July 17, 2006 - The way in which violence has just escalated in the Middle East reveals much about the meaning of the entire conflict.
Far too much attention has been paid to the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers, both near Gaza and near Lebanon. Those incidents are significant, but they are parts of a larger whole. And they are not the sole nor even the most important reason for Israel's most recent actions in Gaza and in Lebanon.
The conflagration the region is now suffering began like a series of falling dominoes, toppled by the Arab side. The chain of events started with Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last year. What happened afterwards has exposed once and for all the phoniness of the Palestinian claim that their violence is justified because it is "resistance" to an "occupation."
If the Palestinians were really trying to end an "occupation," they would have greeted Israel's withdrawal from Gaza as a positive step and encouraged that process to continue. Instead they have given Israel every reason to regret its withdrawal. Having gained full control of Gaza, the Palestinians turned it into a staging area for launching rockets against Israeli cities. Israel had no choice but to act.
The Palestinian rocket war was in full swing months before the kidnapping of Corporal Shalit in Israel near the Gaza border. That incident only added fuel to a fire that was already burning.
Not to be outdone, Hezbollah crossed Israel's northern border, killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two. This was clearly an act of war.
Hezbollah had been a long time preparing for aggression against Israel from the north. It stockpiled thousands of missiles all along the northern border, posing a growing threat to Israel and supporting the boldness to carry out acts like the attack on the Israeli soldiers. And like Hamas in the south, Hezbollah showed a great willingness to use those rockets against Israeli cities. This too happened after an Israeli withdrawal: Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, fulfilling Security Council Resolution 425. Israel had been in Lebanon because of attacks on its towns near the border. Withdrawal did not bring peace, but an escalation of Arab aggression.
So it is important to understand the Palestinians when they talk about "occupation." They are not referring to territory "occupied" since 1967. They are referring to all territory "occupied" by Jews since 1948; that is, all of Israel. This is crystal clear to anyone who follows what the Palestinians say in their own words, in their news media, TV broadcasts, and sermons in mosques. Indeed, it is hardly a well-kept secret. Abu Ahmed, spokesman for Islamic Jihad, has stated: "All of historic Palestine is ours, and we don't distinguish between 1948 or 1967. Wherever the occupiers are, they are targets for us."
And the greatest proof of this is that the more territory Israel gives back, the more violence it suffers in return. The Palestinians, and the Arab world as a whole, do not see Israeli withdrawals as steps toward peace, but as signs of weakness to be exploited in their goal of destroying the entire country and ending the "occupation" of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv.
And what is most appalling is the cowardly way they go about it. From the south and from the north, they fire rockets at Israeli civilians. The largest rocket to hit Haifa yesterday was made in Syria. It destroyed a railway maintenance building, killing eight people and wounding 20, and leaving pools of blood everywhere. In the warhead of that rocket were ball bearings and shrapnel meant to shred the human body and cause the most severe injuries possible. That missile was an anti-personnel weapon, a grotesquely huge suicide bomb vest with wings.
That is the craven way the Arabs wage their war. And not only Arabs. Iran too has supplied Hezbollah with missiles that have cost Israeli lives. Iran and Syria hide behind the Palestinians, who in turn use their own civilians to shield them as they search for more sophisticated weapons to murder innocent people. While civilian casualties are inevitable in any war, Israel has at least tried to minimize them, and has warned the Lebanese public to stay away from Hamas offices. The Palestinian side tries to maximize civilian casualties - that in fact is their entire war strategy. Israel fights Hezbollah, and Hezbollah fights Jewish families in Nahariya, Safed, and Haifa, waving the proud banner of Muhammad as they go.
Israel, which defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in six days, cannot defeat the Palestinians precisely because Israel does not want to attack civilians and has held back time and time again as the Palestinian jihad warriors hid among the crowd. That is the real "asymmetry" of this warfare. The Arab side, adopting the tactics of the coward, has found a way to keep the blazes raging without end.
Erlanger, Steven. "Israel Vows to Press Gaza Attack Until Soldier Is Freed." New York Times, July 9, 2006.
Katz, Yaakov. "Mideast Fighting Escalates." USA Today, July 14-16, 2006.
Mouawad, Jad and Steven Erlanger. "Israel Strikes Back After Rockets Kill 8 in Haifa." New York Times, July 16, 2006.
Peace with Realism