Israel justified in striking out at its enemies

Colin Rubenstein  

Canberra Times – 20 July 2006

IS ISRAEL’S response to Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon “disproportionate?” To answer this question it is necessary to explore both what Israel is actually doing, and why.  

Basically, the Israeli army is doing two things militarily in Lebanon. Firstly, it is attacking Hezbollah bases, storage sites and command and control centres. Many of these, unfortunately and illegally, are located in civilian neighbourhoods, even in the same buildings as civilian apartments. This makes it impossible for Israel to completely avoid damage to civilian property and accidental wounding and killing of civilians. No one should minimise the suffering this causes, but under international law, the responsibility for that suffering lies with the party guilty of hiding its military assets among civilians.  

However, Israel is doing what it can to minimise civilian casualties, for instance by dropping leaflets in places such as the Beirut neighbourhood of Dahiya, Hezbollah’s main military headquarters, warning civilians to evacuate, even though this also allows the Hezbollah leadership to flee with its military assets.  

Israeli attacks also seek to isolate Hezbollah by cutting off transportation links – air travel, roads, bridges, ports etc. This is a perfectly legal and justified military tactic because it serves a genuine military purpose – to prevent Hezbollah’s rearming by its patrons Syria and Iran, and to prevent captured Israeli soldiers being taken out of the country.  

Israel’s primary purpose is not just to recover kidnapped soldiers and avenge a cross-border attack. Following this blatant act of war by Hezbollah, in violation of several international agreements, Israel is attempting to create security for itself not only against this attack, but the many attacks likely to come in following months and years if nothing is done. Moreover, given the nature of those attacking Israel, it is impossible to see how this can be done without the extensive use of military force.  

The attack into Lebanon is not independent from the Israeli incursions into Gaza a week and a half earlier, because the threats posed from both areas are distinctly linked. The link is Iran, and its ally Syria, which are urgently seeking to further their own goals, including distracting attention from the mounting international pressure over Iran’s illegal program to build nuclear weapons, and demonstrating how much trouble they can make if threatened.  

Hezbollah is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime – 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-supplied missiles pointed at Israeli towns. It is a strong supporter of the repeatedly articulated policy of Iran of demanding Israel’s destruction, and uses both terror and the threat posed by the missiles to further Iran’s agenda and interests.  

The only possible ways Israel can dissuade it from launching attacks are either through deterrence, or by disarming it and moving it away from the border. The Israeli Army has even concluded that suffering the hundreds of rocket attacks now occurring throughout Israel’s north is worth the price if it prevents even worse attacks later.  

In Gaza, Hamas is also funded and closely aligned with Iran, and its ally Syria (Hamas has its headquarters in Damascas). Hamas has also always been committed to Israel’s destruction, and nothing from the leadership in the recent past has indicated any change in this stance. While maintaining a facade of ceasefire, Hamas’ military wing actively assisted other groups to launch over a thousand missiles into Israel from Gaza, beginning at a time when Israel was taking no military action, before joining in a cross-border raid into Israel to kill soldiers and take hostages.  

Again, the Palestinians need a government that both can and will control cross-border terrorism.  

It is important to remember that Israel had completely withdrawn from the areas from which it has been attacked There was no “occupation” to theoretically justify the aggression against Israel – only hatred and the self-interest of Iran and Syria.  

The obvious resolution of the problem is to create security for all sides by arrangements that both provide good Palestinian and Lebanese governance and protect Israel and thus obviate any need for Israel to respond militarily to attacks. Gaza must have a government able and willing to ensure law and order, and prevent the launching of attacks from its territory. Meanwhile, Lebanon needs international assistance 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.  

Moreover, such a situation is an essential prerequisite of a lasting two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis overwhelmingly favour such a resolution and are prepared to provide the necessary territory, as the results of the last election makes clear. But Israel cannot withdraw from West Bank territory, which is within a few kilometres of Israel’s civilian heartland, if the result is likely to be an Iranian-influenced Hamas-Hezbollah state there.  

It is therefore in the interests of everybody that, in both Gaza and Lebanon, Israel achieves its objectives of creating stable arrangements, inhospitable to cross-border terrorism, especially foreign-inspired terrorism. Those who criticise Israel’s methods for achieving this outcome should instead be contributing to other methods of realising it – including organising an international consensus on economic and political pressure on Syria and Iran to rein in their proxies and devising a fast-executing international mechanism to disarm Hezbollah and restore full Lebanese sovereignty.  

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