When puzzling out the rights and wrongs of the Middle East conflict, it's helpful to pose two questions. Question one: If Israel stopped attacking Hezbollah, would Hezbollah stop attacking Israel?
The clear answer is no. Hezbollah rockets attacks and cross-border guerrilla raids had been going on for years before the current hostilities broke out, and they would certainly start up again sooner or later even if Israel ceased firing and swore never to venture into Lebanon again. The last time Israel pulled back, when it ended its 18 year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah hailed it as a great victory, rushed to rearm and started to strike across the border at Israelis.
If Hezbollah stopped attacking Israel, would Israel stop attacking Hezbollah?
Question two turns things around. If Hezbollah stopped attacking Israel, would Israel stop attacking Hezbollah? Just as clearly, the answer is yes. If Lebanon ever managed to do what the United Nations has demanded and took control of the south away from Hezbollah, neutralizing it as a threat to Israel, the Israelis would have no motive for any kind of military action in Lebanon. Israel has no quarrel with its neighbor to the north: no claim on its territory, no animus against its people. It simply objects to seeing southern Lebanon turned into a launching pad for attacks on Israeli citizens by a militant group that swears to seek its destruction.
Were Hezbollah to proclaim tomorrow that it was giving up its armed struggle against Israel, this conflict would be over. Were Israel to say, on the other hand, that it was giving up its fight against Hezbollah and withdrawing all its forces from the border zone, the conflict would surely continue as an emboldened Hezbollah pressed home its victory.
This little exercise of the two questions may help sort out who is really to blame in this conflict. Hezbollah says it is firing rockets at Israeli population centers in answer to all Israeli "aggression" against Lebanon. No. Oxford defines aggression as "the actor of practice of attacking without provocation esp. beginning a quarrel or war." That is exactly what Hezbollah did when it crossed the UN-certified border into Israel, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others, setting off the current fighting. Israel did nothing to deserve that attack except (in Hezbollah's eyes) for being Israel. Israel's counterattack wasn't aggression; it was simple self-defense. When Hezbollah cries "aggression," it is like a thug who chucks a brick at a cop and then yells "police brutality" when the cop whacks him with a baton. It's the oldest trick in the revolutionary handbook, and the world should be able to see through it by now.
The idea that Hezbollah is somehow defending Lebanon's national sovereignty forma an imperialistic Israel would be laughable if it were not so widely believed in the Arab world. It is Hezbollah itself that has diluted the sovereign power of the Lebanese government by setting itself up in southern Lebanon as a militant state within a state beyond the power of Beirut. And it is Hezbollah that has put Lebanon's sovereignty at risk by attacking Israel and hijacking the country's foreign policy.
But wait, Israel's critics will say. Hezbollah had a good reason for attacking Israel's ongoing occupation of Arab land. Every people has the right to resist a foreign occupier and Hezbollah was simply exercising that right when it went on the attack.
That argument might have carried water at one time. Not any more. Far from swallowing up the Arab land, Israel is pulling back. It pulled out of Lebanon six years ago. It pulled out of Gaza a year back. Its current government won election in March on a pledge to leave most of the West Bank too -- a withdrawal that might leave some territorial disputes in its wake, but would represent a substantial move all the same. Apart from the Golan Heights, there is no other Arab land occupied by Israel, and successive Israeli governments have indicated they would support some form of withdrawal even from the strategic Golan in return for reliable peace agreement with Syria and a deal on demilitarizing the heights.
If the Arab world came to accept the existence of a Jewish state in its midst, there would be no reason for Israel to employ its armed might against its neighbors
Yet Israel's enemies keep on attacking. They attacked after Israel signed the Oslo accords that let Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization set up shops in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990's. They attacked after Prime Minister Ehud Barak sketched out the most sweeping concessions to Palestinians from any Israeli government in the Camp David talks or 2000. They attacked when Israel made its boldest territorial concession by withdrawing from Gaza -- packing up all its settlers, withdrawing all its soldiers and handing the whole place over to the Palestinian to govern as they wished (only to find Israel being bombarded by rockets based in Gaza). And now they attack from southern Lebanon, which was handed over in its entirety in 2000, and held until then only as a defensive buffer.
Is it any wonder Israelis feel beleaguered? Is it any wonder they took so long to accept turning over the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinians, considering the threat it might pose to their security? If these relentless attacks stopped, if the Arab world came to accept the existence of a Jewish state in its midst, there would be no reason on Earth for Israel to employ its armed might against its neighbors as it is doing now with such devastating effect.
Which brings us back to those two basic questions. If Israel's enemies stopped attacking Israel, would Israel stop attacking them? Certainly. If Israel stopped attacking its enemies, would they stop attacking Israel? Sadly not; at least not yet. And that is why the Arab-Israeli dispute drags on.