Fundamentally Freund: Payback time at the UN

Israel to reimburse Lebanon, Syria for damage inflicted in self defense?

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
The war in Lebanon may have ended two years ago, but that hasn't stopped the UN from exploiting the conflict to besmirch Israel. In a move that harks back to the bad old days of UN hypocrisy and double standards vis-à-vis the Jewish state, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is reportedly set to demand that Israel reimburse Lebanon and Syria for damage caused during the war against Hizbullah. Yes, you read that correctly. The UN wants Israel to pay for having the gall to defend itself. According to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Ban has prepared a report that he will present to the upcoming General Assembly in New York. Based on calculations made by the World Bank, he will insist that Israel cough up approximately $1 billion in "compensation" for material and environmental harm to Lebanese society and infrastructure. In addition, Ban will purportedly highlight the bombing of the Jiyeh power plant 30 kilometers south of Beirut in mid-July 2006. As a result of the attack, thousands of barrels of oil are said to have spilled into the Mediterranean, polluting parts of the Lebanese and Syrian coastlines and causing ecological damage to marine life. The report is a sequel, of sorts, to one issued last fall by Ban, in which he called on Israel "to take the necessary actions toward assuming responsibility for prompt and adequate compensation to the government of Lebanon." Since Israel rightly ignored that preposterous request, Ban has now apparently decided to turn up the heat in the hopes of pressing Jerusalem to pay. Even for a body with such a long and remarkable record of anti-Israel hyperbole, the UN has outdone itself this time. Ban's insistence that Israel pay the aggressors for damage done during a war they provoked is both morally obscene and intellectually obtuse. Israel's actions in Lebanon did not occur in a vacuum, and it requires a highly active imagination to overlook this basic fact. If the Lebanese authorities allow their sovereign territory to be used as a launching pad for attacks, as they did in the summer of 2006, they bear responsibility for what ensues, including any damage caused as a result of Israel's actions taken in self-defense. You don't need to be a moral philosopher or international legal scholar to figure that one out. Ban's error is that he focuses entirely on the consequences of an action while completely ignoring its context, as though the reason for a particular situation has no bearing on the nature of the outcome. This is patently absurd, and would be akin to the UN demanding that the US and its allies who invaded Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks reimburse Osama bin Laden and the Taliban for destroying the caves in which they hid. Make no mistake. The UN's attempt to compel Israel to pay for bombing Lebanon has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with a political agenda, one that paints Israel as the unreasonable assailant rather than the innocent victim. It is nothing less than a shameful attempt to rewrite history, and it should not be allowed to stand. BUT IF Ban nonetheless insists on pressing forward with the issue of compensation, I say: Bring it on. Let's have a real debate over the matter. We can start by working out compensation for the thousands of rockets, mortar shells and other projectiles that were fired at Israel from Lebanese territory during the war. Let's add to that the loss in income from the drop in tourism, the calling up of reserve units and the displacement of thousands of families throughout northern Israel. Then there is the pain and suffering inflicted on soldiers and civilians who were wounded and killed, as well as the mental and psychological trauma endured by countless Israelis throughout the 33 days of conflict. Why shouldn't Syria, Lebanon and Iran be made to pay for their sponsorship of Hizbullah and the damage it wrought? And while we're on the subject of liability, the UN might wish to consult its lawyers. After all, UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon have lethargically presided over repeated Hizbullah arms buildups while doing little to stop them, despite the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions. Their hands aren't entirely clean when it comes to preventing the outbreak of conflict. You can't have it both ways, Ban. You can't invoke principles of fairness and equity and then demand that Israel be made to pay while ignoring the other side's culpability. As the late US Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once pointed out, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." Not even the secretary-general of the United Nations.