By COLIN RUBENSTEIN
Israel can only prevent attacks by disarming the terrorists and driving them away from the border
Bangkok Post – 14 August 2006
When the Hezbollah-Israel war began in mid-July, many in the Arab world made some startling comments. “The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of people of Arab countries and the international community,” wrote the editor of the Kuwaiti Arab Times.
Milder statements in the same vein – blaming Hezbollah for the violence – came from across the Arab world, including the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
These governments and commentators are not fans of Israel, but they came to the same conclusion as Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon’s Druze community. He said, “The war is no longer Lebanon’s – it is an Iranian war. Iran is telling the United States: You want to fight me in the Gulf and destroy my nuclear programme? I will hit you at home, in Israel.”
The Arab states know that the Hezbollah-Israel violence is an Iranian power play, even if public concern about Lebanese casualties has forced them to change their public pronouncements in recent weeks. The violence is clearly an attempt by Iran and Syria to display their influence, win Arab support, and assert their dominance across the region.
The timing is doubtless partly to draw attention away from the ongoing crisis surrounding the Iranian nuclear weapons programme, which was due to come to a head in the UN this month.
Hezbollah, a banned terrorist organisation in Australia, the EU, US, and elsewhere, was founded, trained, armed, funded and, in part, directed, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. It had built up a huge arsenal of more than 13,000 Iranian and Syrian-supplied rockets, and effectively controlled a mini-state in southern Lebanon, including the border with Israel.
Hezbollah is a strong supporter of the repeatedly articulated Iranian policy demanding Israel’s destruction, and uses both terror and the rocket threat to further Iran’s agenda and interests.
It is an international terror threat not confined to Lebanon. It was Hezbollah that attempted the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Bangkok in 1994. In fact, Hezbollah terrorist attacks have taken place in Thailand, Argentina and Saudi Arabia, as well as throughout Lebanon and Israel.
There was absolutely no justification, either in law or in ethics, for Hezbollah’s blatant violation of sovereign Israeli territory on July 12, involving kidnapping soldiers and firing rockets at Israeli towns, which triggered this conflict. In May 2000, Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon in a move recognised by the UN as ending any territorial quarrel between Lebanon and Israel.
Israel’s response has been both legal and proportionate. Israeli attacks are concentrated on Hezbollah bases, command centres and rocket launchers and storage warehouses, most of which are illegally situated in the middle of civilians areas and even in civilian homes and apartment blocks.
But Israel also seeks to isolate Hezbollah by cutting off transportation links – air travel, roads, bridges, ports etc. This is both legal and justified because it serves a genuine military purpose – to prevent its patrons, Iran and Syria, re-arming it. Israel has indeed had intelligence of trucks coming from Syria loaded with arms, and has destroyed several.
Israel is doing what it can to minimise civilian casualties, for instance by dropping leaflets warning civilians to evacuate places about to be attacked, even though this also allows the Hezbollah leadership to flee with its military assets.
No country would put up with a terrorist group not only threatening rocket attacks on its cities but carrying out those threats. Given the complete lack of action by the UN and Lebanon over the last six years, Israel can only prevent Hezbollah from launching attacks by disarming it and moving it away from the border. The Israeli government has even concluded that suffering the thousands of rocket attacks now occurring throughout Israel’s north is a price worth paying if it prevents even worse attacks later.
There is much talk of the supposed lack of “proportionality” of the Israeli response, and comparisons of casualty figures. However, proportionality in warfare is properly measured against the threat involved, not just the specific illegal cross-border attack that sparked the counter-action. And the threat to Israel from Hezbollah is extremely significant.
It should also be remembered that Hezbollah is deliberately and cynically trying to confront Israel with a no-win situation. If Israel doesn’t strike back for fear of hitting innocent Lebanese, Hezbollah is free to plan and arm for further attack at its leisure, and drag Israel and Lebanon into conflict whenever this suits Iran.
But if Israel does retaliate and civilians are injured or killed, as is inevitable in the circumstances, it can be pilloried for its supposed brutality.
The obvious resolution of the problem is to create security for all sides by arrangements that give Lebanon control over its own foreign policy and borders and thus obviate any need for Israel to respond militarily to attacks launched unilaterally by Hezbollah.
Lebanon needs international assistance and insistence to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1566 and 1680 – which call for the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah and take control over the border area with Israel. Hezbollah will resist being disarmed. As such, it must be weakened enough, politically and military, so it has no ability to seriously interfere with UN or Lebanese troops if and when they are deployed.
If the problem of Hezbollah’s Iranian-backed state within a state in Lebanon is not solved, the violence will certainly return the next time Hezbollah launches another attack on Israel.
That is why everyone of goodwill should be hoping and working for a cease-fire as soon as possible, but not one second before it is crystal clear that the conditions for stability and quiet will follow – Hezbollah dismantled as a military force and Lebanon in control of its own southern border.
Dr Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. Previously, he taught Middle Eastern politics at Monash University in Australia for many years.