Victory eludes both Israel and Hezbollah

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Lebanese ProtestVindicated, vilified and lauded, few countries prompt so much scrutiny and heated debate as Israel. Shaped by a confluence of geography, politics and religion, Israel has always generated an intensity that is disproportionate to its size or influence.

For its critics, Israel is readily categorised as an aggressive coloniser, flexing its military muscle and oppressing the weak. For the six million people within its borders, this perception of strength is contrasted with an understanding of their homeland as a young, small nation surrounded by large and populous neighbours vigorously calling for its destruction; neighbours who find little to unite them apart from a shared loathing of the Jewish state. Israeli insecurity is perhaps incomprehensible to those of us living in lands with hundreds of years of history, where the question of whether our country will remain in existence for our lifetime does not even cross our minds.

This understanding of the threat that has always faced Israel throughout its short existence has motivated much of the support for Israel in its campaign against Hezbollah. It is not that supporters do not share the outrage at lives lost in the conflict. It is a consequence of a passionately held belief that, despite the devastation being inflicted on children, women and men across both sides of the border, it is critical to combat the threat Hezbollah poses to the safety of Israel’s civilians.

There is no longer anyone who can argue with conviction that Israel will be able to rid the world, or the region, of Hezbollah. But Israel does have the burden to cripple them, to counter the resources and strength that Hezbollah have so evidently built up since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. While Israel may have received international approval for withdrawing from Lebanon, six years later as Hezbollah launched up to 200 rockets a day into northern Israel and showed no signs of running out, the extent to which Hezbollah had taken advantage of the absence of Israeli troops to replenish its weapons supply became evident.

As the world observed the outbreak of war, reports circling in the media criticised Israel’s response as ‘disproportionate’. Indeed, the term was thrown about as if there existed a tacit understanding of what would have been a justified response; an invisible equation that stood in judgment over Israel’s actions. The concept of proportionate and disproportionate sits uneasily with the chaos of the fog of war and gives an erroneous sense that there is something quantifiable in war. How many Hezbollah deaths would have been proportionate? How many Lebanese civilian deaths? How many lives are two kidnapped Israeli soldiers worth? What is the equal response to each Katyusha rocket being fired into northern Israel? How does one respond to a leader calling for the destruction of their state? What is the appropriate strategy when facing combatants using civilians as human shields?

Lebanese ProtestIn this situation nothing is quantifiable, and even internationally agreed-upon rules of war do not apply because this is not a traditional conflict between nation states. Hezbollah’s proportionality in launching Katyushas and targeting civilians does not seem to raise ire, or prompt discussion, perhaps because there is no expectation that a terrorist group should play by the rules of war.

From the Israeli point of view, action against Hezbollah had to be taken, and by extension, against the powerful states of Iran and Syria that stand behind it. It needed to do so for the security of its citizens, those who have spent the past month heeding the warnings of air raid sirens and cowering in bomb shelters. It needed to do so also, it argued, because in a civilian army, where nearly every family sends its sons and daughters to compulsory military service, the kidnapping of two soldiers from Israeli territory does matter. It needed to, because the permanency and longevity of the state of Israel can not be a matter for debate.

Despite the need to respond to Hezbollah with force, this war has not brought victory to either side. Lebanon and its people have suffered incomprehensible devastation and Israel has shown its enemies that it could not effectively combat an enemy as elusive as Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been weakened, but to what extent remains unclear, as does the question of how long it might take them to regroup.

Not even the most strident of optimists can convincingly claim that this cautious ceasefire signals the end to hostilities. The mutual loathing the opposing sides feel is too deeply rooted to disappear, and there are other, shadowy forces at work—puppeteering behind the scenes that could lead to a wider conflagration. Amidst this devastation, the long term outcome which may prove the most tragic is the pervading sense of inevitability that this conflict will erupt again, with only the question of whether it will be in weeks, months or years.

 

 

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Existing comments

Mihal is wrong when she states that "action against the Hisbollah had to be taken". The capture of two Israeli soldiers would not affect the "permanency and longevity of the state of Israel". For Israel to continuing to occupy Lebanese land and continue to Lebanese prisoners is not just, nor does that promote peace and thus survival as a state. Do Christians who continue to support Israel, in Gaza, the West Bank and now in Lebanon have blood on their hands? I think they do. Why are Australians who have access to an Israeli pastport allowed to join the Israeli Defence Forces?
The Israelis kill people, David Hicks never did.
Ben Leeman | 22 August 2006


It would be very interesting to see what Mihal Greener's doctoral research turns up.
John Magee | 24 August 2006


Ben Leeman's comments are chemically unbalanced. The only thread linking his assertive sentences is the evasion of substance.
Jay Leonard | 26 August 2006


Mihal is a great person to say that Israel had to take action against Hezbollah as she spins the Israel spin like gossamer.

Firstly, in over 150 cases investigated note on case of Hezbollah hiding in civilians has ever been found.

177,000 - that is the number of bombs, bullets, cluster bombs and phosphorous bombs used by Israel in an invasion planned as early as 2004 and executed without cause.

250,000 people are homeless, there is no water or electricity, the food supplies have been destroyed and 1300 civilians are dead.

Is that enough to justify Israel's paranoia.

In case Mihal has not noticed Australia is surrounded by 2 billion Asians and we don't keep blowing them up or them us.

Israel are war criminals pure and simple.

Now they are denying food and water to the Lebanese while they pick their way through 100,000 cluster bombs.
Marilyn Shepherd | 01 September 2006


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