But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
—Matthew 11:22 (KJV Bible)
[Disclaimer: No, I'm quite agnostic, but I went through several denominations of religious education, and some passages from the Bible still rise unbidden to my mind in times of stress, such as this is.]
The situation in Lebanon just boggles the mind. What on earth is Israel thinking? What are the U.S. and U.K. thinking? Are they even thinking at all? Or are they wrapped up in a frenzy of emotion? The latter possibility might explain what's going on. Make no mistake about it. Israel was sorely, sorely provoked. No sovereign nation can stand by while its cities are being shelled. Israel had to respond, and to respond forcefully. But what of that response? Israel seems to be killing everyone but their enemy. They are killing Lebanese civilians by the hundreds, blasting infrastructure back to the stone age, and even taking out U.N. observers. All the while they are making no dent in Hezbollah's operations, despite the chest-pounding of their generals. It's surely unacceptable that Northern Israelis have to cower in fear of constant rocket attacks; nevertheless, the devastation that Israel is handing out to Lebanon can hardly be considered anything short of indiscriminate and even criminal reprisal.
The U.S. is irrelevant in this whole affair. It's interesting to see how an ally's unstinting support even in the face of obvious breakdown in morals has the perverse effect of making the supporter somewhat irrelevant. Britain under Blair has learned that their obsequiousness has gained them kind words, yet real contempt from the Bush administration, and the Bush administration is subject to no less contempt by Israel, and for no less reason. Bush and co. wouldn't dare criticize Israel anyway because the response would probably involve deep embarrassment. The only reason I'll mention the U.S.'s hands-off approach to the Lebanon crisis is to point out their certain hypocrisy.
Turkey is also at present suffering attack from militants across its borders. In this case it's Kurdish separatists (of the PKK) holed up in the hills of Northern Iraq. Now make no mistake: I am sympathetic to Kurdish separatist aspirations (Turkey has been quite oppressive of its Kurds), but in the simplest terms, a response from Turkey equivalent to that of Israel would involve Turkish bombing and shelling of Kirkuk, while also destroying most of Northern Iraq's oil infrastructure. Needless to say the U.S. would never allow that, and this is just one measure of the staggering hypocrisy that underlies the bombing of Beruit.
Ho hum, hypocrisy is the grease of foreign affairs, and has always been. What truly amazes me is the suicidal nature of Israel's devastation of Beruit. Yes. I said "suicidal". But what does Israel, one of the world's preeminent military powers, have to fear from tiny little Lebanon? Nothing directly, unless you take a step back to history's lesson book to see that no military might has ever been able to defeat the force of demographics. Israelis are badly outnumbered in their little corner of the world, and their survival depends on the fragmentation of their hostile neighbors. Israel has historically been very skilful at encouraging this fragmentation, and this has been more of an asset than its military might. Unfortunately, in recent red mist it has dumped all such subtlety and practicality, and is in the process of not only deepening the radicalism of the region, but of uniting it as well. It's a very ugly irony that when Lebanese families are rendered homeless by Israeli warplanes, and their children killed, it is usually Hezbollah's charitable wing that has been coming to their aid. This is no different from how Israel's devastation of the West Bank and Gaza strip a few years ago led inexorably to the rise of Hamas to power.
Lebanon's Hezbollah and Hamas are not historically likely strike partners: The Shi'a/Sunni divide in the region is almost as deep as the national divides, but Israel's recent fits are uniting the radicals, and their sponsors, and when innocent families helplessly watch the loss of loved ones and property, they often end up joining the ranks of the radicals. Israel cannot afford swelling numbers of militants, as the simple mathematics of the Lebanon war illustrate. For every 10 Lebanese casualies there has been one Israeli. There's no reason to believe that sheer military might will improve that ratio. The problem is that Hồ Chí Minh's famous boast could just as easily come from Israel's enemies:
You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win.
Over time Israel's population, which is essentially at a plateau, will lose the demographic war unless it can find peace among the growing populations immediately beyond its borders. Israelis like to say "yeah! We do want peace! It's everyone else who wants war." Their government's near-sighted decision-making process far too often gives the lie to those claims.
Two things I have learned from my many encounters and friendships with Lebanese people is that (1) they are perhaps the most resourceful people on Earth (2) they are perhaps the most pragmatic people on Earth. I think they have the wherewithal to rebuild once Israel's fit has passed (to be blunt, I don't expect their institutions to crumble as hopelessly as those of the Palestinians), and I do think that their population will end up much less radicalized than one could expect under the circumstances. That is the only basis for a faint glimmer of hope, for Israel, the region, and the world. There may be no soothing the moral outrage of Israel's present, apalling brutality, but perhaps if they can be shamed into moderation the slow agency of time will prevent a spiraling escalation through which there will be winner (most certainly not Israel).
Oh, and at some point someone still has to uproot Hezbollah from the border regions, so there is some containment of the effects of their murderous recklessness. I suppose the fact that Israel would rather bomb civillians than meet Hezbollah head-on is no different from the U.S.'s preference for invading Iraq rather than focusing on the elimination of Bin Laden and his henchmen. I just wish I could apprehend their logic. On the other hand, perhaps it's a healthy thing I can't.