The situation in Lebanon keeps getting worse. The airport has been bombed, and access by sea has been blocked. Now the major road connecting Beirut to Damascus has been destroyed. More than a hundred people have been injured or killed.
Yes, the responsibility falls firstly on Hezbollah. Firing rockets at Israel is genearlly not a great idea. But did Lebanon commit an unprovoked act of war when Hezbollah — an armed militia that, by all accounts, operates according to its own rules and is difficult to control — fired those rockets? The Lebanese government certainly has a good deal of responsibility here, as they should have gotten Hezbollah under control long ago. But it’s not always that simple — Hezbollah is bankrolled by various other governments (Iran, Syria), and the Lebanese government is fairly weak. The people and the government of Lebanon credit Hezbollah with pushing Israeli forces out of Lebanon (although Hezbollah itself, and its presence in the Lebanese government, is controversial). Hezbollah controls the southern border of Lebanon and parts of Beirut without government interference — there’s not much that the government can do to control Hezbollah, and Hezbollah’s presense has been considered a benefit for Lebanon, so they generally look the other way.
Further, Hezbollah’s civil branch has provided hospitals, schools and other social services to the people of Lebanon. That’ll up anyone’s popularity, and was a tactic borrowed by Hamas in Palestine — and ended up being a primary reason that Hamas fared well in the most recent elections.
Some people have brought up the Taif Agreement and the UN resolution passed two years ago, which both require the Lebanese government to disband all militias. The argument is that since they didn’t get rid of Hezbollah, Israel is justified in blaming the Lebanese government for the terrorist attacks. And the Lebanese government did defend Hezbollah’s presence along the southern border through 2000, largely because Israeli forces were occupying Lebanese terrority up until that point, and the Lebanese government considered Hezbollah’s presense a legitimate resistance. Other Lebanese militias disarmed after the Lebanese government pushd them to comply with the Taif agreement. Hezbollah refused.
I’m not trying to be an apologist for the Lebanese government here. They have certainly enabled Hezbollah, and supported their efforts to expel Israeli forces from Lebanese land. Their hands aren’t clean in this matter. But I’m still not sure that justifies the Israeli reaction.
Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. There’s no question about that. And of course terrorist organizations should be taken out. Further, Hezbollah clearly wants to draw Israel into action, and they don’t seem to care that doing so will create complete instability in Lebanon and possibly destroy the current government.
Israel has a right to defend itself. The best solution here, obviously, would be for Hezbollah to release the Israeli soldiers. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen without Israeli action.
But attacking the entire country of Lebanon, shutting down one of the biggest cities in the Middle East, and causing all kinds of damage (humans and infrastructure) along the way? The actions that Israel has taken have been entirely disproportionate and excessively violent. And while it’s easy to argue that “Hezbollah started it” — and in this narrow case, they did — nothing is ever that simple in Middle Eastern politics, is it?
Israel has cut Lebanon off from the rest of the world. There is no way to get in or out of the country. It has warned all citizens of Beirut to leave. And this isn’t a small town or insular locale we’re talking about here — it’s a major city, with busy ports and a thriving tourist industry. It can be easy for Americans to orientalize cities in the Middle East, and stereotype the people there as desert-dwellers. But Beirut isn’t small beans. It’s the approximate equivalent of, say, San Francisco in the United States. Imagine that city having its airport and seaport blocked, and its major highway to LA destroyed. What do you do? Where do you go?
Senior Israeli officials said that the military had been unleashed to cut off Lebanon, permanently drive Hezbollah forces back from the border and punish the government for not upholding a United Nations directive to disarm and control the group.
Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, warned that “nothing is safe” in Lebanon and that Beirut itself, especially Hezbollah offices and strongholds in southern Beirut, would be a target.
“Nothing is safe.” Fantastic.
Lebanon has been in the process of rebuilding itself after a long civil war and a two-decade-long occupation. They were doing pretty well. It’s a damn shame that Hezbollah is courting instability, and a tragedy that Israel has responded how it has.
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