Editorial from The Australian, July 17, 2006...
Israel's response is self-defence
IF there was ever any doubt that Israel's response to Hezbollah's hail of rockets was proportionate to the threat they pose to Israeli security, it has been dispelled by attacks launched from southern Lebanon deep into Israel.
With Hezbollah guerillas apparently well-armed thanks to money and material from Iran and Syria, Israel has been obliged to strike back in self-defence and to protect its civilian population in the north, including Haifa and Tiberias, a city hitherto thought to have been beyond the range of Hezbollah's rockets.
Reports that Hezbollah has an armoury of thousands of rockets capable of reaching Israel's heartlands -- and conceivably its capital, Tel Aviv -- leave it no option because, it's worth repeating, Israel is facing an implacable enemy that denies its right to exist and wants to wipe it from the map.
Hezbollah appears to have little sympathy for its host country, Lebanon. By attacking Israel -- no doubt taking the opportunity to strike by snatching two Israeli troopers while Israel was preoccupied with its mission to free a kidnapped soldier in Gaza to the south -- Hezbollah has invited a red-blooded reaction. No nation can sit back watching missiles rain down on its territory. Retaliation with a purpose has been Israel's modus operandi. It has hit key highways and Beirut airport to make it difficult for Syria to resupply or reinforce Hezbollah, while also attacking the source of the rockets and those who are launching them. If that includes the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah -- reported yesterday to have been wounded in an Israeli air raid, reports denied by Hezbollah -- then that's the brutal reality of what Israel must do to survive.
Moreover, Israel is doing Lebanon a favour by containing Hezbollah, a parasitic organisation that has outstayed its welcome in the new but fragile democracy that is Lebanon. Better late than never, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora says there can be no sovereign Lebanese state without disarming Hezbollah. Sadly, the Lebanese Government has been unwilling to take the hard steps necessary to achieve this end. Lebanon's army of about 70,000 soldiers is far superior to Hezbollah's guerilla force, estimated at about 6000, but does not appear to have the will to tackle the task of ridding Lebanon of its unwelcome guests. And given that the Lebanese army could spilt along sectarian lines if ordered to disarm Hezbollah, Mr Siniora should thank Israel further: he gets to keep a relatively unified army intact, while also watching Hezbollah arms and missile sites being destroyed, and its influence on Lebanese politics collaterally reduced.
Of course, disarming Hezbollah from within would be no easy task. With 12 MPs and two cabinet ministers, Hezbollah is a strong political entity. Nevertheless, if Lebanon is going to make progress and be embraced by the international community as a responsible and independent nation, it must face up to the malign influence of Hezbollah and take away the group's weapons -- or at least help Israel to do so. Otherwise Lebanon will remain a hostage to the guerillas and their principal backers, Iran and Syria.
Israel's defensible military response coincides with yesterday's meeting of world leaders in St Petersburg for the annual G8 summit. As might be expected, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have called for restraint, and the other six leaders will probably fall into line. Coupled with the European Union's routine condemnation of Israel's response to aggression from its enemies, the opinion of the G8 should not deflect Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Israeli Government, which has resolved to make it clear to Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups that there is a heavy price to pay for cross-border raids, rocket attacks and the taking of hostages.
Mr Bush's call for restraint -- while making it clear Israel has the right to defend itself -- is partly prompted by a desire to see Lebanon remain a friend of the West and his hopes the country can strengthen its democracy. But what Mr Bush and his G8 colleagues should be doing is calling for Lebanon to abide by UN Resolution 1559 to disarm Hezbollah. The G8 leaders could also reflect on comments from the most powerful Arab country, Saudi Arabia, which last week accused Hezbollah of "uncalculated adventures" that could bring destruction to Arab nations. Hezbollah elements should "shoulder the full responsibility for this irresponsible behaviour and that the burden of ending the crisis falls on them alone". Stern words, indeed, and a guide for the rest of the world's nations -- especially those that jump at the opportunity to attack Israel's right to self-defence.