On Military Solutions

If I believed for a second that, with this military campaign, Israel could eliminate Hezbollah with a minimum of civilian casualties, I would be cheering Israel actions, while regretting the loss of civilian lives. But I have my doubts about the effectiveness of this campaign. I fear that Lebanese civilians are suffering disproportionately from Israel’s response. And somehow, in some quarters, that’s put me in league with the terrorists.

One of the most frustrating things about the debate of the armchair critics around the Middle East crisis, is how polarized the debate has become. For some, Israel can do no wrong — its actions should be cheered without reservation or thought of the innocent Lebanese civilians caught in the crossfire; for others, Hezbollah are freedom fighters and Israel bears sole responsibility for the deaths of the civilians Hezbollah happens to hide behind. Of course, the truth is far more complicated.

I am more likely to believe that Israel wouldn’t be engaging in this campaign if they weren’t facing rocket attacks and suicide bombers than I am to believe that Hezbollah and Hamas would stop their campaign to destroy Israel if Israel pulled back to its 1967 borders. However, Israel’s “measured response” doesn’t seem to be measured enough. Hundreds of innocent civilians have died in southern Lebanon, isolated by Israeli bombers, and the best that some bloggers can do in way of sympathy is to tell Lebanese civilians that it’s their own damn fault for not getting out quickly enough.

Maybe this war is a necessary evil, but too many are not showing the requisite conscience that separates us from the terrorists. And the sad fact is that the number of Lebanese civilians accidentally killed by Israeli military these past three weeks (at least 400) is already almost a third of the number of Israeli citizens killed by terrorism since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 (1367).

Yes, the Israeli military has killed far, far fewer civilians than the number of Israeli civilians Hamas and Hezbollah want to kill. Yes, I know that most of those Lebanese civilian deaths are due to Hezbollah using them as human shields. But the disproportionate response forces me to ask if there any indication that Hezbollah’s ability to make war has been seriously curtailed? And Hezbollah’s rockets are still falling on Israel. Shimon Peres has indicated that the current campaign could continue for weeks before Israel achieved its objectives.

So, how many more civilians will die in the interim? Will this really be the start of a new period of peace and security for Israel? History suggests otherwise. Ever since Israel successfully defended itself against invading armies in 1973, it has maintained its military supremacy over the countries around it, but it has not been able to stop the terrorist threat. It invaded Lebanon in 1982, killed hundreds of civilians and occupied Beirut, but the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah were able to fight another day. Stateless terror groups frustratingly have no capitals to occupy, no permanent headquarters to topple. Instead, most of the infrastructure Israel has destroyed in this campaign belongs to Lebanon. Even if I had no trouble with the morality of this campaign, I have to question its effectiveness.

In the West Wing episode crafted in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, character Sam Seaborn was asked about what the most remarkable thing about terrorism was, and he responded, “its 100% failure rate”. And he has a point: Israel isn’t going anywhere, Northern Ireland is still a part of the UK, the Basque regions are still a part of Spain and Italy is not a Communist dictatorship. Terrorists have been remarkably unsuccessful in achieving their political goals.

But by the same token, I cannot recall a single terrorist campaign that ended with the unconditional surrender of the terrorist organizations. Terrorist campaigns have usually ended in ceasefires, in negotiations, and sometimes with reconciliations. When terrorist organizations are defeated, it’s not marked with treaty signings like the end of World War II; instead, the terrorist campaigns just seem to peter out (like the Red Brigades of Italy).

Ultimately, terror campaigns seem to live or die on the support of the wider public of the political ideals the terrorists happen to champion. Terror campaigns may not have provided the decisive victory for wars, but it was the people of Northern Ireland, giving up on the idea of reuniting the island by any means necessary, that ultimately defeated the IRA, not the British military.

It’s important to note that Hezbollah does not speak for Lebanon. They control less than ten percent of the seats in the Lebanese parliament. They operate outside of the control of the fragile central government, and as early as the beginning of this year, it looked like they had been given a black eye by the people of Lebanon, upset with their Syrian backers’ perceived complicity in the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister. Some have said that it was in the best interests of Israel to help the fragile democratic government of Lebanon to push harder against Hezbollah. It was in the best interests of Israel and Lebanon to further isolate Hezbollah from the general population of Lebanon. And they’re probably right.

But while Israel’s military campaign may be killing a number of Hezbollah’s fighters and destroying some of their weapons, what it is not doing is winning the hearts and minds of the diverse people of Lebanon. If anything, it’s driving Lebanon closer to Hezbollah and Syria. And that strikes me as seriously counterproductive.

Do I have any better suggestions for how Israel can protect itself from Hezbollah? No. And I cannot say that if I were Israel, facing suicide bombs and rocket attacks against my citizens, that I’d react any differently than they have. So, no, I have no answers on how to resolve this conflict. Given that, just like most other pundits in the blogosphere, I have no military experience, no diplomatic experience, nothing but what the news media has told me about the conditions in the Middle East, is it any surprise that I have no magic formula on how to end a conflict that’s gone on for more than half a century?

What’s more surprising is that so many other bloggers seem to think that they do. And what’s especially sad is that the formula seems to contain lots and lots of gunpowder.

Some critics of the critics of Israel liken us as believers in a simplistic fairyland where if everybody just put down their weapons and sang their kumbayas, we would have peace in the world. But what’s really simplistic is believing that there is a bomb big enough, or a military campaign strong enough to win anything other than a pyrric victory against a stateless organization. The only thing sadder than this is the tendency of some to show the insecurity of their position by suggesting that their opponents are somehow weak willed or, worse, in league with the terrorists.

Maybe true courage is realizing that there are no easy answers, and that the only way to secure peace is through hard work lasting years, in the face of people who will continue to shoot at you for years to come.

History has shown us, in Israel as in Iraq, that military supremacy is only the start of the solution. It’s what you do next that’s important. There are no easy answers, and if anybody suggests otherwise, you should walk the other way.

Credit Where It’s Due

It was a little hairy there for a while, but the Canadian government got the job done in evacuating 12,000 Lebanese Canadians from the warzone.

As is often the case in reporting, whether it’s the corporate media or individual blogs, bad news flies the concorde while good news takes the bus, so I think we should do what we can to combat this and acknowledge the hard work done by government members, and the workers at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And a tip of the hat to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay who helped his workers along by personally delivering pizza and soda.

Further Reading

So I’m thinking, depressed, there is no way to beat this kind of fighting which is what most world leaders seem to want (even if they say something else, their actions, or lack there of, speak volumes). They want Israel to beat Hezbolla for them, but at what cost? Israelis and Lebanese are the ones paying the price daily.

Besides, do I want to be responsible for killing a man’s baby even if the man is of Hezbolla? Even if he just used the rocket launcher near his baby’s crib to fire Katyusha rockets on me?

How do we handle that? Do I want another Qana? Are human life algebra? Do I want another rocket launched on me? How much is one Israeli life worth? How much is my life worth? How much are the 100 Iraqi civilians dead a day worth? How much is one American soldier worth? Or an Arab-Israeli child? A Lebanese grandma? A Palestinian baby? A Palestinian suicide-bomber? A French girl? An African family?

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