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Lebanon’s Obliteration 21 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Democracy, News, War & Terrorism.
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I’ve been struggling for the past week with Israel’s destruction of Lebanon, a country on the verge of forming a multicultural democracy, since the so-called “Cedar Revolution.” While I understand the threat of Hezbolla, which operates in Lebanon as if there were no Lebanese government, to the security of the State of Israel, I cannot wrap my mind around this out-of-proportion and unnecessary onslaught, destroying yet again an entire people caught in the middle. I can think of no possible political or moral justification for the actions of the State of Israel in this case. (I rarely find that I agree with the incredibly imbalanced response on the part of the Israeli government; a full-fledged democracy with, I assume, nuclear capabilities, owes more to the world than a non-stop bloodbath in the region.) In yesterday’s Salon.com, Juan Cole, professor of mideast studies at University of Michigan, examined the renewed war on Lebanon. I often find Dr. Cole’s analyses to be refreshing in their candor and rationality.

Cole believes that Israel’s plan is similar to their 1970 success in creating a refugee crisis in Jordan, which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Palestinian-Jordanians and ultimately the squelching of the PLO in Jordan. Laying aside the moral implications of a such an end, Cole argues that Lebanon is far different from Jordan–rather than a stable kingdom with a loyal army, Lebanon is a multi-cultural society and a fragile new democracy only recently freed from Syrian occupation. As reformers within the fledgling democracy were pushing to disarm Hezbollah, the growing conflict with Israel served Hezbollah’s political ends by justitfying their militia. Cole takes Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to task for his delusions and outright lies and for his acts of violence, which are not in dispute here. Hezbollah has never disarmed after the end of the civil war and they use Israel’s might to their south as justification for their continued violence and, frankly, as a means to continually garner support from the Shi’ite population of southern Lebanon. Although it doesn’t excuse its paramilitary actions, in recent years, Hezbollah has also morphed into a political party, it has been quite successful in bringing much needed social services to the poor shiites of the region.

And so what of Israel and its response to the most recent Hezbollah violence? Cole explains:

What of Israel? There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks, and to respond appropriately to Hezbollah’s illegal and immoral abduction of two soldiers and killing of others. A “proportional” response by Israel to Hezbollah’s initial attack, of the sort demanded by international human rights lawyers, would have involved killing three Hezbollah fighters and capturing two down at the border between the two countries — and a heavier response directly specifically at Hezbollah could also have been justified. Instead, Israel has bombed, blockaded, isolated and crippled the entire country. Why? In preparation for what?

Cole describes the Israeli plan, the hope that with an incursion into Southern Lebanon, they can turn the majority of lebanese against Hezbollah, so that the Sunni, Druze and Maronites will unite and use the army to disarm the paramilitary party. With already nearly 500,000 refugees (according to the U.N.) and already hundreds of civilian deaths in the bombing, Israel hopes that the civilians will leave the south of Lebanon so that the 5,000 or so Hezbollah militia can be more easily targeted; and they hope that a refugee crisis in Beirut will force the government to send in the army against Hezbollah.

Cole argues that the plan will not work because of Lebanon’s history, because the Lebanese are so deeply scarred by their civil war, which only ended barely a decade ago. He also argues that the Lebanese army is small and green, as yet untrained; and that thousands of the soldiers are sympathetic shi’ites. [Since Cole wrote his op-ed a few days ago, Israel has continued it’s bombing and issued orders for the total evacuation of southern Lebanon.] Cole also predicts that the shi’ites in Iraq are watching the situation carefully and that the already restive shi’ite population (anti-Israel demonstrations already took place earlier this week) will begin to fight against American occupiers as supporters of Israel.

Of course Israel has the right to defend its citizens against missile attacks and its soldiers against being attacked. But Israel’s disproportionate response and its overreaching plan to cleanse the entire south of Lebanon of Shiites will at best buy a temporary respite. If Israel could not destroy Hezbollah during 20 years of actual Israeli military occupation of the south, it cannot do so with intensive bombing raids and some ground incursions. […] The Israelis have responded the same way to military threats for decades — with overwhelming force. This is perhaps understandable, but each time they overreact they create future catastrophes for themselves. Just as their 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of the south haunted them for a generation, they will be living with the blowback of their ill-considered war on hapless little Lebanon for decades to come. Tragically, the United States, as Israel’s closest ally, will also have to suffer for its actions.

