It happens every time. Israel is forced into a defensive war, and winds up defending itself against canards of aggression and excessive force. Around the water cooler and on talk radio, Israel's supporters are put on the spot: Why are so many Lebanese civilians being killed? Why the destruction of so much infrastructure? Can't Israel show some restraint?
At times like this, every Jew becomes an ambassador for Israel. Even if you don't agree with everything Israel does, we must defend Israel's right to self-defense.
So let's sort out fact from fiction -- for the sake of Israel, and for ourselves.
Myth: Israel is attacking and killing hundreds of Lebanese civilians.
Fact: The death of any innocent civilian is tragic and Israel regrets the loss of life. [Click here to see missile attack on Haifa.]
Why are civilians dying? Because Hezbollah is hiding among civilians, using villages, mosques and even private homes to store and manufacture weapons caches that include 12,000 missiles.
This creates a conundrum for the Israeli military, where Hezbollah wins either way: If the IDF shies away from attacking because of the proximity of civilians, Hezbollah's terror infrastructure remains in place. And if the IDF attacks, no matter how carefully, there will be collateral damage -- triggering condemnation in the media, and emboldening Hezbollah to operate from civilian areas.
Following the missile strike that killed civilians in Qana, Israeli officials showed aerial footage taken two days earlier of Katyusha rockets being fired near houses in Qana, and of a Katyusha launcher firing missiles and then being driven into Qana and hidden inside a house. Further, two days before the strike, the Israeli military’s Al-Mashriq radio that broadcasts into southern Lebanon warned residents their villages would be “totally destroyed” if missiles were fired from them. Leaflets with similar messages were dropped in some areas one day before.
Even the UN’s humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, said: "Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending... among women and children. I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this.”
Some reports show that Hezbollah is trying to maximize Lebanese civilian deaths, presumably for its own propaganda purposes: Roadblocks have been set up outside some villages to prevent residents from leaving. In the Qana incident, the bombs were dropped at 1 a.m., but the building collapse took place at 7 a.m., leading to speculating that Hezbollah munitions stored in the house might have brought it down, perhaps deliberately as a way to pressure Israel into a ceasefire.
Meanwhile, in order to minimize civilian casualties, Israel has dropped warning leaflets in Lebanon, advising residents to protect their own safety by "avoiding all places frequented by Hizbullah."
When was the last time that Arab terrorists alerted Israeli civilians of an impending strike?
So let's be clear who bears responsibility for the deaths of Lebanese civilians. As Alan Dershowitz writes:
A bank robber who takes a teller hostage and fires at police from behind his human shield is guilty of murder if they, in an effort to stop the robber from shooting, accidentally kill the hostage. The same should be true of terrorists who use civilians as shields from behind whom they fire their rockets.
Myth: Israel deliberately attacked a United Nations post, killing four UN personnel.
Fact: That UN post, in the words of the Canadian peacekeeper who was killed there, was being used by Hezbollah as cover. As retired Canadian Major General Lewis Mackenzie, interviewed on CBC radio, explained:
"We received emails from [the Canadian peacekeeper who was killed at the UN post] a few days ago, and he was describing the fact that he was taking fire within, in one case, three meters of his position for tactical necessity, not being targeted. Now that's veiled speech in the military. What he was telling us was Hezbollah soldiers were all over his position and the IDF were targeting them. And that's a favorite trick by people who don't have representation in the UN. They use the UN as shields knowing that they can't be punished for it."
Furthermore, Hezbollah has attacked UNIFIL observers repeatedly this week. From the UN's own press releases:
In the last 24 hours... Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of four UN positions at Marwahin, Alma Ash Shab, Brashit, and At Tiri. (27 July 2006)
One unarmed UN military observer, a member of the Observer Group Lebanon (OGL), was seriously wounded by small arms fire in the patrol base in the Marun Al Ras area yesterday afternoon. According to preliminary reports, the fire originated from the Hezbollah side during an exchange with the IDF. He was evacuated by the UN to the Israeli side, from where he was taken by an IDF ambulance helicopter to a hospital in Haifa. He was operated on, and his condition is now reported as stable. (24 July 2006)
Note that the UN observer was injured badly enough to be evacuated to an Israeli hospital -- where they saved his life. Kofi Annan's reaction? Not a word of condemnation against Hezbollah, and not a word of gratitude for Israel's rescue of the UN observer.
Myth: Israel is needlessly targeting Lebanon's civilian infrastructure.
