Middle Israel: How to treat Lebanon's cancer

Though its end may still be distant, and its cost much higher than what we endured this week, this week's violence up north has already buried some of the Mideast conflict's most time-honored and unbearable fixtures. First, the precedent has finally been set for the free world's unabashed counter-targeting of civilians. While most of us focused on the sirens that howled between the Mediterranean and the Kinneret like packs of hungry hyenas, few took stock of the statements made by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Yet the fact is that the man who hailed from the thick of the Israeli Left, and for years was even a member of Yossi Beilin's innermost circle, now said that Israel is consciously targeting Hizbullah targets even when they are nestled among civilians. This column argued already in spring '02, just after Israel had lost in one month 100 deliberately targeted civilians, that the Palestinian Authority had surprised us by strategically deploying mass-produced and popularly backed suicide bombers, and that Israel's counter-surprise should be to also kill civilians, as long as they are part of terror's landscape. In World War II, we said, the US counter-surprised this way the Japanese, whose assumption had been that they could do Pearl Harbor but the Americans would not bomb Tokyo, and this is how Britain counter-surprised Germany, whose assumption had been that it could bomb London but Churchill could not bomb Dresden. This week the Israeli Left - actively led by Peretz and passively by Beilin who remained mum - adopted this Middle Israeli insight, and turned it into a legitimate, and openly declared, national strategy. From now on, those out to abuse the West's value system will have to understand that, with all due respect to its Judeo-Christian roots, it does not include turning the other cheek. The second victim of the situation is the old assumption that as far as the world is concerned the IDF can do no right. Now, to everyone's surprise, the entire G-8 forum backed Israel's offensive, including the collateral damage it entailed. Evidently, decision makers in Europe and America understand that, like Hitler's slew of provocations before invading Poland, the reactionary axis that masterminds Hizbullah was testing the free world's willingness to stand up to its own interests. And the third time-honored axiom that this week fell by the Middle East's wayside is that Hizbullah makes no mistakes. Now Hassan Nasrallah has emerged as a braggart who overplayed his hand so badly that even Saudi Arabia and the virulently anti-Israeli Amr Moussa could no longer contain their lack of patience for him. Still, encouraging though all these may be the question remains: where does it all go from here? Hopefully, the international effort to confront Hizbullah militarily will create a momentum that will also challenge it spiritually. ISRAEL FOLLOWED closely, and happily, Rafik Hariri's devotion to a reconstruction drive that restored much of Beirut's colonial-era grandeur, multicultural charm and entrepreneurial vitality. As it were, this endeavor disproportionately focused on the Lebanese capital, and altogether omitted its South. That area was abandoned to the devices of foreign powers - Syria and Iran - whose local puppet, Hizbullah, is part of the fundamentalist international that has been attacking the free world since the end of the Cold War. And so, even while Hariri was alive, but particularly since his assassination and the Syrian occupation's consequent eviction by Lebanese democrats, South Lebanon remained a state-within-a-state, brazenly defying Beirut's mercantilism, liberalism and sovereignty. That Hizbullah posed a problem for Israel went without saying. Stomaching Hassan Nasrallah's verbal darts that "southern Lebanon has reached a strategic parity with northern Israel" was hard enough. Absorbing his physical arrows is altogether inconceivable, not only because of Israel's duty to protect its people, but also because it must demonstrate that when it retreats it does not do so out of weakness, and certainly not as part of a willingness to be abused. Yet Hizbullah is a problem for the rest of the world as well, because just like it is out to debilitate Israel, it is also actively and deliberately obstructing the rest of Lebanon's embrace of freedom and prosperity. In south Lebanon there was hardly a trace of the open-air rock concerts, glitzy fashion shows, snazzy malls, well-tailored businessmen and stormy night life that had returned to be Beirut's hallmark. Instead, the South saw Shi'ite fanatics breaking up disco parties and smashing Christian-owned liquor stores. While parents and teenagers in Beirut were seeking the best way to MBA, law or engineering degrees, clerics across the South were glorifying Osama bin Laden and Ahmed Yassin, and preaching their suicide cult. In short, the gap between Beirut and south Lebanon transcended the Arab-Israeli context, and was actually about attitudes toward life itself, and about whether to join or defy the non-Islamist world's quest for individual empowerment and social mobility. This, in essence, is the root cause of the current mayhem, and also where its solution lies. THE FOLLY whereby an elected, sovereign government outsources its diplomatic and military policies to aliens while the rest of the world watches in apathy, is tantamount to a cancer-plagued body's limbs first ignoring, and then turning on, their very own nervous system. It follows that once the fighting subsides southern Lebanon must be brought under Beirut's rule, not only politically, but mentally, the way the American South was reintegrated after the Civil War. What Israel is now doing is potentially the beginning of a long-overdue, three-phased chemotherapy. The first phase is about the removal of the tumor, namely the disarming and distancing of the foreign-controlled army that is camped in south Lebanon. The second is about deploying there Lebanon's own security forces, which should become the only legal arms bearers throughout that aspiring democracy. And the last phase of the treatment would be the funneling to south Lebanon of massive investments, which can within a few years turn it into an oasis of resorts, farms and factories. South Lebanon's resources, from stupendous mountains and gushing rivers to an agricultural tradition and abundant skilled workers, are all there. The locals may not always have the courage to say so openly, but the fact is they are mostly eager to embrace the slain Rafik Hariri's legacy and join the cosmopolitanism and self-help spirit he had instilled elsewhere in Lebanon. The G-8 leaders, except Japan's Junichiro Koizumi, have each their own Islamist traumas, now culminating in Canada's Stephen Harper learning he was to be beheaded by Canadian fundamentalists, a term that until last spring still sounded like the ultimate oxymoron. No wonder, then, that the industrialized powers effectively made it plain this week that they, too, want south Lebanon's fundamentalist cancer treated. Now that the doctors have finally agreed on a diagnosis, they must get the patient - Lebanon's leadership - to cooperate with its only effective treatment. And that treatment must begin with conceding that a progressive Beirut cannot coexist with a medieval south Lebanon, and that tolerating those who say they merely want to kill Jews ultimately ignites flames that kill everyone.