia movement that receive extensive support, financial or otherwise, from the Syrian and particularly the Iranian governments. While not included in the UN Resolution which is being drafted to list all of the world’s terrorist organization, it ought to be pointed out that it was Hezbollah that was behind the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, which killed 230 U.S. Marines and scores of other American officials stationed in Lebanon.

So, why is Israel doing this? The answer is clear, to me. Israel is a nation surrounded tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people who not only hate them but want them wiped off the face of the Earth. Israel is the only country in the region with a leader that is both sane AND democratically elected. No neighbor can say that. Sure, King Abdullah of Jordan is a sane and well meaning man, but he does not trust his people enough to allow them to pick their leader. If you need evidence of Israel’s sanity I refer you to their current military strategy. They do not seek to destroy Lebanon. The Israeli strikes on their neighbor are incredibly surgical (the U.S. could learn a lesson or two about such precision). Instead of blowing up a suspension bridge, they punched a hole in it. Instead of blowing up the Beirut airport, they rendered the runway useless. Instead of blowing up power plants they blew up the fuel dumps adjacent to them. All these measure seek to cripple Lebanon, but not for the long term. These are not the acts of insane people or insane leaders.

Lebanon, of course may be the exception. They were finally on the road to being a stable democratic country. It is a long road and they have a long way to go, but they were undeniably making progress. So why would Israel punish its most promising neighbor? Because the Lebanese government is weak! They are weak and unable to control the southern portion of their own country.

It is quite telling that an Israeli official said this week that they want to be able to look north and see Lebanese flags, not Hezbollah flags! That is really the crux of the issue. If Israel could be assured of its peaceful existence in any meaningful way hostility against its neighbors would stop. The same cannot be said for some of the countries in the area. They refuse to acknowledge the reality that is Israel. They do not wish to peacefully coexist with the Jewish State.

Progress has been made. Twenty years ago in the pan-Arab summit convened to discuss such a situation, there would have been a declaration condemning the attacks. This time they were unable to come up with language that they all agree to. On one end Saudi Arabia would not support Hezbollah and on the other Syria would not condemn them. Deadlock in the Arab world on how to respond, who woulda thunk it?

In the final analysis, Israel is a nation of 7 million people and approximately the size of New Jersey. It is a sad story of struggle, faith, defensive animosity and occasional overreaction. To be truthful, Israel and her government are imperfect, as we all are. But in the face of such total and unequivocal hate their positions are not surprising.

In Israel's Proclamation of Independence, David Ben-Gurion stated on May 14, 1948 "We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the States around us and to their people, and we call upon them to cooperate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East." That sentiment seems downright antiquated, but it is the proper sentiment.

In the interest of fair and equal access I will include a quote from Hassan Nasrallah the head of Hezbollah: "This [Zionist] entity, which has many strengths - I don't have time now to list them all - has weaknesses as well. One of its most important weaknesses is the fact that it is an extraneous entity. It is not deeply rooted. Another of its weaknesses is the fact that its society is not homogeneous. Some Falasha Ethiopians, some from Russia, and some from I don't know where... They are bound together by a baseless and unfounded myth. Another weakness of this entity is that its people came because they were promised security, peace, and a life in the land of milk and honey. But if they encounter something else, they will leave this land. Another weakness is that both as individuals and as a collective, they are described by Allah as 'the people who guard their lives most.' Their strong adherence to this world, with all its vanities and pleasures, constitutes a weakness. In contrast, our people and our nation's willingness to sacrifice their blood, souls, children, fathers, and families for the sake of the nation's honor, life, and happiness has always been one of our nation's strengths.”

One quote is from 1948 and one is from 2006, but which is obsolete? Hassan Nasrallah is in denial when he discusses the myth of Israel. There is a reason why Israel has never lost of war and it is not because of their lack of roots or the fact that they are founded on a myth. Nasrallah fervently believes in his cause. He is willing to lay down his life for it as he has said, and that is likely what he will have to do. War and violence are a sad and terrible reality but as a student of international relations I must acknowledge that they are not always pointless. Israel must walk the tightrope and not fall on the side of overreaction. For Israel there is no safety net.