Candide’s Notebooks, a terrific website that tends to cover a broad range of political topics wanted us to be aware of a very fine article authored by one of their contributors, Cecilia Lucas, where she addresses Amos Oz who justified the right of Israel to wage the current war. Below is my response. I want to be clear that I support Israel and its actions, but truly regret that Israel is at war in Lebanon and wish for nothing more than a peaceful and open border between the two countries, with lots of trains and visitors going back and forth from Beirut to Jerusalem.
Thank you CN, that was a touching letter. Your writer’s questions are strong. How can Amos Oz claim that Israel is different a decade ago in a different war against the same country. How can he differentiate between the harm, killing and destruction of that war versus this one? After all, it is again Israel inside Lebanon and once again Lebanese are dying and watching parts of their country lie in ruins.
I find the conclusion of the letter to be the most salient part:
I have been touched by your words, Amos Oz, and so I will end this letter with those words that I hope will inspire you once again: â€œamong the victims of the Lebanon War was â€˜the Land of Israel, small and brave, determined and righteous.’ It died in Lebanon perhaps precisely because, in Lebanon, its back was not to the wall. After Lebanon, we can no longer ignore the monster, even when it is dormant, or half asleep, or when it peers out from behind the lunatic fringe. After Lebanon, we must not pretend that the monster dwells only in the offices of Meir Kahane; or only on General Sharon’s ranch, or only in Raful’s carpentry shop, or only in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It dwells, drowsing, virtually everywhere, even in the folk-singing guts of our common myths. Even in our soul-melodies. We did not leave it behind in Lebanon, with the Hezbollah. It is here, among us, a part of us. That which you have done-whether it be only once in your life, in one moment of stupidity or in an outburst of anger-that which you were capable of doing-even if you have forgotten, or have chosen to forget, how and why you did it-that which you have done and regretted bitterly, you may never do again. But you are capable of doing it. You may do it. It is curled up inside you.â€
I think a key phrase there is “backs against the wall.” This is not like 1985 in Lebanon or 1987 or 1999. This is 2006 and the world, as well as Israel’s situation, have changed.
A couple of days ago Ted Koppel published an op-ed in the NY Times (you can find it in the Times Select section) entitled “Look What Democratic Reform Dragged In.” I think he articulates the case very well that in essence what we have on our hands in the Middle East as the fruits of attempts at democracy is a successful power play by Iran and its religious revolution. We see Islamism take root and become more powerful, watching as Iraq becomes controlled by a Shia leadership with links to Iran that has taken effective control of the government. We see it in the Palestinian Authority with Hamas, and we see it in Lebanon with Hizbullah’s outsized military and political influence.
Common to Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas (and their many supporters) is the declared intent to destroy Israel. They also share vile anti-Semitism, hatred of not only “Zionists” but Jews in general (note Nasrallah’s comments a few years ago that it would be easier to destroy them if all the Jews of the world gathered in Israel). I see prominent commentators like Juan Cole and perhaps less prominent but a much better writer such as your Cecilia Lucas comment that Hizbullah isn’t as strong as the Israeli military or in Cole’s case that Iran doesn’t really mean it when it declares its desire to see Israel annihilated.
Yet, that is precisely what they mean. And Hizbullah is sending more rockets into Israel today than it did a week ago.
To put it bluntly, a nation with 60 million Muslims, a declared enemy to Israel, is providing arms, funds, tactical assistance and state-level propaganda to its two proxies abutting Israel, Hamas and Hizbullah. Furthermore, it is doing so with the explicit consent, and perhaps partnership, with the Syrian regime which is a bitter enemy of Israel’s and no less committed to its destruction.
Israel has been quiet about these developments for the past couple of years. It watched as 1000 Qassems rained on its head AFTER it left Gaza. It watched, AFTER leaving Lebanon in its entirety (let’s not discuss Shabaa farms here because Israel is following international views and rules on this parcel of land), as Hizbullah would launch its raids into Israel, sometimes causing death, and as it built up an arsenal of 12,000+ rockets plus a strong fighting infrastructure. It watched and watched. Sometimes it might have targeted a terrorist in Palestinian areas, or sent planes over Lebanese territory, but the ongoing screaming by pro-Palestinians about those practices just shows how small a response it was relative to what Israel could do if it wished to cause damage.
Voices inside Israel shouted that this relative quiet on Israel’s part was folly, but the democratically elected government and the majority of Israelis agreed that it was best not to react on a large scale.
Then these two recent attacks on Israel changed a great deal. These were successful military efforts against military targets (Hizbullah also attacked a civilian area to draw attention away from the main attack). They were unprovoked attacks seeking to gain advantage on Israel by proxies of a state, ten times the size of Israel, bent on destroying it. The attacks have come at a time when the Iranians feel more open than ever to declare their intentions to destroy Israel; a time when their proxies are stronger and better armed than ever before.