In pop psychology, there’s an idea of “compassion overload,” when a friend just can’t muster the emotional strength to feel sorry for someone anymore, and may even turn critical or mean, to protect themselves emotionally from the person who is hurting. But what’s the term for watching someone you care about make repeatedly bad choices and then finally not caring anymore if they succede, and indeed, because their choices are unethical (or immoral) they are hurting other people, so you actually hope they “get caught” and someone puts a stop to it?

Israel has demonstrated in the past their ability to produce lightening speed, targeted and comensurate responses to terrorist acts. But over the past 15 years, it’s as if they have forgotten how, and now all that they can see is massive, widespread violence, and that’s all that will satisfy their needs. Such bloodlust must not be tolerated by the world community. If Israel was on the outs with the international community before, surely it will loose all credibility now. Eqbal Ahmad, a Pakistani philosopher, argued that terrorism comes in five forms: State, Religious, Criminal, Pathological, Oppositional. Israel’s actions are clearly state sponsored terrorism perpetrated against an entire ethnicity of a sovereign nation. But, as Ahamad notes, a state will refuse to give an accurate and empirical definition of terrorism, because then in doing so it loses the ability to control its own population with fear of the terrorist, and it further loses the ability to act with violence in the world.

To underscore my point that Israel has perpetrated an act of state-sponsored terrorism, the San Francisco Chronicle today reports that (like the U.S. invasion of Iraq) plans for the invasion of Lebanon were put in place over a year ago. The recent kidnapping just provided a convenient excuse to set it in motion, as if anyone could possibly believe that the displacement of more than a million people and the manipulation of a sovereign government at gun point could possibly be justified in the present circumstances.

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Comments

1. Mike Silverman - 21 July 2006

Sadly, I pretty much agree with you. I have traditionally been very hawkish on Israel, but what they are doing now seems absolutely self-destructive and pointless. They are not even succeeding in seriously damaging Hezbollah. All that has happened is that Lebanon has been destroyed, millions of civilians on both sides have been terrorized and displaced, and oh yeah, did I mention that Hezbollah hasn’t even been scratched?

The best thing to happen now for Israel would be if some outside force could somehow impose a cease-fire. Hezbollah wouldn’t mind, they have already “won” — and an outside cease-fire would permit Israel to spin this into something other then a strategic defeat.

2. Shannon - 21 July 2006

I find it awfully, awfully hard to condemn Israel. It’s easy to sit in our comfortable, safe armchairs and call Israel’s response overkill, but if we were suffering from constant acts of terrorism as Israel does; and if Mexico and Canada routinely called for our destruction; under those conditions I’m pretty sure if a Mexican paramilitary organization committed a clear act of aggression against us we would be invading Mexico like whoa, and I don’t think we’d be unjustified.

Israel has taken the lead in the peace process many times, only find that its partners in the process cannot or will not uphold their promises. The condition of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was that the Lebanese government would keep Hezbollah disarmed. It would be self-destructive for Israel allow Hezbollah to wage a war of attrition on its own terms, while Hezbollah grows ever stronger and more entrenched with Syrian and Iranian backing. Since the Lebanese government cannot prevent Hezbollah from committing unprovoked acts of aggression against Israel, I think Israel is justified in attempting to decisively cripple Hezbollah. It’s indeed terrifically sad that civilian Lebanese are suffering, but Hezbollah was the aggressor and Hezbollah has deliberately chosen to use civilian infrastructure to shield their military works. Your remark that Israel is committing “state-sponsored terrorism” is incomprehensible to me. Israel is responding to an act of warfare. They were attacked, and they are responding in force. This is not terrorism, it is warfare. The war involves civilian infrastructure because Hezbollah designed it that way. I see no evidence that it’s Israel’s goal to maximize civilian suffering; all the evidence would seem to be the opposite.

A lot of people who condemn Israel pay lip-service to the idea that Israel has the right of self-defense, but they go on for pages and pages calling Israel’s action “terrorism” while spending maybe half a sentence condemning Hezbollah’s actual, undeniable acts of terrorism. I can’t really understand that mindset. Why is Israel held to such a different standard? What kind of self-defense doesn’t include the right to wage war when an act of war is committed against you?

I’m not speaking here to the idea that Israel’s response is strategically misguided; only time will tell, I guess. But the idea that it’s morally unjustified — I really just can’t understand that way of thinking. Hezbollah crossed internationally recognized territorial lines in order to attack Israeli forces. Israel has every moral right to respond with full military force against Hezbollah.

