Sunday, September 17, 2006

John Le Carré -- Short essay on the HA/IDF war

We still don't have a name for it, the recent military tryst between Hezbollah and Israel. But the British spy-thriller novelist John Le Carré has penned a little five-paragraph piece that has appeared several places around the net. On the surface it is, of course, "anti-Israel" and so by association anti-US, but at the heart of his comment there remains a festering question: What is truly the best way to fight terrorism?

So answer me this one, please. If you kill a hundred innocent civilians and one terrorist, are you winning or losing the war on terror? "Ah", you may reply, "but that one terrorist could kill two hundred people, a thousand, more!" But then comes another question: if, by killing a hundred innocent people, you are creating five new terrorists in the future, and a popular base clamouring to give them aid and comfort, have you achieved a net gain for future generations of your countrymen, or created the enemy you deserve?

On 12 July 2006 the Israeli chief-of-staff granted us an insight into the subtleties of his nation's military thinking. The military operations being planned for the Lebanon, he told us, would "turn back the clock by twenty years". Well, I was there twenty years ago, and it wasn't a pretty picture. Since then, the lieutenant-general has been as good as his word. I am writing this just twenty-eight days after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, a common enough military practice not unknown to the Israelis themselves.

In that time, 932 Lebanese have been killed and more than 3,000 wounded. 913,000 have become refugees. Israel's dead number ninety-four, with 867 wounded. In the first week of this conflict, Hizbollah fired some ninety rockets a day into Israel. Last week – despite 8,700 unopposed bombing sorties flown by the Israeli air force, resulting in the crippling of Beirut's international airport, and the destruction of power-plants, fuel-dumps, fishing-fleets, 147 bridges and seventy-two roads – Hizbollah upped its daily average of rockets to 169. And those two Israeli prisoners who were the purported cause of all the fuss have still not come home.

So yes. Exactly as we were warned, Israel has indeed done to the Lebanon what it did to it twenty years ago: laid waste its infrastructure and visited collective punishment on a delicate, multicultural, resilient democracy that was struggling to reconcile its sectarian differences and live in profitable harmony with its neighbours.

Until four weeks ago, Lebanon was being heralded by the United States as a model of what other middle-eastern countries might become. Hizbollah, it was widely and perhaps optimistically believed by the international community, was loosening its ties with Syria and Iran and on the way to becoming a political rather than a purely military force, yet today this very force is the toast of all Arabia, Israel's reputation for military supremacy is in tatters and its cherished deterrent image no longer deters. And the people of Lebanon have become the latest victims of a global catastrophe that is the work of deluded zealots and has no end in sight.

For the record, I am firmly on the side of Israel for a number of reasons. Thanks to a lifetime of close connections with friends and institutions Jewish I see this conflict through a very distorted lens. The best metaphor that comes to mind is that of a mean, unprincipled street punk picking on a mature, civilized elderly pedestrian who happens to be packing heat.

It is a serious mistake to conflate Hezbollah with Lebanon. They are not the same. But it is equally faulty thinking to imagine that the same soil in which Hezbollah has taken root is somehow not the same at the rest of Lebanon. It is. Nabi Berri, speaker of the Lebanese Parliament is the sotto voce alter-ego of Hezbollah in Lebanon. He did not rise to that level of importance by accident.

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