Thursday, August 10, 2006

Evil Intentions versus Fire Power

I think I will scream if I read one more time that Israel has no choice but to keep pounding Lebanon to smithereens because Hezbollah intends to destroy Israel. If evil intentions alone could destroy Israel, Israel would have been destroyed many times over. Arab states have kept up a non-stop stream of evil intentions towards Israel since 1948, and look how far it has gotten them.

This is not a defense of Hezbollah's provocations toward Israel. Hezbollah should be absolutely condemned for killing several Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two more at the outset of the war. But a border clash of that kind stops well short of a mortal threat to Israel’s existence. The rockets Hezbollah is firing on northern Israel more serious. Indeed, even people who are no fans of Israel have pointed out that, since Hezbollah's rocket have such poor aim as to serve no valid military purpose, they are being used solely to terrorize a civilian population, which is a war crime. Even so, Hezbollah's rockets are causing only a fraction of the casualties and damage to Israel that Israel is causing to Lebanon. This is certainly not due to any lack of evil intentions on Hezbollah’s part; it is because Hezbollah lacks the firepower to do any more.

Even more grotesque are people who say that Lebanon's suffering is all Hezbollah's fault for caring nothing for the casualties they bring upon Lebanese civilians and continuing to provoke Israel by firing rockets on Haifa. Hezbollah is, indeed, showing a spectacular indifference to the suffering it is bringing on countless innocent Lebanese, and I suspect that once the shooting dies down Hezbollah will pay the price. (This also gives Hezbollah an incentive to prolong the war and inflict ever increasing suffering on Lebanon, which, once again, should absolutely be condemned). But this is a pathetically poor excuse for Israel's conduct. Once it becomes clear to the Israelis that Hezbollah will not stop its rocket attacks despite the brutality of Israeli retaliation and the suffering inflicted on innocent Lebanese, Israel's conduct becomes inexcusable. What possible justification can there be for reducing Lebanon to rubble when it is admitted that doing so will not make Hezbollah stop its attacks on Israel?

Early on during this war, I commented that to make war on Hezbollah is to make war on the Shiite plurality of Lebanon, and that Israel appears to be acting accordingly. That continues to be the case. Israel's defenders are effectively in the position of arguing that because of their support of Hezbollah, all Lebanese Shiites are fair game. But the fact is that once a faction gains a certain critical mass of popular support, that in itself tends to legitmize that faction. Whoever justified treating all Lebanese Shiites as fair game can end up justifying actions too appalling to consider.

In short,Israel's defenders are right about Hezbollah's evil intentions. But evil intentions form a mortal threat only when backed by sufficient firepower to realize them, and Hezbollah does not have anything approaching the firepower to creat an existential threat to Israel. Israel, on the other hand, has enough firepower to reduce Lebanon to a smoldering heap of rubble. When two enemies have such unequal fire power, it poses a certain moral obligation of restraint on the stronger party.

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