3. Mike Silverman - 21 July 2006

Part of what frustrates me (as a supporter of Israel) is the seeming mystery of their target selection. It seems more aimed at crippling civilian infrastructure in Lebanon then at hitting at Hezbollah. Israel’s blasted bridges, the harbor, and the airport, ostensibly in order to prevent Syria from resupplying Hezbollah, but it seems that these type of strikes probably do little to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming (and at any rate, they have had 5 years to stock up and prepare) and do much more to impact civilians in Lebabon (including those who up until now probably had little sympathy for Hezbollah) and hurt their economy. At best, Israel is being tactically correct and strategically very dumb.

If Mexican guerillias were rocketing Texas, I’d exapct the US to bomb their positions and invade Mexico, but I wouldn’t expect us to bomb the airport in Mexico City.

4. J. Todd Ormsbee - 21 July 2006

Shannon wrote:
I’m not speaking here to the idea that Israel’s response is strategically misguided; only time will tell, I guess. But the idea that it’s morally unjustified — I really just can’t understand that way of thinking. Hezbollah crossed internationally recognized territorial lines in order to attack Israeli forces. Israel has every moral right to respond with full military force against Hezbollah.

Actually I disagree. If the U.S. were attacked by a few missiles from Mexico, and we bombed the infrastructure of the entire nation and then called for the immediate evacuation of all of the northern Mexican states, displacing millions of people, and bombed civilian targets killing hundreds — the international community would call that an incommensurate response and we would face censure around the world.

Further, Israel had so many other options. As Cole pointed out, they could have done a tit-for-tat or even a large scale invasion of Hezbollah strongholds and gotten away with it. But that isn’t what they did. They started bombing the shit out of the entire country, blowing up all the infrastruccture, and blockading the ports, killing hundreds and displacing a half million so far, knowingly creating a refugee crisis. It is in Israel’s long term interests to have an open, pluralistic, functioning democracy to its north. So they do this? It could have sought out any number of diplomatic options with the new and currently weak democracy, offering aid with the prosecution of Hezbollah criminals (they are, after all, breaking the law by not disarming).

I have the precise opposite response of you, Shannon. I cannot understand how anyone could possibly think that killing hundreds and purposefully displacing more than a million people with the express goal of creating instability in another nation in response to the illegal actions of a small faction is not immoral on its face.

To say that Israel has “taken the lead” and that its negotiating partners have not lived up to their promises is simply not historically accurate. This isn’t a story of Israelis dressed in white and evil arabs dressed in black twirling their mustaches. At every juncture, Israel has negotiated at the barrel of a gun and refused to compromise on key issues. It is true that Arafat in the late 1990s opted for his own power and refused to let go and take a giant leap forward. Most palestinians were shocked and dismayed. In the name of “national security” and “sovereignty rights,” the state of Israel has continually perpetrated acts which would not be tolerated by any other fully industrialized democracy anywhere in the world.

I want to Israel succede and I hope that some way can be found to move Palestine into a sovereign nation of its own, complete with self-rule and a military. But like Dr. Cole says, every time Israel has a chance to try a different tack, they choose violence, and in ways that will simply prolong and extend the violence and unrest.

My personal view (I have no evidence to support this at all), is that Israelis and Palestinians (and to a wider extent, the Arab world) thrive on the conflict–it is now, after 85 years, deeply imbricated in their identities and their lifeways. The violence serves as a crucible for the formation of Israeli national identity; and it serves as locus for combined action and unification of a disparate and diverse muslim world, and a moral justification for anti-west violence and the maintenance of despotic regimes throughout the arab world. Perhaps I’ve reached the “compassion overload” with Israel and Palestine, but I just don’t see any way out of the violence as it is presently going.

5. J. Todd Ormsbee - 21 July 2006

Thanks Mike for posting. I struggled for a few days with putting something up like this. In American political culture, it is dangerous and difficult to critique the Israeli state, and is especially difficult for me personally given my own “semophilia” (as Dr. Katzman put it in grad school). I just am at wits’ end with the whole situation. Unfortunately, we have an administration who does nothing to rein Israel in off its intemperate responses and defends it to the world; all while conducting its own bizarro world wars, that would make a hypocrite of the administration even to try.