As Koppel suggests, perhaps the Israelis, at the forefront of these attacks by the Islamists, see a danger that others cannot see as readily. Perhaps the Israelis recognize that if they don’t go in now to destroy and weaken these proxies, and thereby also harm their benefactors’ objectives, then they will find themselves under more and more severe attacks and greater danger. After all, Hizbullah used to have only Katyusha rockets but now possess missiles like the Fajr series, able to reach Haifa, and the Zalzals with a range reaching Tel Aviv. As I write this, 160 such rockets have fallen on Israel 10 days into the fighting and just less than an hour ago two Israelis were killed by these rockets in Haifa. How long before the warheads on those are given chemical weapons or worse? How long before Iran decides to upgrade Hizbullah’s infrastructure even further, as they did by providing an 802C missile which they launched successfully against the Israeli ship?
There was nothing defensive about Hizbullah’s posture, or that of Hamas for that matter, they are all about destroying Israel, and their benefactors – at least Iran, and possibly Syria – share this goal. However, the attacks are coming from Lebanon, with at least tacit consent at the Lebanese government that Hizbullah has the right to array itself against Israel and attack it at will.
I recognize that everybody wants to tell Israel how to fight this war: not a single civilian should be killed; not a single non-military building should be destroyed. Perhaps they are right that in an ideal world this would happen. I, personally, would not wish to have a single civilian casualty in this war. Not one.
I believe that the IDF has attempted to minimize civilian injury and death. I say that knowing that many have died and have been injured. But to say that Israel came out seeking to cause these civilian deaths is untrue. If after thousands of sorties and 1800 targets bombed (these are published IDF numbers), 350 civilians have been killed – and among those I’m sure there are many, some analysts are saying half, who are Hizbullah members – doesn’t this suggest that the something that “is curled up inside [Israelis]” is far from the hatred, destructiveness or desire to harm that perhaps Amos Oz saw as part of that earlier war? Wouldn’t 3000 air force attacks leave far more than 350 dead if the intent was some form of inherent evil?
If the other side seeks war and Israel’s destruction, at what point may Israel respond as if it’s in a war? After 500 Qassems? 1000? 5000? After a third attack on its North? A fifth attack? A tenth attack? After the 10th soldier is killed or injured? The 20th soldier? Who should it attack if not the attacker in the place from which the attacks are coming?
When Israel responds, what should it try to do when the other side mocks it and believes it is immune from attack or harm? Should it show further weakness by not responding again, thereby encouraging even more attacks (as we have now seen conclusively, this is what happens)? Should it attack in ways that don’t destroy the capacity of its enemies? What is the right way to fight a war against somebody who seeks to destroy you? And what is the right way to negotiate with somebody who not only seeks to destroy you, but has launched similar attacks in the past and believes they can do so with impunity at any time? When do you stop talking or accepting unacceptable conditions?
I believe the complexity of these issues perhaps signals the difference between Oz’s comments years into an occupation of Lebanon that was a mistake on many levels, and where the conflict stands now.
I wish to conclude with a couple of last points. One of the key claims in these arguments against Israel is that Israel is using disproportionate force. What does that mean in the context of war against an enemy who seeks to destroy you? If the force was disproportionate, wouldn’t Hizbullah be destroyed already? It is far from destroyed. If Israel drops 23 tons of explosives on a bunker in Beirut and the bunker remains relatively unharmed, would those who complain agree that Israel should drop 46 tons? Should they send in ground forces? Should they stop distributing warning leaflets or radio broadcasts to residents of areas slated to be attacked? Walking away from a confrontation is not a ready option because, as we have learned, the attacks will return and the arming will continue unabated. So what is disproportionate here? How can war be avoided?
I write this as somebody who, prior to recent events, wrote on this site, Jewlicious.com, that the Lebanese border has been relatively quiet and Israel’s departure from Lebanon was, in effect, a success. I was wrong!! It was a false quiet; a quiet before the storm. It was a time of retrenchment and heavy organization for war against Israel by Hizbullah – a group with deep popular support and even seats in the Lebanese government.
If Israel has now lashed back, it has done so because it has been attacked and because the attacks are significant, signaling a new stage of a new war. If Israel loses this war, nobody will be talking about proportionate or disproportionate force.
In the meantime, Israel may make some mistakes and those mistakes will tragically cost lives on both sides, but especially the Lebanese side. For this reason, I hope the parties involved will begin diplomatic talks soon. In many respects, Israel’s reaction may also open a door to discussions among all the principal players. Would Syria wish to see Damascus in the condition parts of S. Beirut currently stand? Would Israel wish to see Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the line of fire as Haifa is? In 1967, the Arab countries refused to speak to Israel after its victory and certainly refused to make peace. We’re in 2006 now, let us hope that a different outcome can be had this time