In an unsigned editorial published in today's New York Times entitled "Playing Hamas’s Game," the author makes the same point on which I've attempted to expound and focus with regard to the current conflict between, ostensibly, Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah. The crux of the editorial is not to debate whether Israel's current actions in response to the recent kidnapping of its soldiers by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon are justified or excessive; rather, it serves to point out that, whether or not Israel is right in its actions, both Hamas and Hezbollah stand to gain a huge amount of political currency within the region from the waves of anti-Israel, pro-Arab majorities.
This is the conundrum, both as set forth in the above-linked editorial and in general, as I've tried to convey same herein over the past several days. I personally have no qualms with Israel defending its citizens, both military and civilian, from attack. Further, I wouldn't shed a tear if Hezbollah was excised from the face of this Earth, like the cancerous entity it is. Moreover, if half of Lebanon was laid waste in the process of accomplishing this task, I know few people who would spend more than a fleeting minute lamenting this final result.
However, every shell, every assault, and every mortar Israel launches against its neighbors -- even with the complete justification of responding to the unprovocated kidnapping of Israeli soldiers -- doesn't merely constitute an assault against a terrorist entity but also against Arabs. To be more precise, Arab "freedom fighters," Arab neighborhoods, and Arab interests. And whether or not Hezbollah, or Hamas, are regarded -- by their Arab brethren -- as freedom fighters or, by the West, as the most despicable type of baby-killers, degenerates and punks, this sort of response from Israel -- far from unexpected, of course -- means that these groups now have managed to point out to a new wave of impoverished youth and their families -- blank slates awaiting pro-extremist brainwashing and propagandizing -- that Israel is the enemy, an enemy that kills Arab babies and who is financed by the lazy infidels living and governing the world from Washington, DC.
It's a fine line, frankly. How can a nation defend itself from hostile neighbors when doing so will only incite further hostile behavior and, even worse, inspire future generations therein to do like those generations have done before? And more importantly, does Israel have a choice?
I'll respond to the second question first. A non-response, eg turning the other cheek and playing down the unprovoked kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, which I would refer to as the "Clinton" option, would never work, and would never happen. Israel values each and every citizen targeted by its enemies, and her response to these kidnappings was practically guaranteed. Further, understanding the mentality Israel faces -- the ancient concept of Hammurabi's "Eye For An Eye" code espoused by virtually all Arabs, from a personal to a national to an international level -- a non-response would equate to Israel being regarded as weak and deserving of further attacks, similar if not more extreme. A measured response by Israel would be regarded as ineffective; because terrorist groups would be in a position to say "Israel tried to eradicate us but failed, so, as a result, we won." And an all-out blitz like that which Israel is conducting now -- at least against Hezbollah in Lebanon -- might achieve the stated goal of eradicating (or at least seriously damaging) Hezbollah, but the fall-out will result in the kind of reheated anti-Israel fervor in Arab youth that permits mosques around the region to recruit and encourage young, impressionable arab men and women to study the Koran and to subsequently strap on explosive-laden belts and conduct suicide operations and become cherished martyrs.
The answer: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.
Last night at a party for Ozzie's 5th birthday, a bunch of us were discussing this situation and what Israel can -- or should -- be doing in response to these latest provocations. Especially with music and people and dogs and food and noise swirling all around us, it was somewhat difficult to explain to people my position that Israel has every right to defend itself, and that they should eradicate Hezbollah -- and Hamas, for that matter -- but that these entities are multi-headed beasts, so that when Israel cuts off one head, two or three or more grow back. It's akin to a strategy of handling cockroaches by stepping on them. Even when you manage to squash one, there are still another thousand hiding in the darkness, out of shoe's reach. It's a somewhat untenable position, but one that Israel has faced since 1948 and will continue to face until something big happens or some major changes happen in the region.
The problem, essentially, is that these types of incidents are rarely planned and perpetrated by people who actually lead terror groups. The "simple" kidnapping of an Israeli soldier or two always has far greater consequences than mere anger and distrust of terror groups. Iran and Syria, the backers of Hamas and Hezbollah (as I've indicated previously in these pages), are fully aware that Israel doesn't back down from any challenge to its right to exist and defends its citizens -- from one soldier to the entire nation -- with the stubborn determination that has allowed it to survive a virtually constant onslaught of attacks from its neighbors since its inception. And knowing Israel would respond -- both in Gaza and in Lebanon -- on this level guaranteed the Arab world could yet again point at Israel and proclaim them the aggressor, even when the opposite is true. Keep in mind that the "truth" is a funny thing; for the Arab masses, the "truth" is only what's written in the Koran and how these writings are interpreted by Imams, or leaders. If instructors in mosques teach Arab children that the Koran says Jews, aka Israelis, eat Arab children and drink their blood, well then that must be the truth. Never mind that Israeli doctors and hospitals treat Arabs of all ages with the same respect and care that they do Jews. Conversely, for the most part, the same cannot, unfortunately, be said of their Arab counterparts. As I've mentioned previously herein as well, when Israel is about to attack a civilian neighborhood in order to "flush out" terrorists hiding among civilians in Arab neighborhoods, it distributes leaflets in arabic languages warning an attack is imminent and that any civilians who do not wish to be in harm's way should leave the area temporarily. Conversely, Arab attacks -- especially those performed by terrorists -- target civilians in schoolbuses, marketplaces and schools with bombs and explosives laden with shrapnel to excaberate injury and to maim, not simply to murder.
The "truth" is always in the eye of the beholder, whether in the Middle East, Washington or Moscow. But the only real truth that matters is that the people holding the strings that control and fund hate groups like Hamas and Hezbollah "win" either way. One can hope, however, that the increasingly transparent motives and actions of Iran and Syria in connection with these latest incidents will not offer any inspiration to the governments of the Middle East, nor will it win any international converts in the governments of the West. Iran's bid to acquire (and, god forbid, implement) nuclear weapons will still have disastrous circumstances if permitted to happen, and Syria's military, like Iraq's military under Saddam Hussein, is more for show than power. But if the behind-the-scenes players are allowed to stay, like cockroaches, out of "shoe" range, and if their existence, and their roles in these types of conflicts, is ignored, than the problem will never be solved nor will any progress to that aim will ever be accomplished.
In theory, then, the calm periods before, and after, the tension is only a temporary abatement to the heated conflict, to the attacks and counter-assaults, and to the bile that flies unchecked throughout the region. My hope, personally, is that Israel finished the job, so to speak, with regard to Hezbollah. Hamas, at this point, is rooted in and protected by its status within the ranks of the Palestinian Authority. However, assuming Israel's dispatching of Hezbollah is seen as a warning of a possible future for Hamas, this conflict could -- in theory -- lead to some measure of progress vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue.
And if nothing else, it perhaps will result in people understanding exactly why rogue states like Iran and Syria should be ostacized and isolated rather than respected and trusted with technologies that would permit them to kill on a mass level. It's one thing, of course, to acknowledge that these governments are behind terror on a localized scale, eg Gaza, Lebanon, Tel Aviv; it's another to realize that, given the proper technology, their hatred and distrust of the West could lead to destruction and catastrophe on a mass scale -- and I don't mean the scale of 9/11. I'm referring to destruction hundreds of times worse. And that is something we should not -- and cannot -- ever -- allow to happen.