Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Déjà vu in the Middle East

Are you experiencing déjà vu? As I watch the news and see Israel invading southern Lebanon, I can’t help but feel we’re reliving history. Wasn’t it just about twenty-four years ago that this happened the first time? And the US got involved in a peacekeeping mission that ended, essentially, when the marine barracks got blown up in 1983. Will we go down this road again? I’m betting we will, unless, of course, we decide to let the Europeans step in this time. The French have a long history in Lebanon also. Perhaps, since we didn’t allow them to go into Iraq, they’d like to go back to Lebanon and stand in the way of the hundreds of rockets that are falling on Israel every day.

I notice that the news seems much more focused on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon than on the attacks Israel is undergoing. So, let’s recap events here for a second:

  1. Hezbollah runs most of southern Lebanon as its own fiefdom, with the Lebanese government doing nothing to stop them.

  2. Hezbollah launches years of random rocket attacks and border attacks against Israel, with minimal Israeli response (since the pullout from Lebanon years ago, at the UN’s urging).

  3. Hezbollah crosses into Israel and kidnaps two Israeli soldiers.

  4. THEN Israel starts airstrikes on Beirut, hoping to prevent the movement of the soldiers to Iran or Syria and to cripple communications between Hezbollah and those enemy governments.

Imagine for a second that the Mexican government abdicated responsibility for its own border and allowed a terrorist group to start launching random rockets against San Diego. What would the US do? Damn right! We’d invade that entire country. We’d put F-18s into the air and A-10 Warthogs and we’d find those rocket sites and blow them up. We might even create a DMZ that’s ten or 100 miles deep to prevent further attacks. And if the terrorists came across our border in the night and kidnapped two of our guys and the Mexican government said, “Sorry, we can’t help,” do you think we would sit idly by? Of course not.

But should we put US Marines back in Lebanon? Tough call, frankly. But if you want a glimpse of what it was like the first time around, read Distant Valor, by C.X. Moreau. It’s a novel, but it’s one of those novels that you know rings true, written by someone who was there. It was last republished by ibooks, which is now bankrupt, so finding a copy may be a challenge, but check your library for the prior Forge Books hardcover, or buy it used It’s also still available from Brilliance as an audio book. You won’t regret reading this powerful novel that Kirkus described as “A haunting slice of military life that unsparingly catalogues the risks, rewards, pain, and joys of casting one's lot with warriors.” And we all know how tough Kirkus is, so this must be a good read!



SRHowen said...

I just picked up a copy of Time Magazine, the front page screams Why we Fight--I haven't read it yet. I'd sure lilke the answer to that queston.

It seems that part of the world is a hot box, and I wonder if I want to be around to find see the outcome. My husband is getting ready to go back to Iraq (before Dec. 25th they say) even as they say that troop deployment in the area is slowing down.

To send in troops or not is always the question and one that maybe we don't want our current leadership deciding. (could be scary)


Anonymous said...

Andrew, if you were in my business, you might just feel differently. The question isn't whether Israel has the right -- or indeed the obligation -- to defend itself. The question is HOW. Their current answer violates the Geneva Conventions.

Not that I'm simplifying. Churchill's decision to bomb the hell out of Berlin was terrorism by any accepted definition, and was almost certainly instrumental in the German defeat in WWII.

I am a UN humanitarian worker and a published fiction writer. One day, I'll combine those two into a killer novel, which I'll duly pitch to you (provided of course that you're open to submissions by then). And maybe, if I do my job well, you might feel a little more hesitant about the use of force against civilians as a means of smiting terror.


Andrew Zack said...

It seems to me that Lebanon has had the obligation to stop terrorist organizations from attacking Israel and has not done so. Years have gone by and they have done nothing. This, in my opinion, is more than tacit approval and thus sanctioned. If a government sanctions such actions, it must pay the price. If the people elect the government, then they must pay the price.

The solution here is simple: Let the people of Lebanon tell their government to stop Hezbollah and make it disarm. If they want to be political, it's up to the people to vote them in, just as the Palestinians voted in Hamas. But when the people vote in a government dedicated to the destruction of Israel, don't be surprised if Israel dedicates itself to destroying that government and the people who voted them in.

What Israel is doing is far, far, far more justified than what the US has done in the name of fighting terrorism. I, frankly, believe they've shown amazing patience and restraint over the decades.

