Iran, Syria wage war by proxy

Colin Rubenstein

Australian Financial Review – 17 July 2006  

Hamas and Hezbollah are being fed by powerful patrons

Israel is facing a two-front war, now that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has joined the confrontation. Hezbollah’s action was probably undertaken at the behest of Iran, which runs it as an adjunct of its own security forces. Iran is also the major patron of Hamas.

After months of playing games with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its nuclear ambitions, Iran is on the brink of having sanctions imposed on it by the UN Security Council. The Iranians think they can distract the international community’s attention by fomenting a crisis between Israel and its neighbours.

The attacks from Gaza and from Lebanon are clear acts of war across internationally recognised borders. Both the Palestinian and Lebanese governments are legally and morally responsible for violence projected from their territory.

Israel’s critics claim that Israeli Defence Force attacks on terrorist targets in Gaza justify Palestinian cross-border attacks on Israel. But there would be no Israeli military actions in Gaza if there were no rockets fIred into Israel. The rocket attacks, more than 1000 of them in the past nine months, began immediately following Israel’s disengagement, and continued even when Israel offered no military response.

Israel’s goal is not simply the return of captured soldiers. The Israelis are also demanding that the Palestinian and Lebanese governments exercise their sovereign responsibility to prevent their territory from being used as a base for terrorist operations. This is why Israel has targeted Palestinian ministries and other infrastructure, as well as the leadership and facilities of the terrorist groups.

The Hamas-led Palestinian government was directly implicated in both the attack on an Israeli military post two weeks ago and in providing technical assistance to the terrorist groups that have been launching those rockets.

Similarly, Hezbollah is a constituent party of the Lebanese government, with two ministers in cabinet It has been variously tolerated, even supported, “in the declared aim that it is now implementing, to drag the Lebanese nation into its war to destroy the “Zionist entity”, as it calls Israel.

And Hezbollah has an arsenal of more than 12,000 rockets, provided by Iran, that it is using to bombard civilian population centres throughout northern Israel. The Israelis are trying to destroy as many of these rockets and military assets as possible. Meanwhile, Israel’ temporarily disabled the runways at Beirut airport to prevent Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal from being replenished by Iran.

There is no doubt some innocent people both in Gaza and Lebanon are being killed and injured in Israeli military operations and no one should minimise the human costs involved. But Israel is trying to defend itself on the one hand, while minimising civilian casualties in Gaza and Lebanon on the other. The Israeli military’s actions are entirely consistent with the doctrine of military necessity that is a central pillar of the law of war.

Moreover, Israel has allowed humanitarian relief supplies into Gaza to ensure that the Palestinian population has adequate food, water and fuel.

Those who say that Israel has a right to defend itself but only in such a “proportionate” way that it creates no risks or costs to civilians are essentially denying Israel’s right to self-defence.

Hamas and Hezbollah deliberately place their operations, or hide, amidst civilians. This demand, in the name of protecting Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, would amount to making Israeli civilians fair game for radical Islamist terrorist organisations that deliberately target them and whose routine tactics are war crimes.

The return of the abducted Israeli soldiers is only a small part of any resolution. The Palestinians must stop firing rockets into Israel. And Beirut must find a way to put an end to Hezbollah’s autonomous enclave in southern Lebanon and disarm Hezbollah as UN Security Council resolution 1559 demands.

But the only real hope for regional stability lies in pressuring Iran and Syria to abandon using their terrorist proxies against Israel in pursuing their own ends. Only when the flow of arms and funds dries up to groups like Hezbollah and Hamas do we stand any chance of stemming the tide of regional terrorism.

* Colin Rubenstein is the executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.