When non-events are actually major news

Israel may have spared countless lives, billions of dollars, and a global show-down that would have drawn in every important player in the region and beyond.

February 19, 2019 21:57
4 minute read.
When non-events are actually major news

Lebanon's Hezbollah supporters chant slogans during last day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 20, 2018. (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)


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In recent years, the world has seen a spate of attacks on the norms that underpin the global order: populism, protectionism and a degrading of international cooperation have combined to make the world a more dangerous place under a rising threat of terrorism. 

Buried within these headlines was what emerged as a non-event – so far: a potential war between Israel and its northern neighbors. How was this avoided? By Israel’s detection and destruction of five attack tunnels dug from the Lebanese side of their shared border. This defensive act by Israel may have spared countless lives, billions of dollars, and a global show-down that would have drawn in every important player in the region and beyond. This is the war that didn’t happen.

The attack tunnels were dug by a terrorist group, Hezbollah, which is largely funded by Iran, and operates on Iran’s direction and to Iran’s benefit. While ISIS and al-Qaeda capture the world’s imagination as the greatest terror threats on earth, Hezbollah’s own real terrorist gains have somehow avoided the same scrutiny. Let us be clear: Hezbollah is no less dangerous than its terrorist peers. It props up the murderous Assad regime in Syria, is active in the wars in Iraq and Yemen, and it continues to set a grisly standard for the suicide attacks that it pioneered in the 1980s, resulting in hundreds of casualties. Foremost among Hezbollah’s unseemly aims is the destruction of Israel – not in the metaphorical sense, but as their explicit goal to literally murder or banish every last Zionist living in the Jewish indigenous homeland.

This aim – hard as it may be to believe – was the motivating factor behind the creation of a series of attack tunnels that would have enabled Hezbollah shock troops to enter Israel in order to start a new war to kill as many Jews as possible. Their aim represents the ultimate breakdown in the rules of war: Hezbollah, like ISIS and al-Qaeda, is a terrorist organization that pays no heed to the international norm that civilian casualties must be limited to the largest extent possible. Hezbollah’s attack tunnels were explicitly designed to isolate northern Israel and then inflict the largest possible number of civilian casualties.

This incredible breach of international norms and the sovereignty of an independent nation is all the more outrageous given that the tunnels were dug under the feet of the United Nations peacekeeping force stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border. These UN peacekeepers, despite what their good intentions may be, have not proven themselves capable of enforcing UN resolutions meant to limit Hezbollah’s activity in the border area. The UN’s lack of capability aside, their objectives in the border area are the same as Israel’s: prevent war and respect the sovereignty of UN member nations – Israel included. 

It is helpful to take a broader view to understand the chessboard in this conflict. On one side is Hezbollah, which has co-opted the Lebanese government, endangers its civilian population, explicitly threatens the existence of its southern neighbor and is funded by the same Iranian regime that cannot afford basic necessities for its own people. On the other side is Israel, defending its borders, closing off attack tunnels and working with international peacekeepers to prevent Hezbollah’s subterranean casus belli. In other words, this is a conflict between legitimacy and illegitimacy; between right and wrong; between the forces trying to inflict death and those trying to maintain life; between agents of chaos, destruction and a brazen disrespect for sovereignty, and those respecting international borders and avoiding war.

Incredibly, there are countries that continue to insist on a distinction between Hezbollah’s political arm and its military arm, with only the latter being designated as a terrorist organization and leaving the former to operate with unchecked impunity. Of course, to those Israeli civilians living near the opening of Hezbollah’s attack tunnels, any such distinction is absurd: asking whether the tunnels were dug by the political or military wing will not yield an answer that actually matters. It is time to designate the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The United States, Canada, Bahrain, France, the UAE and the Arab League have already done so, yet other critical members of the international community – including the United Nations and the European Union – remain reticent.

In the meantime, Israel’s defensive work preventing war – and saving both Israeli and Lebanese civilian lives – will continue. This will proceed largely out of the spotlight, unheralded and unseen. If it results in another non-event, then it will be successful. Let us wish them much success in 2019.

The writer is a member of the flagship diplomacy program of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps, a worldwide network of 300 Jewish professionals from 50 countries acting in the fields of diplomacy and public policy on behalf of world Jewry.

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