A friend emailed me something recently. I'm not sure whom he was quoting, but it went something like this:

If Israel threw all of its weapons into the sea on Monday, the Arabs would attack on Tuesday and wipe them out. But if the Arabs threw all of their weapons into the sea on Monday, on Tuesday there would be peace in the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

A couple of quick points. First, the people of Lebanon *have* asked their government to disarm Hezbollah – repeatedly. Let’s not forget that the Hariri assassination, and the ensuing outcry from the majority of Lebanese, was intimately bound up with the issue of Syrian support to Hezbollah and its concomitant control of the state. As a result of those protests, a new anti-Syrian government was installed. It is this government, the first in years that has had no quarrel with its neighbour, that Israel is busily destroying.

The Lebanese army has no capacity to enforce control over the south, however much they might want to. If the Israelis really wanted Hezbollah reigned in, why not support the Lebanese authorities to do so? The fact is, the current Lebanese government would like nothing better than to clip the claws of Hezbollah, since they are a threat to the current regime. Moreover, the majority of Lebanese – Sunnis and Christians – say they do *not* support Hezbollah. Or at least they didn’t, until the bombs started raining down. Now I suspect their attitudes are changing.

Second, your friend’s quote could easily apply to any situation of military occupation. If the weak would only give up, peace would prevail. That’s certainly true -- as true of the Dafuris, say, as it is of the Palestinians -- but not terribly useful as a barometer of what is just.

I respect your position, truly. I’m not claiming to have the answers. I am terribly biased; how could I not be, when I spend every morning on conference call listening to my colleagues talk about digging children out from under the rubble? Hezbollah is certainly to blame for instigating these attacks. But in my heart, there can be no justification for collective punishment of innocents.

Andrew Zack said...

I have to differ with you. If the Lebanese government wants Hezbollah out, then they should have sought international support for their removal. Heck, they could have signed a peace treaty with Israel and then conducted joint operations. Yeah, that would be the day!

But your comment about "the weak" seems like nonsense to me. Every Arab country in the Middle East could live in complete peace if it so chose. Israel isn't going to invade or attack any of them (short of finding out one of them is building nuclear weapons). Heck, Jordan has made billions for its economy by making peace with Israel, from US aid and also from genuine business deals.

In 1967, Israel could have driven every Arab/Palestinian out of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. It did not, because it does not, unlike its enemies, engage in wholesale slaughter. Let's not forget that some of the Israelis dying in the rocket attacks are ARAB Israelis, who vote, get benefits, etc. That's Arabs killing Arabs.

I'm sorry, but the Arabs bring it upon themselves. If Arafat had accepted Barak's deal, he could have had peace, a presence in East Jerusalem, and infrastructure support. He rejected it and doomed the peace process to another century of failure. You can't blame the Israelis for any of it from that point forward.

Anonymous said...

I’m terribly fond of vigorous debate, Andy, but like warfare, conversation needs to adhere to certain rules of engagement and a sense of proportionality…

My comment about living under occupation has eminent sense, if you consider that the main issue festering in the Middle East is the Palestine question. Israel *has* invaded its neighbours, those in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. They did so under enormous provocation, but they should have left long ago. Their continued occupation is illegal under international law and violates numerous UN resolutions (declarations which Israel cynically cites when they apply to anyone but Israel). That is why the international legal designation of this area is “the Occupied Palestinian Territories” – or “OPT” in UN jargon.

Perhaps it’s naïve to imagine that vacating the OPT (and I mean *all* of it) would itself result in peace. But it is equally naïve to suppose that there can be any military solution to Islamist terrorism, or that Israel only occupies those territories for security reasons. There is far more at stake here, including powerful lobby groups representing the so-called “settler” community, as well as the issue of water security (Israel’s aquifers are drying up, but Palestine has plenty).

Vacating Palestine would certainly not be a panacea for all the woes of the Middle East. It would not placate Iran or Syria. It would, however, remove their primary recruiting tool and the main object of sympathy among Muslims across the Middle East. A free Palestine wouldn’t make it impossible for radical Islamist regimes to stir up anti-Semitic vitriol, but it would make it far more difficult. It would also rob them of the proxies they employ against the Israelis, thereby removing much of the danger, since neither Iran nor Syria would themselves launch a suicidal attack against an exponentially stronger Israel.

‘The Arabs’ did not, could not, “bring it upon themselves”. The Arabs are not Hezbollah, any more than you are George Bush. You might not personally have voted for him, but your country did. Should his enemies feel free to attack you and your fellow Americans? Of course not, and the fact that they have done so is a heinous crime. Nor, frankly, is being Arab particularly germane to the question; most Iranians are not Arabs, yet Iran is one of Israel’s most bitter enemies. And thankfully, even the Israelis don’t seem to think that one’s ethnicity makes one a legitimate target – which is good, because adding genocide to their list of war crimes would be a real bother for them, I’m sure.

