Thursday, July 13, 2006

Welcome to 1982

Well, that little Middle East detente was nice while it lasted.

Two raids on Israeli territory by radical terrorist groups have provoked Israel into a two-front, all-but-full-scale war in Gaza and southern Lebanon. Both raids involved the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah (the Lebanese group) and the radical elements of Hamas (the Gaza group) are both guilty of firing rockets into Israel, killing Israeli civilians. Furthermore, Israel's response has killed civilians on both fronts, as well as made life rather miserable for the people who live in the affected areas.

Of the two incidents that led to the current military brouhaha, the one in Gaza was the most understandable. Tensions have been rising in Gaza since the pullout; Gazans have been firing rockets into Israel's territory for quite some time, and Israel has responded in kind. Both sides have killed civilians in these attacks, it being rather difficult to tell a rocket where to land once it's fired. (The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has inflamed this particular tension, doing nothing to stop the rocket attacks from their side and often fabricating civilian deaths in order to create an emotional response - see the family-on-the-beach incident.) Israel has increasingly isolated Gaza from the outside world, preventing the economic activity that might be the solution to the whole Palestinian problem.

As a result, it can't be said that the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier by the Hamas militants came completely out of nowhere. It was the logical next step in the escalating tensions, and understandable as simply more activity by an overzealous, if incompetent, resistance movement. It was allowed to happen because of a crippling power struggle within the Palestinian Authority that has pretty much sapped its ability to control the Gaza area.

The Gaza incident leaves Israel in somewhat of a pickle. Certainly it cannot allow cross-border raids on its land go unpunished. Furthermore, Israel can't rely on the impotent, balkanized PA to help round up the raiders - the PA's response has ranged from condemnation (Abbas) to outright encouragement (Haniyeh). But nor is Israel right in laying waste to Gaza; their current response, which has destroyed bridges and power plants, essentially punishing all Gazans for the actions of the terrorists, is disproportionately heavy-handed. The capture of the Hamas legislators and attacks on Palestinian ministries really doesn't help. Israel needs to respond to such raids firmly, but in a manner that doesn't punish the innocent; a non-violent police incursion into Gaza - no bombs, no indiscriminate gunfire, just an investigative team trying to solve a kidnapping - might have sufficed. Had that team been fired upon, they would have the right to begin escalation... but not until then.

And finally, someone needs to send the Hamas bunch a copy of "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" or something. You know, to show them how a real resistance movement conducts itself. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - you want to resist something, do it right. Indiscriminate violent attacks don't work. So stop it. Dumbass.

The second attack - by Hezbollah on Israel from the north - was completely unprovoked. Israel ended its ill-fated military presence in Lebanon almost a decade ago, and has pretty much left its northern neighbor alone since then. The attack was caused by Hezbollah's hard-on for violence, their growing marginalization since Syrian influence has begun to wane, and the presence of a convenient scapegoat. It's easier for Hezbollah to blame Israel for their shrinking influence in Lebanon than it is for them to comprehend the fact that the rest of the war-weary Lebanese are just sick of them. The incursion into Gaza gave Hezbollah the excuse they needed to launch their attack.

More challenging than explaining the Hezbollah raid, however, is measuring a response to the raid. Israel certainly cannot be blamed for wanting to strike back against an unprovoked act of aggression. But flying warplanes over Beirut? Probably not a good idea. Laying waste to southern Lebanon probably wasn't a smart move either. Blockading the entire country and bombing the airport in Beirut was just plain dumb. Israel should remember that the northern Lebanese aren't too keen on Hezbollah to begin with; diplomatic pressure on the Lebanese to divest Hezbollah of its role in the government as punishment would have probably been a better response, and it probably would have been well-received among the Lebanese Christians and Druze (and maybe even the Sunnis). The fact is that this was not yet an act of war. Had Lebanon failed to punish those who carried out the raid, it would have been; however, Israel did not give the Lebanese the time or the opportunity to act.

So what can we do now? Probably not much. We could set up negotiations between Beirut and Tel Aviv to get the full-scale war on southern Lebanon replaced with a more appropriate response, and we could issue repeated calls for everyone to calm the hell down. Outside of that, we may just have to wait for this to play itself out and help the central actors pick up the pieces afterwards. Bush was absolutely right to criticize Syria for its role in supporting Hezbollah, but I don't see how dragging yet another country into this mess would help it. What we really need is a good peace partner with ties to the Arab militants to help us calm things down. The Saudis could probably help in Gaza; however, there's only one big Shiite country that would hold any sway with the Shiite Hezbollah, and we don't really get along with them too well. If Iran helps to cool things down of their own accord, that would be great, but we're not going to be able to convince them to do so.


OWM said...

The simple fact that Israel waited this long is amazing. One can only take so much before they break.

Mike said...

Great analysis of the current Israel-Palestine debacle. You're basically dead-on about how the increasing tension from both ends catalyzed the current state of affairs. Plus (hehe) you called the PA impotent, which supports my contention that it all boils down to sexual frustration.

As far as the Hezbollah fiasco, I agree that diplomatic pressure would probably have been the better way to go; at the same time, it's hard for me to completely blame Israel for their reaction. If someone I hadn't really bothered in ten years suddenly walked up to me and punched me in the nose for no reason, I would most likely punch him back. I might not subsequently kick him in the stomach while he's down for the count, but I doubt I would just say (in a nasal voice while I tried to stop the bleeding), "Ow, that hurt. Why did you do that? No one else in your class likes you anyway, and I hope the teacher puts you in detention or suspends you." (And now I will stop beating this dead horse of an analogy.) Point being, while an attempt at diplomacy before a counterattack may have been the more prudent solution, I can sympathize with Israel's more visceral response. As OWM said, one can only take so much.

And you're right: unfortunately, not much we can do on our end except, as you say, wait for things to play out and attempt to provide assistance with the cleanup. So it goes.

Mike said...

Withdrawal symptoms kicking in. Can't... type... shaking... uncon... trollably...