Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Israel-Lebanon/etc Issue

The Israel-Hezbollah/Hamas war has been getting lots of press lately. The issue is an extremely complicated one, as it stretches back at least 50 years, and in some cases involves the question of who which deity gave what to. In order to not fall into the trap that so many fall into on this issue, which is one of picking sides and defending one's side without attention to details or facts, one must look at the current situation as a single incident. To lump all the events surrounding the larger issue, which is whether Israel should be allowed to exist anywhere within its current borders, together is a mistake. Each incident must be approached individually, if any sort of objective analysis is to be done.

First, let us consider the obvious answer to all of this awful mess on a large scale. That answer is the one the Vatican seems to be intent on pushing, which is to simply stop the violence. Now, in order for a cessation of hostilities to work, both sides have to stop fighting. The first hard part of course, is one side has to be willing to trust the other and stop first. The second hard part is the other side actually has to stop, or the first party will start fighting again. The easy part should be a mediated settlement by an objective third party. The Vatican seems like a party that could do that job if the two sides let them. The Vatican has no interest in who controls the "Holy Land" as long as access to it is open to all. Israel and the Palestinians both want to control the "Holy Land". Neither one should care which one controls it, as long as they still have access to the land and its religious landmarks. A huge step would be to get the religious of both sides (the people who seem most intent on their own side winning), to meet and discuss an independent commission or group that could oversee the management of those areas, to the benefit of all groups with such an interest.

Once the religious aspect is being solved, the issue of land ownership needs to be addressed. Again, an objective third party, which is neither the US (very pro Israel) nor most of Europe (very pro Palestinians) could set up a court of sorts. It would be this court's job to hear the cases of displaced Palestinians, whose land was taken from them (not ancestors, only living victims). The government of Israel would then pay those victims some amount as determined by the objective body, as reparations. The land boundaries of whatever the last peace agreement which was agreed to by both sides should be put into place by both sides.

Once the land dispute issue is under way, the issue of government should be addressed. One hears different stories about the Israeli government from different sources. I will relay the two sides I have heard. I don't know which is true, so both are presented. Pro-Israel people state that there are Arab members of Israel's parliament, that non-Jews have representation and rights in Israel. Pro Palestinians claim that non-Jews are not treated as full citizens by Israel and that they are oppressed. At the same time, the government of what, for lack of a better term, we will call Palestine (the area controlled by Arafat and then Abbas, before Hamas won so much in the recent elections), clearly needs reform. Both governments should be Republics, which guarantee the rights of their respective minorities. The Republican form of government is the only answer for countries that have minority groups.

Now, on to the current mess. Assuming, for the sake of argument that Hamas won those elections fair and square, that government needs to be respected by international parties as the legitimate government of those areas. But, at the same time, democracy and elections carry consequences, and those who voted for Hamas had to know, and must expect that other countries will refuse to deal with groups they have defined as terrorists. Now, after that recent election, the US started to withhold aid, and Israel stopped giving that government the money that it had previously agreed to give it as part of the peace process. An objective outsider cannot expect a country or countries to fund groups and parties whose stated goal is the funders destruction. If those who elected Hamas expected a different result, their is no accounting for that kind of stupidity. If Hamas wanted to be taken seriously, and not treated as terrorists, they could have renounced terrorism and agreed to the terms of the peace process which included agreeing to Israel's right to exist.

All that said, Hamas began the current hostilities by attacking Israeli positions. Israel began to respond and then Hezbollah jumped in. Clearly, Israel has a right to defend itself as President Bush has correctly stated. Much has been made of terms like "restraint", and "proportionate responses". When a country is attacked, by uniformed soldiers of another country's military, or by militants hiding in another country, it is a government's responsibility to defend its people. As has been clearly demonstrated by both pro Israeli and pro Lebanon supporters, the Lebanese army is simply not strong enough to stop militants hiding in Lebanon from attacking Israel. Israel has no choice but to attack those militants. At the same time, there has now been ample proof to show that Hezbollah purposely stations is military assets around civilians and other non-military targets. Those decrying the Israeli military response argue that Israeli lives are not worth more than Lebanese lives. That is clearly true, however, the Israeli military's job is to defend Israelis, not to determine that a strike at militants in Lebanon will harm 10 more people than would be harmed if they stood down and let Israel be attacked. The Israeli military should of course do all it can not to kill innocents, but it cannot abandon its core mission, which is to protect Israel, not because they are "Zionists" or whatever other hot-button term those who oppose Israel use, but because its their job to defend their country.

This brings us all back to the fundamental reality that war is hell. People die in war, not just soldiers but innocent people as well. This is why war is bad. War is a last resort, it is something you do when you realize those you must protect are going to be killed if you do not take up arms. The squeamishness of the "West" is truly galling. It used to be in war, that the US and its allies were willing to bomb cities with nuclear weapons to end a war. It used to be that the US and its allies were willing to firebomb whole cities in order to stop the military-industrial capability of an enemy. It was America's willingness to defend itself at ALL COSTS including all-out nuclear war, later referred to as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), that protected the US and Europe and much of the world from the evil Soviet and Chinese communists during the Cold War. Without that resolve, to defend oneself at all costs, all the weapons in the world will not deter evil forces from the desire to attack. If there is a true lesson to be learned from the Vietnam "conflict", it is the Powell Doctrine, the most important part of which is to go to war with overwhelming force, willing to do whatever is needed to complete the mission, which ought to always be to destroy the enemy, or beat them into submission. The West's weakness of resolve in places like Iraq where the US population turns against a war after only a couple thousand of its military volunteers die (and I am not attempting to demean the dead, we pray for the dead, but compare that number with those killed in any of America's successful wars involving ground forces) can only open the West to more challenges to its willingness to defend itself. Indeed, what does the spineless flipflop in a war like that say about how seriously Americans take killing other people? We are willing to fight a war if it only kills other people via jets and cruise missiles, but if we actually have to sacrifice our own people its not worthwhile? That judgment is one Americans need to make BEFORE a war. If the war is not worth losing our own people, we should not be there in the first place.

Hopefully, the "international community" will come together, as it was supposed to do in the past on this very same Lebanon issue, and this time send a real-armed multinational force that will enforce peace on the border of Lebanon and Israel. I like to think of myself as an optimist, but its extremely hard not to see this war getting worse and engulfing Syria and Iran before its over.