Thursday, July 13, 2006

Something's On The March In The Middle East

But it's certainly not "freedom".

News continues to break today of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, following the killing of 8 Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others by Hezbollah militants. Thus far today, according to Fox "News" (it's all I get to watch at lunch) Israel has bombed numerous bridges cutting off routes into the interior of Lebanon, as well as enacting a naval blockade in the Mediterranean. Reports are also coming in that the Beirut airport has twice today been the target of Israeli air strikes. All in all, not a good day in Lebanon.

Normally I make a concerted effort not to discuss Israeli politics very often. First and foremost, this is because I'm not terribly knowledgeable about Israeli history and politics. I have a fairly loose understanding of the dynamic of what goes on in that region but I try very hard not to take sides. That's the other main reason I don't write much about the area: the polarization of the issue. Trying to get any two people, one who believes the Palestinians are terrorists attacking a peaceful nation and one who believes Israel is an aggressive occupier, to calmly discuss the situation can be next to impossible. Personally, I believe there is plenty of blame to assign between both parties in the conflict, but I'm not going to attempt to assign it now.

What I am concerned about is what Israel's actions mean for the wider Middle East. With the Taliban resurgent in Afghanistan, the civil war in Iraq continuing to grow bloodier by the day, further belligerence by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the recent Israeli incursions into Gaza and now the invasion of Lebanon, the hope for peace in the Middle East has almost been snuffed out. Perhaps it's gone altogether, though I prefer to believe that there is always hope for peace even in the darkest of hours. In any case, the fighting across the region is heating up and, in violation of my normal policy, I have to say that I believe Israel has made a mistake here.

Certainly any country has the right to secure its own borders. But attacking Lebanon in retaliation for actions by Hezbollah is sure to spread greater enmity among the Lebanese people. Israel has long made the same demand of Lebanon concerning Hezbollah as it has of the Palestinian Authority over Hamas or Islamic Jihad: Get control of these groups or else! As near as I can tell, however, that's a demand that either of those nations is simply unable to meet, and I have to suspect that the Israeli government realizes this and chooses to ignore it publicly. Perhaps in Israel, as it is with the Bush Administration's neo-conservative foreign policy, those wishing for war are drowning out all other voices of moderation.

The danger in the Lebanon invasion is two-fold. One, it creates the possibility of another tit-for-tat exchange of military aggression between Lebanon and Israel, in the same vein as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two, it certainly raises tensions all across the Middle East, a region that has been no stranger to war lately. The U.S. is already bogged down in Iraq and, particularly with renewed aggression from Israel against Hezbollah, runs a serious risk of being caught in a wider conflict, especially if Iran gets involved. And I for one will not sleep any easier at the thought of yet another foreign policy crisis for Bush to mangle.

As I said before, I certainly respect Israel's right to defend itself, with military force if necessary. I just can't help but wonder if there wasn't a better way than an assault on its neighbor to the north...

UPDATE: I've done some poking around the "conservative" end of the blog pool (I'll resist the urge to say "you know, the shallow end"...or not) and the belief that Israel is completely justified in its actions appears to be unanimous. There also seems to be an almost palpable hope that this leads to a wider conflict, with Iran being Preferred Target #1 (though they'd settle for Syria). These folks never, ever tire of war, especially when they don't have to fight it...

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