Friday, July 14, 2006

Mideast war

There is a new war now going on in the middle east, or perhaps I should say yet another chapter of a very, very old war, with the Israeli army fighting (separately) Palestinians in Gaza and Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon. In the process of this war, rockets and missiles have been launched into civilian population centers (by Hezbollah) and infrastructure, government buildings and a major international airport have been bombed (by Israel).

While there is no question that Israel has been responsible for a lot of provocations and has certainly ratcheted up the stakes in this war with their invasions of Gaza and Lebanon, it has become increasingly harder for me to condemn anything that they do. That is because every time things cool down and there is some semblance of peace, it always seems to be the Palestinians or Hezbollah who break the cease-fire.

Since withdrawing from the Gaza strip six months ago, Israel has on the whole showed restraint in the face of rocket attacks and other actions against their territory (and the fact that some of the rockets have come from Gaza, despite the fact that until a week ago there had been no Israeli occupation in Gaza since the pullout, shows that for many Palestinians it isn't about fighting 'occupation' at all, but about killing Israelis). And the announcement just before this all started up again, now buried and forgotten under the rubble of war, that Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed on the text of a joint declaration that implicitly, though not explicitly, recognized Israel, was earth shattering in itself, and showed that ever so slowly, the wheels of progress were beginning to turn. I had blogged following the stunning victory by Hamas in January's election about how I was optimistic in the long term (though pessimistic in the short term) about the prospects for peace, as Hamas would, because of the day by day mundane matters of running a government, be forced to soften their views and eventually at least in fact, if not in word, recognize Israel. And the joint declaration of two weeks ago seemed to bear this out, as it was historic in being the first time that the leaders of Hamas had ever expressed a willingness to put their name on a document that in any way recognized Israel.

So why are things so very different this week? It began when Hamas failed to crack down on attacks against Israel by Islamic Jihad and other groups. Israel responded by airstrikes against members of these groups, where they could be found, and also against Palestinian government offices, which they did back when Yassir Arafat was President and was failing to restrain militants. Hamas responded by calling off their self-imposed 'truce,' and in an obviously well planned attack, Palestinian militants operating out of the Gaza strip dug a tunnel under the border, and kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Israel blamed Hamas, and statements to the contrary, this seems to be a particularly good assumption because Hamas has a much better organization in the strip than other terror groups, and the military precision with which the attack was carried out seems to indicated a well-organized, disciplined group with generous support, hence Hamas. Since then of course war has broken out. The Israelis know their soldier is being held somewhere in Gaza, and his recovery is their top priority. Whether Hamas was trying to placate their own base (who still want to annihilate Israel) after agreeing to the document, whether they believed that seizing the soldier would lead to negotiations for an exchange of prisoners, or whether they simply planned to use him for propaganda purposes, it is clear that they made a disastrous miscalculation.

The second theater of this war is in Lebanon. After the Gaza battle broke out, Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon began firing rockets into towns in northern Israel. This caused Israel to attack into Lebanon to cripple Hezbollah's capabilities to launch more rocket attacks. In the ensuing fighting, the guerillas proved themselves to be more adept at short range fighting than Israel had estimated (another disastrous miscalculation, this time by Israel) and they captured two more Israeli soldiers. Israel responded with a full scale invasion of the area and airstrikes against not only Hezbollah, but Lebanese government targets (the Lebanese government is weak and sponsors Hezbollah partly because they don't have any choice not to, but would likely sponsor them even if they could do anything about them.) Hezbollah launched two long range missiles, which the Israelis didn't know they had, into the city of Haifa, deep inside of Israel (likely they had planned to launch them at a time when such an event would have really embarrassed the Israelis, such as when a U.S. leader was visiting, but with the Israeli army on the move in southern Lebanon, were faced with a 'use them or lose them' situation). Israel quickly learned from their intelligence network that Hezbollah planned to fly the captured soldiers out to Iran, and bombed the Beirut airport to prevent the flight. The bombing closed the airport for the forseeable future and probably won't help recover the soldiers (who could easily be transported across the border into Syria, and then flown to Iran when their captors believe they have sufficiently covered their tracks.)

What we see then is one escalation, then another and then another. However, as I said above, while believing that Israel has certainly contributed to the current situation, I have to support their right to respond, since response requires a first act, and unfortunately, it seems that (with the exception of the 1967 war) every time something like this starts, the first shot always seems to be taken by their opponents.


Lammy said...

We could be frozen and then brought back a thousand years from now and they would probably still be fighting in that part of the world. Ah, they's be fighting everywhere. How could anyone get humans to get along?

Indy Voter said...

Eli, I used to feel that Israel had the right to do pretty much anything to defend itself from terrorists as well, but I've seen them go too far too many times now to give them carte blanche in that area any more. I see no justification for Israel systematically destroying the infrastructure of a neighboring nation (Lebanon), or attacking Lebanese military bases (especially those located along the northern border of Lebanon, far from both Israel and areas controlled by Hezbollah), or cratering the runways of the international airport, or interdicting all sea traffic in and out of Lebanon. Your speculation about Hezbollah attempting to transport the Israeli captives to a third country is interesting, but even if Israel's using that as a justification for turning Lebanon's infrastructure to rubble (and I have yet to see that in any news reports) that's insufficient justification in my eyes (to say nothing of whether the speculation represents truth).

Eli Blake said...

One article that mentions the belief by the Israelis that the soldiers would be transferred is linked here (the article I read said much the same thing, apparently courtesy of the Associated Press, and appeared in yesterday's Arizona Republic. Further, it makes the point that weapons and other supplies have been sent to Hezbollah through the airport.

It is true that whether it was going to happen or not, this is based on what Israeli intelligence said, and obviously their intel is limited-- they have proven themselves to have so far underestimated Hezbollah's military capabilities-- the 'kamikaze' attack by a flightless drone on an Israeli ship being the lastest demonstration of that. And it is not much of a secret that the Israelis rely heavily on the Lebanese Christians-- formerly the Phalangists-- for much of their Lebanese intelligence. Having suffered a great deal at the hands of Hezbollah (reprisal killings and forced conversions to Islam) since the Israelis left, the Phalange would likely have their own agenda and would want the Israelis back in there.

I actually seem to have passed you going the other way. There was a time when I thought that big, evil Israel was depriving an oppressed people of their homeland and should immediately withdraw back into the pre-1967 borders and hand the rest over to the Palestinians, but the Palestinians lost my sympathy when they started sending twelve year olds to blow themselves up in pizzarias. And as for the practical matter of supporting the partition of the land back to the 1967 borders, they lost me on that, as I said in the post, by always being the first ones to pull the trigger whenever there is a cease-fire.

Yes, the Israeli response is excessive, but since the Lebanese government either cannot or will not prevent Hezbollah from smuggling things both into (arms) or out of (the captives) the country, the Israelis have to 1) take what action they can to prevent the latter, and 2) cut the enemy supply line (a standard strategy of modern warfare), I'm not sure they have much other choice.

Indy Voter said...

Eli, I simply cannot condone reducing an entire nation's infrastructure to rubble or cutting off its trade routes because radicals in an ungovernable part of the nation use it as a base to attack another country. If you buy that logic, then you say it's okay for the US (or perhaps India) to do the same thing to Pakistan.

And there's no way Israel can justify its attacks against the Lebanese military bases, especially those in the farthest north section of the country where Hezbollah has no influence.

I have no problem with Israel's actions in southern Lebanon, or even with their bombing Hezbollah's headquarters in beirut, but turning this action into a general assault on the entire nation of Lebanon is going way too far.