When Omer Caspi, Israel's deputy consul general in San Francisco, came to speak with The Chronicle editorial board last week, he noted that when terrorist bombs killed 190 civilians in India on July 11, "it was a one-day headline." Yet, when Israel fights back in self-defense against Hezbollah's militia in Lebanon, and two weeks of air strikes have left some 380 Lebanese civilians dead mind you, the body count is so high because Hezbollah's militiamen are hiding among Lebanese civilians critics paint the carnage as proof that the world is being led into World War III, with Israel as the chief bad guy.
Caspi has a point. Clearly, civilian deaths in Lebanon are an outrage but I blame Hezbollah terrorists for firing missiles at Israelis from Beirut's suburbs for the loss of innocent civilians.
It is clear which side feeds the chain of violence and which side seeks to avoid it. Israel has tried to accommodate its enemies and negotiate a lasting peace. In 2000, Israel pulled its troops out of Lebanon, while Hezbollah happily flouted Lebanon's sovereignty as its militia dug into the landscape in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559.
Israel handed the Gaza Strip over to the Palestinians in 2005, only to see the Hamas faction which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist win the Palestinian election.
No wonder Israelis have come to question if their concessions, meant as a show of goodwill in a quest for peace, only serve to feed the ardor of their enemies. "Our enemies misinterpreted our willingness to exercise restraint as a sign of weakness," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset on July 17.
No more. As the Economist reported, a recent poll found that a mere 30 percent of Israelis now believe negotiations will lead to peace with the Palestinians in the next few years.
Liberal critics argue that Israel's military actions will only create more terrorists. They're right, but the problem is that Israel's withdrawals also only seem to create more terrorists. No matter what Israel does, no matter how valiantly Israel extends the olive branch, it seems to beget more terrorists.
While Israel sought peace, Hezbollah armed itself with some 12,000 rockets an unacceptable threat to Israel. Now, if Hezbollah prevails, terrorism prevails, suicide bombing prevails, chaos prevails and it will be World War III. The Middle East's best hope for peace is for Israel to uproot Hezbollah from Lebanon.
As for those who argue that Israel has been "disproportionate" in the words of the U.N.'s top humanitarian official Jan Egeland in bombing Hezbollah in retaliation for the killing and capturing of Israeli troops, they might observe that Hamas and Hezbollah have been disproportionate underachievers, if you will in responding to Israeli overtures for peace. So a chastised Egeland later criticized Hezbollah's "cowardly blending" among women and children. Nice of him to notice.
It does not help when Europe and the United Nations hold the Israeli military to a standard of conduct that world leaders would never dream of setting for anti-Israeli militia. Over and over again, suicide bombers target Jews, yet outrage is an afterthought in U.N. land. In that spirit, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan quickly called for a cease-fire without seeming to care that a cease-fire would be a boon to Hezbollah.
Eventually, I believe, Israel will stop fighting of its own accord because the Israeli people will grow wary of the mounting toll of Lebanese civilian deaths. In the meantime, while Hezbollah remains strong, there is little reason for Olmert or U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to jump at the first unsustainable cease-fire agreement that foremost serves Israel's enemies. It would be the height of folly to push for any deal that makes Hezbollah or its patron, Iran stronger.