Friday, July 14, 2006

Tragic But Necessary

In the midst of pursuing an interesting angle on Iran, David Bernstein reveals a critical fact: Israel's justification for hitting Lebanese transportation hubs (the airport, highway systems, and the port blockade). The first is a simple war strategy issue: keep Hezbollah from being resupplied by its Iranian and Syrian backers. The second, though, I think is the kicker--to stop Hezbollah from moving the captive Israeli soldiers out of Lebanon, to Syria or Iran. Even if you don't believe that the first is time-critical, and Israel should have negotiated first (which I still think is a rather sick moral obligation--they have to let their enemies stock up arms for as long as it takes to pursue likely futile negotiations), the second one is obviously something that has to be acted on immediately. For one, Hezbollah's negotiating position improves tremendously if they get their prisoners out of Lebanon. For two, this is a tried-and-true tactic of Hezbollah--the Israeli prisoners they take have a disturbing tendency to get moved to Iran and "disappear" there. Waiting even a few days would likely insure the death of these men, probably in Iranian torture chambers. Israel was perfectly justified in hitting these targets immediately under any rational standard.

Even still, it's worth noting that Israel held off on hitting Beirut (aside from the airport) until after Hezbollah rockets hit the major Israeli city of Haifa. It's a mistake to act as if the only act of violence committed by Hezbollah was the kidnapping. They've launched hundreds of rockets over the border, targeting major Israeli cities (and, since Israel does not combine its military and civilian infrastructure, these are not legitimate military targets). All too often, these attacks are simply ignored, as if a constant hail of rocket attacks is something Israel should just be forced to bear and can never legitimately respond to. For too many, the "neutral baseline" of this conflict is a constant barrage of low-level Arab and/or Palestinian terror.

It's unfortunate that, in military conflicts, there are going to be civilian casualties. It is also considered unavoidable. It's particularly problematic when the civilians in question had little to no role in precipitating or otherwise endorsing the instigating event that caused the conflict in the first-place. Such was the case in, for example, the Pacific Campaign of World War II (what did the islanders do wrong?), or the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (al-Qaeda was not the same as the Taliban, and the Taliban didn't have the support of the majority of the population, anyway), or really any situation where the actor in control of a region is one that is foreign or otherwise not democratically elected. Nevertheless, this can not be a bar to waging legal acts of war in response to naked provocation. So long as Israel takes all reasonable precautions to limit civilian casualties in its campaign, the fact that there are some cannot be disqualifying, anymore than civilian casualties in Okinawa or Saipan or Kabul would be.

As usual, the Washington Post coverage of this calamity (including Lebanon's response has been stellar. Their editorial this morning is also must reading.

UPDATE: It's also worth noting that, unless I'm mistaken, Lebanon does not recognize Israel and the two countries have no formal diplomatic relations. Another fact that would put a crimp in negotiating. The fact that the two countries are still in a formal state of war makes it difficult to demand that Israel trust the Lebanese military to give effective assistance in any hostage retrival operation.


Anonymous said...

"By any rational standard" is way overstating your case. And "neccesary" is just totally off.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, the link is like, support and stuff for my assertion. I promise i wasn't just trying to be cryptic or obnoxiously stubborn. But seriously, read up on some jsut war thoery, because like... this isn't one.

Anonymous said...

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN HRC have all offered reprimands of disproprtional response on the part of Israel and intentional terorrisation and targeting of civilians by both Israel and Hezbollah.

These statements also run counter to your assertions that Israel's tactics are only what is neccesary.

On your analysis of the airport I have a few additional comments -

1) What is the significance of saying "Haif was hit before Israel attacked... oh except for the airport"? The airport is a major part of Lebanese infrastructure and the bombing caused several casualties and injuries. Its still an example of each side making horrible (but intentional) decisions to escalate the conflict, and it doesn't give Israel any kind of higher ethical ground.

2) I don't see why ensuring that the capitves aren't taken out is justified by "any rational standard". Destroying the bridges, highways, and airport of Lebanon while closing off the ports is imposing huge costs on the civlians and have cost many lives. Why again do two Israeli soliders automatically outweigh an inderterminate amount of suffering for the Lebanese (whcih is at the very least more than two lives?) I understand that recovering the two and keeping them safe rom torture is important, but I don't see why htat trumps any utilitarian consideration for Lebanese welfare. To say that it does (and that the fact that it does shoul be obvious) is to say that no interest claim made by the Lebanese, no matter how important, can trump Israel's interest claim. And that is ethnocentrism, plain and simple.

Disenchanted Dave said...

Wait a minute, let me get this straight.

Israel "obviously" "under any rational standard" "ha[d] to" "immediately" blockade the entire country (land, sea, and air) to save two lives?

Do you have any idea how much civilian suffering blockades can cause?