Fact: Prior to the fighting, Lebanon was recovering from a long, destructive civil war. Last year's "Cedar Revolution" against Syrian occupation gave the world high hopes for the possibility of a new Lebanon. Tourism was on the rise, business was improving, and national infrastructure was being rebuilt.
Hezbollah has now used this infrastructure to support its own violent agenda. For years, weapons shipments passed through the capitol's international airport, across the Beirut-Damascus highway, and through various coastal ports. That's why Israel has been forced to bomb the transportation network, to hinder the arrival of arms from Syria/Iran, and to stop Hezbollah from moving the kidnapped Israelis out of the country.
Other Israeli strikes have targeted telephone links used by Hezbollah to communicate, Hezbollah offices, banks that handle their money, and TV transmitters from which Hezbollah's Al-Manar station is broadcast. (they’re the ones who spread the story that 9-11 was an Israeli plot -- a version of events now accepted by majorities throughout the Muslim world).
In fact, Israel is carefully selecting targets, in order to minimize damage. Writes David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute:
[Israel] has fought this war on its northern border as humanely as it can. Flip the switch in Beirut and the lights come on; open the taps, and the water flows. Essential services have been spared. The runways at Beirut Airport have been bombed to stop reinforcements to Hezbollah, but the control towers and the newly built terminal have been spared because Lebanon will need them later.
Myth: Israel's military response is "disproportionate and excessive."
Fact: We need to define our terms: Israel's response may be "disproportionate," but it is not "excessive."
In war, you don't measure response by what the enemy has done in the past, but rather how to stop their threats to attack you in the future. Hezbollah is threatening to send missiles into Tel Aviv, and there is the looming threat of Iran supplying Hezbollah with nuclear weapons. This is a serious security threat that must be eliminated.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen exploded the myth of "excessive force":
For Israel, a small country within reach, as we are finding out, of a missile launched from any enemy's back yard, proportionality is not only inapplicable, it is suicide... It is not good enough to take out this or that missile battery. It is necessary to reestablish deterrence: You slap me, I will punch out your lights.
Hezbollah boasts 12,000 missiles -- not for defense, but to destroy Israel. Why would the world not allow Israel to defend itself? Because it is more comfortable to live with the illusion of peace, to hope that this will pass and things will somehow work out. But Israel cannot afford to ignore the reality of the threat.
It is true that the fighting has produced more Lebanese casualties than Israeli casualties. But if Israel were to tell its citizens not to hide in bomb shelters, so that the thousands of rockets launched from Lebanon would kill many more Israelis, would the world's journalists and government leaders then smugly agree that Israel's effort to stop Hezbollah is indeed "proportionate"?
Myth: Hezbollah has a justified grievance and is being provoked by Israel.
Fact: Charles Krauthammer said it best:
What's the grievance here? Israel withdrew from Lebanon completely in 2000. It was so scrupulous in making sure that not one square inch of Lebanon was left inadvertently occupied that it asked the United Nations to verify the exact frontier defining Lebanon's southern border and retreated behind it. This "blue line" was approved by the Security Council, which declared that Israel had fully complied with resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Lebanon.
In the meanwhile, Hezbollah has created a mini-state inside of Lebanon -- with territory, weapons and soldiers. Over the past six years, Hezbollah has launched dozens of attacks across the internationally-recognized border on both civilian and military targets within Israel.
The current crisis began on July 12, when Hezbollah launched rockets at Israeli towns and cities in an unprovoked attack, and then crossed the border killing eight Israeli soldiers engaged in routine patrol and kidnapping two more.
Hezbollah "claims" that it is fighting over Shebaa Farms, a small tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria converge. The UN maintains that Shebaa Farms was captured from Syria in 1967, and is subject only to Israeli-Syrian agreement.
Even Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have now chastised Hezbollah for its "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts."
Myth: Lebanon bears no responsibility for the actions of Hezbollah.
Fact: According to UN Security Council Resolution 1559, it is the responsibility of the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah and to assert Lebanese sovereignty in southern Lebanon.
The Lebanese government has completely failed in this regard, standing by while Hezbollah has assembled weapons stockpiles and entrenched itself in Lebanese towns.
Further, Lebanon cannot claim disassociation: Hezbollah is actually part of the Lebanese coalition government, holding two seats in the cabinet!
The irony of all this is that most of the world -- including the Lebanese population -- hopes that Israel will succeed in doing the job that the Lebanese army has not: liberating southern Lebanon from Hezbollah rule, and giving it back to the Lebanese.
Let's all do our part to promote the facts, and to help Israel win its battles on all fronts.