Rattling the Cage: Flirting with state terrorism

We don't even have to aim at civilians, we just have to take an attitude of 'when in doubt, bomb'.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
You have to have absolute, unquestioning faith in Israel's moral infallibility to go along with the official line on the Air Force's devastation of civilian life in Lebanon - that it couldn't be helped. That every effort was made to avoid it, but since Hizbullah had entwined itself among the civilian population, accidents were inevitable. That the 1,000 or so deaths, thousands of injuries and bewildering destruction to Lebanese neighborhoods, roads and other basic national infrastructure were all "collateral damage," and that Israel deeply regretted it. To anyone who isn't a true-believing, knee-jerk defender of anything Israel ever does to any Arab, this is plainly ridiculous. There were far, far too many bombs falling on people and things that had nothing to do with Hizbullah for the aerial assault to have been anything approaching "surgical." Israeli Air Force bombers killed families trying to get out of southern Lebanon, they killed farm workers, they killed UN peacekeepers who'd warned them 10 times that they were getting too close. They knocked down one high-rise apartment building after another, and who knows if any Hizbullah men were inside? They blackened Lebanon's entire coast with oil after bombing a power plant. They hit medical aid convoys and Red Cross ambulances. Last week IDF chief Dan Halutz asked for permission to take out Lebanon's electricity grid, but Defense Minister Amir Peretz decided for once to draw the line. I can't say the Air Force pilots were aiming deliberately at civilians - although they obviously were aiming deliberately at the Beirut airport, the highways, bridges and other national infrastructure, on the easy rationale that while these facilities are used by the civilian population, they are also used by Hizbullah. But while there's no proof our pilots were targeting civilians, there is all the proof anyone needs to conclude that our pilots didn't go too far out of their way to avoid hitting them. With regard to civilian life and property in Lebanon, the Air Force was much more than accident-prone; it was reckless. AND THIS shouldn't be a surprise, given what some Israeli military and political leaders were saying on the subject. At the start of the war, Halutz vowed to "set Lebanon back 20 years." Not Hizbullah - Lebanon. Peretz boasted that he was lifting restrictions on the Air Force from bombing the guerillas' neighbors in the villages, since they were no doubt collaborators anyway. Justice Minister Haim Ramon declared that anyone remaining in southern Lebanon after the IDF warned them to leave was a legitimate target - even though everyone in the world knew that masses of people in southern Lebanon were either too old, sick or poor to leave, or else they were understandably scared of becoming "collateral damage" if they tried. And if you still aren't convinced that the Air Force didn't try as hard as it could to avoid hitting civilians, remember that the pain and suffering of Lebanon's civilian population was and is crucial to Israel's hopes of achieving its goal in the war - to deter further Hizbullah attacks. How do you deter Hizbullah when its members are only too eager to die for the privilege of killing Israelis, and when their dead are so easily replaced, as Israel learned during its 18 years of fighting them? You can't deter Hizbullah. But what you can do, it would seem, is make life so miserable for Lebanese civilians, mainly the Shi'ites, that once the war is over, they will act as a constraint on Hizbullah from rocketing or raiding Israel again. It's not pretty, but if it's the only way to get peace and quiet for the North - which the Lebanese government is failing in its responsibility to ensure - then we have no choice. We don't even have to aim at civilians, we just have to take an attitude along the lines of "when in doubt, bomb," and the rest will take care of itself. At home and in America, which are the only places that really count in Israeli eyes, our policy-makers and hasbara mouthpieces will have "plausible deniability" about all these civilian tragedies. And I have to admit that while I have no use for the above hypocrisy that accompanies Israel's policy, I, too, see no way to stop Hizbullah except indirectly - by making Lebanese civilians suffer, in the hope that they will restrain Hizbullah. Which means I'm saying I favored the killing of innocent men, women and children. Which, of course, is why I love war so much. THE MOST I can say in my defense is that I didn't want the killing to go on as long as it did; in retrospect, I think Israel should have ended the war after a week at the latest - mainly for our sake, but also for Lebanon's. And I don't believe that the more you make civilians suffer, the more deterrent power you gain; after a certain point, you get sharply diminished returns. If it were possible, the IDF should have greatly disrupted Lebanese civilians' lives, but not ruined or ended them; when you make innocent people homeless and kill their loved ones, they won't restrain Hizbullah, they'll join Hizbullah. Can anyone fail to understand them? SO IT'S hard to tell how much deterrent power Israel has gained with its bombing of Lebanon's civilian sector, and, on the other hand, how many new avengers it's created among the surviving victims. And with Hizbullah now taking over the housing reconstruction effort in southern Lebanon, while handing out Iranian money to destitute residents and refugees, you have to wonder whether this Israeli strategy of indirect deterrence won't turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to Hassan Nasrallah. At any rate, the condition that Lebanon and masses of its people are in shows that Israel wasn't nearly as morally pure in this war as we like to think. When you define enemy targets so permissively that you know that bombing them will result in massive "collateral damage" to civilians - and you also know that civilian suffering is vital to your purpose in the war - then you are flirting very dangerously with terrorism. Which is what Israel did in Operation Change of Direction, and what I did in supporting the war at first. Even in the best of cases, in the most justified of wars, no country comes out of it morally pure. America was right to fight World War II, of course, but if the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasn't state terrorism, then the term has no meaning. I'm not saying Israel is dirtier than other countries when making war; the opposite is probably closer to the truth. Israel's problem, instead, is that it's too quick to make war, quicker than most countries. For the sake of its morality, it should become less ready to get dirty so often.