In truth, however, all of the foregoing is irrelevant. In the humanitarian community, we believe in the absolute principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. We condemn unequivocally the deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against Israeli civilians by Hezbollah militants. And we condemn unequivocally the deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against Lebanese civilians by the IDF. We are also not too fond of our aid convoys being bombed and our people targeted and killed, nor of the bombing of schools and hospitals – all of which are war crimes under international law. There is no article in the Geneva Conventions that reads “except when the parties are really pissed off or the other guy started it”. The international community created these rules to preserve the ultimate sanctity of human life, regardless of race, religion, age, sex, or who you voted for. The day that we as a global society say that it is acceptable to wipe out ten times as many civilians as combatants is the day we lose the last scrap of our collective humanity.

Andrew Zack said...

I'm sorry, but I think you are wrong and history proves it. Every time Israel retreats, steps back, makes a concession, the situation gets worse. Thomas Friedman probably said it best in FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM when he said (I'm paraphrasing) that centures of tribal warfare mean that the Arabs only understand total annihilation. That's why Saddam was so vicious, why Syria's President leveled the city of Hamas, why Jordan's king drove Arafat and his group out of Jordan, etc. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has NOT engaged in wholesale slaughter to end a conflict.

As for the territories, they were never "Palestinian." Depending on whom you believe, the people living there are either Jordanian or Syrian in origin. "Palestinian" is a creation. See This is also an interesting history, though admittedly pro-Israel:

Arafat had an opportunity with Barak that he rejected. When I was selling my apartment in New York and a guy said he'd pay my asking price, I didn't say, "Wait! I want more." I said, "Great. Let's do it." Arafat should have taken the deal. He did not. No one should expect a better one to come along. And if you allow someone to park on your lawn and throw rocks at my house, don't blame me if your house gets destroyed when I respond.

Anonymous said...

You make some pretty inflammatory accusations about an entire race. I wonder whether anybody else finds it ironic that such generalisations would be used to defend the actions of the one ethnic group that should know better than any the insidious dangers of that kind of thinking.

Andrew Zack said...

I made a simple request long ago on this site. I asked that all postings be signed, or I would have to delete them. Full name and city, etc., just like you might find in a newspaper. That request has not been honored in numerous postings here. Thus, I will be deleting all that don't meet that criteria over the weekend. If you would like them to stay, please edit accordingly.

As for the poster who said I made "inflamatory remarks about an entire race." I honestly don't know what you refer to here. If you mean my comments about "Palestinians," then I would argue they are not a race. If you mean my comments about Arabs and tribal warfare, I would point out that I stated right up front that I was paraphrasing FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM. Your complaint would seem to be with Tom Friedman. I believe you can reach him in care of the NEW YORK TIMES.

Anonymous said...

I signed my first post but not my second or third. Guess I slipped into that selfish mode where you think it's obvious that it's you talking.

I also got the distinct impression that the conversation wasn't going anywhere good, so I bailed out. I feel very strongly on this subject and sensed I would lose my ability to have a civilized exchange. That's always a good time to pull the plug, especially when you have never met the person you're talking to.


Dhewco said...

To be honest, I, sort of, agree with Andrew. This situation, however, has blame enough for both sides. The Lebanonese should have called for international help . . . however, to do so would invite immediate danger to the leaders of said government.

They'd end up assassinated or hiding in a bunker somewhere while the UN debated what to send and begged its members for the troops to help. It would be months or weeks before someone showed up to support the legitimate government of Lebanon . . . weeks that Israelis would be kidnapped or murdered. Israel could ill afford this when Palestinians are led by similar terrorists.

NOW, is the time for Lebanon to send out an international call for help from Europe, or maybe even Turkey, since that nation is one of, if not the strongest Islamic power short of Iran or Pakistan.

If an such a coalition formed, Israel might join...or even step aside.

Civilians who shield or otherwise support Hezbollah are not really civilians in a military/political sense . . . maybe in a legal sense, but not in a military one.


Read said...

Let's say you have a teenage son and he chucks stones at the neighbor and then the neighbor chucks 'em back and one hits you, who's to blame?

Andrew Zack said...

Well, the law says that the parents are responsible for the actions of their minor child. Depending on the age of the teenage son, you are to blame, and not just legally. You didn't raise your son to understand that throwing stones at the neighbor is wrong. Sounds harsh, I know, but that's the problem with truth. It's often harsh.


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