I’ve spent the past week absorbing countless news articles, blog entries, analyses and opinion pieces on the ongoing war between Israel and Hizbullah. One of the prevailing themes in a lot of the commentary is the claim that the Israeli air campaign against Hizbullah is disproportionate and therefore immoral. There is no denying that Israel’s counter-attack on Hizbullah has inflicted more damage on Lebanon and has resulted in the deaths of more Lebanese civilians than the hundreds of missiles that have been launched against Israel. But does this necessarily mean that the Israeli response is disproportionate and morally reprehensible? One need only scrutinize the premises on which the self-righteous calls for a ceasefire are based to understand their folly.
One of the basic assumptions of many “well-meaning” outside observers is that a “body count” comparing Israeli and Lebanese fatalities somehow proves that Israel is the guilty party in this conflict. By this logic, Israel can redeem itself only if the hundreds of missiles being launched by Hizbullah eventually succeed in inflicting massive casualties on Israeli civilians. There is something almost endearing about the charity of the naïve proponents of this knee-jerk “moralistic” doctrine. After all, it offers Israel the prospect of moral salvation. All that is needed is for the Israeli government to order the hundreds of thousands of Israelis hunkering in bomb shelters, apartment building staircases, basements, corridors or living rooms to go outside, report to work and to gather in large public spaces– in short, to resume their normal lives. Some of the hundreds of missiles being launched at Israel every day will surely hit enough Israeli civilians. Hizbullah lacks neither the motivation nor the capability to inflict heavy casualties on the Israeli home front in a bid to demoralize the Israeli public. The only reason that hundreds of civilians in the Galilee in northern Israel are still alive is that they have, unfortunately, become accustomed to taking cover from incoming katyusha rockets. I do not want to reveal too much here about the sites that have been hit in Haifa and other places. Suffice it so say that, under normal circumstances, absent the measures taken by the Israeli authorities, the Home Front Command and employers who told their workers not to come, we would be hearing about many more Israeli victims.
Israel has invested in bomb shelters for its citizens and in radar installations that (sometimes) sound warnings about incoming fire, because it’s been in these kinds of situations before. Did Hizbullah or the Lebanese government take any measures to protect its civilians? Did they evacuate civilians living close to their bases and weapons depots? A number of reports have stated that Hizbullah fighters even set up checkpoint to prevent refugees from fleeing the south. I do not know if these reports are true, but I’m sure that Nasrallah and his friends are well protected in their Iranian-built bunkers and elaborate tunnels and caves. They certainly prepared themselves for the Israeli air strikes that they triggered and for the entry of IDF ground forces into their strongholds.
If this war were only about two kidnapped soldiers, one could perhaps understand claims that the Israeli air campaign is unjustified. In fact, there is much more at stake here. This war is an attempt to deal with a group that has shown that it is able to paralyze Israel’s north and to potentially kill hundreds of Israeli civilians. Unlike the Arab states in the region, most which have a greater military capacity than Hizbullah, Nasrallah does not make the sobering calculations that his sponsors in Iran and Syria would make before plunging their country in ruin. Who knows what Hizbullah would have done next? Who is to say that they will not seize on a pretext other than the Palestinian issue or the release of prisoners with blood on his hands to attack Israel in the future?
Opponents of the withdrawal from Lebanon have argued for the past six years that Barak’s pull-out would come back to haunt Israel. They would cite the fact that Hizbullah was being armed by Iran and Syria and had deployed thousands of missiles in the south to make their case. Supporters of the withdrawal, myself included, usually ended up arguing that Israel had gained international legitimacy in return. I would then find myself trying to convince my skeptical interlocutor of the merits of having international opinion on one’s side. Frankly, if Hizbullah is allowed to hide behind the inevitable death of Lebanese civilians that it sowed and is not called to account for its actions, one can only draw the conclusion that fickle international opinion or the moral support of a club of self-righteous European states is hardly worth counting on.
Trying to preserve the status quo ante by calling for a cease-fire and throwing out vague plans for an international force in Lebanon will do nothing to restore stability to the Middle East. I respect the calls to allow humanitarian aid to flow to Lebanon, as long as that aid is not expropriated and exploited by Hizbullah to gain more supporters. I would not be critical of the British Foreign Office if it had simply called on all sides in this conflict to make every effort to limit civilian casualties. But the international community must accept that, just as in the Kosovo War waged against Milosevic’s Yugoslavia in 1999 using overwhelming air power, there are going to be civilian casualties in this conflict. As a Canadian, I am proud to say that, outside of the United States, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was one of the few world leaders at the G-8 who opposed the embrace of an immediate cease-fire that would only serve to strengthen Hizbullah. The onus to stop these hostilities should be placed squarely on Nasrallah.