The innocent bystander myth

The Lebanese government has actively supported Hizbullah in both word and deed.

One of the most bizarre aspects of the current Lebanon crisis is the international community's unanimous insistence that the Lebanese government is an innocent party, and should therefore not be made to suffer for Hizbullah's actions. The official statement issued by the G-8 on Sunday, for instance, said that Israel must avoid doing anything that would destabilize Lebanon's government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the summit: "We are convinced that the government of Lebanon must be given all support." US President George W. Bush said last week that while Israel has the right to defend itself, "whatever Israel does should not weaken the … government in Lebanon." And this presumption of Beirut's innocence has inevitably affected criticism of Israel's response to the Hizbullah attacks. Thus, for instance, the European Union's rotating president, Finland, issued a statement last week declaring that the EU "is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hizbullah on Israel… The imposition of an air and sea blockade cannot be justified." In fact, this blockade would arguably be justified even if the conflict were solely between Israel and Hizbullah, since its main purpose is to cut off Hizbullah's supply of rockets - for which Beirut Airport, in particular, has been a major conduit for years. But in state-to-state wars, blockades are unquestionably legitimate: They are the standard means of impeding the enemy's supply of arms. It is the EU's distorted view of the war as being strictly between Israel and Hizbullah, with the Beirut government a mere innocent bystander, that causes it to view the blockade instead as an unfair punishment of an entire country for the acts of a few rogue terrorists. In reality, Hizbullah's attack was far from a rogue action committed in defiance of the government: The Lebanese government has actively supported it, in both word and deed. First, of course, Hizbullah remains a member of the government, with seats in the cabinet. Admittedly, it probably launched last week's attack without its coalition partners' knowledge or consent. But in any normal country, a junior coalition member that attacked a neighboring country without its partners' consent would be swiftly disavowed and ousted from the government. Instead, the Lebanese government has passionately defended Hizbullah's actions on the international stage. At an Arab League meeting on Saturday, for instance, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, reportedly backed by representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, lambasted Hizbullah's assault as "inappropriate and irresponsible." But Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, far from agreeing, presented a draft resolution defending the attack. The resolution stated that Lebanon has the "right to resist occupation by all legitimate means," demanded the release of Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails, and asserted Lebanon's right to "liberate them by all legitimate means." THESE, HOWEVER, are precisely the justifications that Hizbullah offers for attacking Israel. First, Hizbullah does not accept the UN Security Council's determination that Israel withdrew fully from Lebanon in May 2000; it insists that an area known as Shaba Farms is also Lebanese, and that it has the right to continue attacking Israel until Israel quits this area as well. Thus when Salloukh declared that Lebanon has the "right to resist occupation," what he meant was that the Lebanese government concurs with Hizbullah, rather than the UN, about the status of Shaba Farms and supports Hizbullah's "right" to attack Israel over this issue. Second, Hizbullah has long advocated kidnapping Israelis in order to trade them for the one Lebanese national still in Israel's jails: Samir Kuntar, who is serving multiple life sentences for having infiltrated into Israel, entered a house in Nahariya, killed the owner and his four-year-old daughter in cold blood, and then killed a policeman before being captured. That, incidentally, was in 1979 - three years before Israel invaded Lebanon and began its 18-year occupation of the country's south. Thus when Salloukh asserted Lebanon's right to "liberate" its prisoners, what he meant was that the Lebanese government agrees with Hizbullah that freeing this terrorist is a national goal, and supports Hizbullah's "right" to attack Israel in order to achieve it. But the government did not even make do with defending Hizbullah's attacks after the fact: It also actively facilitated them. CLEARLY, THE attacks were made possible in the first place by Beirut's failure to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which demanded that the government disarm Hizbullah and deploy the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon in its stead. Currently, the Lebanese army allows Hizbullah free rein in southern Lebanon by steadfastly avoiding the area. But given the government's weakness relative to Hizbullah, this failure is usually excused as being due to inability rather than malice. That excuse, however, cannot be made for other government actions that facilitated the attacks, such as its failure to stop the ongoing supply of rockets and other war materiel to Hizbullah. Far from being smuggled in without the government's knowledge, weapons earmarked for Hizbullah arrived openly in Beirut Airport almost every week - and the airport, unlike southern Lebanon, is fully controlled by the government and the Lebanese army. Yet the government never ordered the army to confiscate these shipments. Regular arms shipments also came overland from Syria. Yet these, too, passed openly and without hindrance through border crossings controlled by the Lebanese government. The Lebanese army has even openly assisted Hizbullah during the past week's fighting. Hizbullah's successful missile strike on an Israeli naval vessel Friday night, for instance, would have been impossible had the army's radar stations not given Hizbullah the ship's coordinates. Hizbullah does not have radar stations of its own. Far from repudiating Hizbullah's attacks on Israel, the Lebanese government has actively defended, facilitated and assisted them at every turn. There are thus no grounds for treating it as an innocent party in this conflict. And until the international community recognizes this, its efforts to resolve the crisis will inevitably fail.