Do please let me know if I’m missing something key here or if I’m sliding into unconscious anti-semitism. That is my worst fear…and yet my ethics demands that I stand back and look at all parties involved. And I can’t see my way around this most recent attack on Lebanon.

6. Shannon - 21 July 2006

In American political culture, it is dangerous and difficult to critique the Israeli state

My experience has been in the Bay Area that it’s difficult to express support for Israel! My own feelings have become a lot more sympathetic to Israel after being exposed to the completely unbalanced (and often outright anti-Semetic) support for the Arab states and hostility towards Israel that permeates our local political culture. I am not tarring you with this brush, just fessing up to my own emotional influences.

See for example the signs/chants on recorded at http://www.zombietime.com/israeli_consulate_protest_july_13_2006/: “To: Israel
From: The Resistance
We did it your way.
NOW IT’S TIME FOR THE AK”

“Black, red, brown, white!
Black, red, brown, white!
We support Hezbollah’s fight!
We support Hezbollah’s fight!”

“The Jewish state is a criminal entity”

This kind of shit is par for the course at S.F. rallies that touch on the Middle East, and although apparently the July 13 demonstration was exceptional in that it also drew a pro-Israeli crowd, I personally have never seen the anti-Israel crowd anywhere near matched either in numbers or in level of vitriol by counterprotesters.

And I certainly haven’t heard anybody local condemming Hezbollah’s acts of aggression rather than Israel’s response. I think you’re very much in the majority in these parts.

To say that Israel has “taken the lead” and that its negotiating partners have not lived up to their promises is simply not historically accurate.

Israel withdrew from Lebanon with promises that Hezbollah would be disarmed. That didn’t happen. What part of that is not historically accurate?

This isn’t a story of Israelis dressed in white and evil arabs dressed in black twirling their mustaches.

Sigh. How come any disagreement on this issue instantly devolves to one side accusing the other of racism?

I’m far, far, far from believing this is a straightforward battle of good and evil. But I do think the leftist criticism of Israel is profoundly unbalanced, especially when it comes to calling Israel “terrorist” for mounting a military response to a blatant act of war, while sparing barely a word for Hezbollah’s offenses.

7. J. Todd Ormsbee - 21 July 2006

Israel withdrew from Lebanon with promises that Hezbollah would be disarmed. That didn’t happen. What part of that is not historically accurate?

True enough. I read your original statement to be more sweeping than that. sorry.

Sigh. How come any disagreement on this issue instantly devolves to one side accusing the other of racism?

I meant that as a comment on moral simplicity, not race. And I know you well enough to know that *YOU* are not a simple thinker. But as you point out, this topic can be really emotional and devolve into unconscious projections, which I may have done here. Apologies, if so. That said, you have to be honest, Shannon, that it is the pro-Israeli side that plays the race card constantly to deflect criticism of Israel as being anti-semitic.

But I do think the leftist criticism of Israel is profoundly unbalanced, especially when it comes to calling Israel “terrorist” for mounting a military response to a blatant act of war, while sparing barely a word for Hezbollah’s offenses.

I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point (wingnut bay area protestors notwithstanding). It has only been in the past 10 years that you even heard any public criticism of Israel at all (if that!). That it’s actually more common in the Bay Area doesn’t really, or that the Bay Area is full of freakazoid anti-Israel-ish types, doesn’t change the national dynamic or the foreign policy of the current administration (or he past 11 administrations, counting Ford).

To answer your question about calling Israel’s actions terrorist, I’ll turn to Ahmad’s definition:

I will stay with you with Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: “Terror is an intense, overpowering fear.” He uses terrorizing, terrorism, “the use of terrorizing methods of governing or resisting a government.” This simple definition has one great virtue, that of fairness. It’s fair. It focuses on the use of coercive violence, violence that is used illegally, extra-constitutionally, to coerce. And this definition is correct because it treats terror for what it is, whether the government or private people commit it. Have you noticed something? Motivation is left out of it. We’re not talking about whether the cause is just or unjust. We’re talking about consensus, consent, absence of consent, legality, absence of legality, constitutionality, absence of constitutionality. Why do we keep motives out? Because motives differ. Motives differ and make no difference.

I call Israel’s actions state-sponsored terrorism not because they responded militarily, but because they responded militarily in such an overblown fashion for explicitly stated reasons that violate the U.N. Charter on Human Rights, purposefully causing a humanitarian disaster for shakey political ends, to coerce a sovereign nation by terrorizing its population.

