(photo credit: AP)
I'm a supporter of Israel. Nowadays that seems to be rather a shocking thing to say, but I remain a supporter of Israel.
Why? I'm not Jewish. I've been to Israel only a couple of times. And yetâ€¦ Israel is a democracy. It believes in and practices the rule of law and freedom of speech. Its values of independence, self-reliance, hard work and looking after others are values I admire.
And some of its neighbors - and many of its inhabitants - want to destroy it.
In one way I suppose that is not surprising. When a state is artificially created, as Israel was in 1948, many people will be angered by the change. Yet we cannot and should not now revisit that decision. It is settled, and several wars have failed to overturn it.
Yet the players in the current conflict, Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran and Syria - the new "Axis of Terror" - all reject Israel's right to exist and the state's legitimacy. All repeatedly call for Israel's destruction.
We cannot ignore what Iranian President Ahmadinejad says about wanting to "wipe Israel off the face of the map." We cannot pretend from our Western perspective that he never said it, or that he was joking.
And we cannot just hope that he doesn't get nuclear weapons in order to achieve it. As the former Iranian president, the "moderate" Rafsanjani, said in 2001: "If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with theâ€¦ application of an atomic bomb, it would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damage in the Muslim world."
So the wars the Arabs have been fighting against Israel have been to achieve its destruction. And having lost those wars, over many years they have been doing their best to achieve it by guerrilla tactics, by firing rockets and sending suicide bombers to kill as many civilians as they can.
ISRAEL HAS every right to protect its citizens from this. Being a democratic country, Israel finds that if it fails to be robust in that protection, its leaders are voted out of office. And it has taken actions that we in the West often disagree with - the security fence, the occupation of Southern Lebanon in 1982, and many other things. But we are not faced with these constant threats, nor with the implacable enmity of our neighbors.
Despite that, Israel withdrew from every inch of Lebanon in May 2000, and from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Israel might have expected some benefit from this; but instead Lebanon and Gaza became launching pads for rocket attacks onto Israeli soil.
Since 2000, Hizbullah has sporadically attempted the kidnapping of soldiers and fired Katyusha rockets over the internationally recognized border. Since August 2005, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have launched over 1,000 rockets from Gaza onto shops, restaurants, schools and community centers within Israeli territory, and sent potential suicide bombers with instructions to hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
And then, a few weeks ago, Hamas tunneled into Israeli territory and killed and kidnapped soldiers, and Hizbullah in a move condemned even in Arab countries joined in. Why?
THE ANSWER is twofold. First, the discussions between the Israeli government and moderate Palestinians were beginning to look as though they might bear fruit. We might even have seen peace. But peace would have further cemented in place the continued existence of Israel, so it had to be disrupted by the Hamas action.
The second part was given to us by Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. After Hizbullah's attack, which the British foreign secretary rightly described as "pouring petrol onto a bonfire," he said: "For more than a year, I've been saying that we want to kidnap soldiers in order to exchange prisonersâ€¦ we've been preparing for this since Israel left Lebanon."
Indeed they had. In six years the Iranian regime, through its strategic alliance with Syria, armed Hizbullah primarily through shipments of rockets and missiles through Damascus. They helped Hizbullah develop a complex infrastructure of secret underground bunkers and stockpile an estimated 13,000 missiles for an eventual battle with Israel.
Now Hizbullah is using them.
WHAT EXACTLY do we expect the Israelis to do? To leave open the route to restock Hizbullah? To negotiate with kidnappers and thus create more kidnappers? To let out of jail people who have been murdering their neighbors? Yet it is ghastly for us to see the human cost of these harsh decisions. Any innocent life lost is a tragedy that stands alone.
Israeli soldiers try hard, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, to avoid killing Lebanese civilians. Sometimes they fail, and in a war like this Israel will certainly make mistakes.
I wish I understood what happened in relation to the UN observers, but I don't. I know it is hard to argue both that Israel is conducting pinpoint attacks and that it did not target the UN observers - although it seems perfectly obvious that Israel would not set out to kill UN observers, so it must have been another awful mistake.
By contrast, however, it is the purpos of Hizbullah to kill and terrorize civilians. Hizbullah, like Hamas, has embedded its infrastructure, personnel, munitions and military positions among civilians. As the foreign secretary confirmed in the House of Commons on July 25, many Hizbullah rockets are launched from private homes, with Lebanese families residing inside.
As the eminent Harvard law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz wrote recently, Islamist terrorists "have mastered the harsh arithmetic of painâ€¦ Palestinian casualties play in their favor and Israeli casualties play in their favor."
The intended and achieved consequence of all this is that the world's attention has been diverted away from Teheran's resolve to acquire nuclear weapons, and its hegemonic regional aspirations. Also, many have lost sight of Syria's continued interference in Lebanon and the Assad regime's complicity in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
SO THAT'S why I support Israel. Israel is our front-line ally in the fight against terrorism.
Of course I want to see a cease-fire and a sustainable peace in the Middle East, with an end to state-sponsored terrorism. But any cease-fire would have to be credibly agreed by all sides. And it could be built only on the conditions agreed by G-8 leaders: the return of kidnapped soldiers, the total end of missile attacks against Israel, and the fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Hizbullah to be disarmed and the deployment of the Lebanese army to the border with Israel.
We cannot waver from these conditions, or from Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from within or without its borders.
The writer, a senior Conservative UK parliamentarian, is former defense minister and currently chairman of the House of Commons Defense Select Committee, and Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel.
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