Israel Blockades Lebanon

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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15 comments for “Israel Blockades Lebanon

  1. little cabbage
    July 14, 2006 at 5:45 am

    Dan Haltuz is the same guy who talked the other day about “setting Lebanon back 20 years”. He’s complete scum, as far as I’m concerned.

    I think one of the difficulties is that the governments of Lebanon and Palestine often like to change their stance between “Hezbollah/Hamas is an integral part of the government” and “Hezbollah/Hamas is a guerilla organization, we have no control over them!” based on the circumstance. They have to decide whether they’re guerillas or governmental entities. If they’re the former, then they shouldn’t have governmental power and the governments of Lebanon and Palestine should not give it to them, and should take an active role in criminalizing and dismantling them. If they’re the latter, then they have to understand that attacking the country next door will be rightly considered an act of war and they will justifiably be attacked back. (This last is more applicable in the case of Lebanon than of Palestine, seeing as Palestine is still not independent and its people are largely under the control of Israel, whereas Lebanon is an independent country.)

    All of that said: Israel’s response is absolutely ridiculous. There was justification for operations to get their soldiers back; there is no justification for the scope of this destruction. This is unbelievable.

  2. little cabbage
    July 14, 2006 at 5:48 am

    (not-quite-edit to add: now that the government of Palestine IS Hamas, they’re going to have to make that distinction even more; they can’t just be guerillas when it suits them and a government when it suits them.)

  3. July 14, 2006 at 10:58 am

    I’m not convinced that Israel’s response to Hezbollah is “disproportionate”. One of the Israeli spokespeople said that they’re blockading the country to prevent Hezbollah from taking the Israeli prisoners to Iran, which seems like a perfectly legitimate concern. And going into Beirut to attack Hezbollah headquarters seems like it would be less of an imposition on Lebanese civilians than occupying southern Lebanon again and trying to pick individual Hezbollah guerrillas out of all the local farmers minding their own business.

    Remember, back in the early days of the second intifada, a Palestinian would set off a suicide bomb and Israel would bomb a PA police station. Then there would be another suicide bombing, and Israel would destroy another police station. The suicide bombers kept coming, even after the PA ran out of police stations.

    As a friend of mine put it: this can’t end well, so let’s hope it ends quickly.

  4. Caja
    July 14, 2006 at 11:34 am

    With all due respect to the prisoners and their families, it seems way disproportionate for Israel to go to all this trouble to do what? Prevent two people being hauled into Iran? TWO people? And they’re blockading an entire country? (I know it’s much more complicated than that, but for the sake of the “preventing Hezbollah from taking the hostages into Iran” argument, that’s what I’m focusing on.)

  5. July 14, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Caja–

    If Israel rolls over and plays dead Gandhi-style, they *will* invite more attacks from terrorists in the region.

    Sustaining the violence until the troops are returned provides a powerful disincentive if Hamas and/or the Hez ever contemplate doing something like this in the future. It also provides an incentive for others not to cooperate with these people. The only reason why Israel is in this situation is because so many have thought they could make peace with terrorist organizations and rewarded them (and often gave them legitimacy as mentioned above) for violent behavior.

    I’ll add that if Iran and Syria don’t get their dogs back on the porch, they’re inviting everything that is coming their way.

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  7. July 14, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    Caja: Hezbollah has also been sending the occasional missle over Israel’s border ever since Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Part of the cease-fire agreement that led to the Israeli withdrawal required the Lebanese government to replace the Hezbollah militia there with the Lebanese national army, but the government is too weak to do that.

  8. randomliberal/Robert
    July 14, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    If Israel rolls over and plays dead Gandhi-style…

    Yeah, cuz that’s exactly what Gandhi did in his day. Nice job, reducing one of the world’s great revolutionaries to the role of a dog.

    Question for someone more knowledgeable than me: Other than hatred of Israel, what is Syria’s connection to Hezbollah? Syria is 74% Sunni and the government is run by Sunni(ish) Ba’athists, while Hezbollah is a Shi’ite paramilitary group. Is mutual loathing of Israel enough, or is there some other connection between the two that i’m missing?

  9. Erin M
    July 14, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    J.H. Bowden: It also provides an incentive for others not to cooperate with these people.

    I’d buy that argument if we hadn’t seen the opposite so often in the past. The problem for Israel is they can’t shake their “outsider” status in the region. If they act passively, then it invites attacks, presumably because it makes them seem weak and easy to drive out. But if they act aggressively, then the leaders of Palestine, Lebanon, etc. can rally the people against the “foreign invader” and play the nationalism/religion card. An unfortunate double bind, but we’ve seen it all before. Until all major players in the region agree that Israel has a right to be there in the first place, this sort of thing won’t stop, not through passive resistance, nor through attempts to cow their enemies.

  10. July 15, 2006 at 12:09 am

    …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.

    I’m inclined to think that that’s exactly what they want. Terrorists flourish in unstable countries. Hezbollah might also be looking to take over. It pisses me off that the Israeli government is dumb enough to take the bait.

  11. July 15, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    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?

    The human damage is a result of terrorist groups intentionally positioning their headquarters and points of operation in densely populated areas. Israel, rather correctly, doesn’t except this as a pretext by which to simply not engage in military action–because civilians might die/get wounded. Likewise, few would object to landing a cruise missile in a terrorist camp’s backyard in Afghanistan/Pakistan if it were, suppose, side-by-side to a small little village.

    I’m inclined to think that that’s exactly what they want. Terrorists flourish in unstable countries. Hezbollah might also be looking to take over. It pisses me off that the Israeli government is dumb enough to take the bait.

    And the alternative is to … what exactly? In the event of a kidnapping of military personnel, and continued rocket fire onto your territory, what is the alternative? Toppling the Lebanese government is certainly a bad thing, in and of itself, but it’s silly to suggest that Israel wait long enough for it (Palestine and Lebanon) to become strong enough to weed out its terrorist elements–all the while Israel constantly being under attack.

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  14. Beet
    July 16, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    The human damage is a result of terrorist groups intentionally positioning their headquarters and points of operation in densely populated areas.

    While human damage in Israel may be a result of Hezbollah, the human damage in Lebanon is a direct result of Israeli strikes. Without the Israeli strikes, that human damage would not have accrued. And it’s not just an issue of terrorist groups positioning their headquarters in Beirut. The Israeli strikes are also occuring in roads and suburbs which are not densely populated and not headquarters of any terrorist groups. That’s where a lot of the civilian casualties are coming.

    And the alternative is to … what exactly?

    The Prime Minister of Lebanon has already called for a cease-fire and agreed to move the army into southern Lebanon. Israel refused this offer. It’s actually made it harder for the Lebanese military to control Hezbollah by destroying infrastructure and attacking the Lebanese military. In fact, more Lebanese soldiers have been killed by the Israeli raids than Hezbollah militants. The ratio of civilians to Hezbollah killed is more like 50:1.

    The Lebanese government can hardly reign in Hezbollah when they are under attack themselves. What’s more, without committing troops on the ground, there’s absolutely no way to destroy Hezbollah with only airstrikes. The alternative would have been to provide support for the Lebanese troops on the ground to disarm Hezbollah permanently.

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