I return to my original point: The key here is that *Hezbollah* perpetrated the acts of war, not *Lebanon*. A military response, even an incursion into Hezbollah strongholds, might have passed moral muster. This actual response of Israel is a human rights travesty and inexcusable. I just can’t see in anyway how you can justify killing hundreds of civilians, disabling the infrastructure of an entire nation, undermining a democratic regime that could potentially be an ally, and displacing upwards of a million people by most recent U.N. accounts as proportional response and morally justifiable. If the argument is simply “right to defend”, then I don’t buy it anymore than I bought the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I am not “most left wing critics,” and thank you for not tarring me with the same brush as the wingnuts; but I think I’m on pretty solid ground with my evaluation of the situation, at least based on the facts as presented by Cole in this Salon.com piece. I think that Israel’s actions in Lebanon are morally wrong and are strategically disastrous for the state.

8. J. Todd Ormsbee - 21 July 2006

I meant to add that if Ahmad’s moral stance is acceptable (and it’s one of the best I”ve ever read on terrorism (see link in original post)), then PLO-backed terrorism, suicide bombers, and Israel’s state terrorism are all morally wrong. *Why* you perpetrate acts of terror–the motivation–is not a moral excuse for those acts. Understanding why Palestinians blow themselves up, or why Israel bombed the shit out of Lebanon over the past week excuses neither from the moral consequences of their actions.

If that is not the case, we’re back in blood-feud, medieval morality, which cannot be acceptable in a world where we are working for human rights and democratization (not in the Bushian sense of the word).

9. Shannon - 21 July 2006

That said, you have to be honest, Shannon, that it is the pro-Israeli side that plays the race card constantly to deflect criticism of Israel as being anti-semitic.

Well, let’s try and get that out of the way in *this* discussion, at least: I promise not to accuse you of anti-Semitism if you will grant that I do not view Arabs as evil mustache-twirling villains.

That it’s actually more common in the Bay Area doesn’t really, or that the Bay Area is full of freakazoid anti-Israel-ish types, doesn’t change the national dynamic or the foreign policy of the current administration (or he past 11 administrations, counting Ford).

In the past few days I’ve read analyses similar to yours in Salon, Harper’s, Daily Kos, and any number of my friend’s webpages. I fully expect a flood of these sorts of articles as the liberal publications go to press. I think the fact that this administration is supporting Israel makes it very seductive for us liberals to blame the entire situation on Israel, because that puts us in the comfortable and familiar position of being diametrically opposed to Bush.

But it really bothers me to read analyses that wholly condemn Israel for the strikes against Lebanon. They were *attacked*. You say they should have distinguished between Hezbollah and Lebanon–how? Hezbollah did everything it could to hide within Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure! The call for “restraint” seems to amount to little more than saying that Israel should sit back and let itself be attacked at will. Their choice was 1) to respond with half-measures, which would leave Hezbollah able to carry out more such strikes in the future and possibly even politically strengthened by their success; or 2) to attempt to disable Hezbollah with a single, costly military operation. They chose number 2. Again, I don’t feel qualified to speak to the strategic wisdom of the choice, but morally I think it’s as justified as any war. Yes, the civilian cost is terrible, but that’s largely because Hezbollah designed it that way.

Perhaps to some extent we have a clash of terminology. I don’t think the definition of “terrorism” you cite is a very useful one; it would seem to encompass all conventional wars, insofar as all wars use violence to coerce a government. It seems to me very clear that Israel was attacked, and in response Israel is waging war. We also may have a clash of underlying assumptions; I don’t know if you believe that war is ever just, but I do. I believe that if a nation is attacked, it is morally justified in responding, and even in responding with overwhelming military force. I don’t think that if I have a gun, and somebody comes at me with a flint knife, I’m then obliged to respond by engaging in a knife fight. I think I have the moral right to shoot them, because they attacked me with a real threat.

Like you, I would very much like to see Lebanon’s fledgeling democracy survive, and I also wonder how it can do that in the current situation. But I place the blame pretty squarely on Hezbollah, rather than Israel, because it seems to me clear that this situation would never have happened if not for their unprovoked aggression against Israel.

10. Helquin - 22 July 2006

I wonder, Shannon, if somebody comes at you with a flint knife do you have the moral right to shoot everyone else on the street as well as the tires on every car parked in the vicinity? If you believe that you do, may I say that I hope never to find myself in the same city as you, let alone on the same block.


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