Everybody appears to have been blindsided by Hezbollah’s opening of a second front on Wednesday, July 12. Israel has reacted to a blatant aggression against Israeli territory, initially killing three IDF soldiers and taking two prisoners ambushed on the Israeli side of the border. As of this writing, five other Israeli soldiers are reported killed, responding on the Lebanese side. In addition, thousands of Israeli civilians in the north are fleeing and thousands more huddled in bomb shelters as Hezbollah rains Israel with katyusha rockets as far south as Tzfat (Safed); 16 Isrealis civilians have been wounded and one killed — a woman in her home in Nahariya (a coastal Galilee town next door to my cousin’s kibbutz, which my cousin has just left for Tel Aviv). The human cost from Israeli bombing in Lebanon is probably much higher, but not yet known.
Again, as with Gaza, Israel has been provoked by Arab attacks from territories where it has completely withdrawn. This has incalculably damaged the political viability of the Israeli peace camp and caused further splits within its ranks. Most of the Labor party, the second largest component of the Olmert coalition government, is standing firmly with IDF operations on both fronts.
Lilly Rivlin, Meretz USA’s president, reports from Israel today that “Meretz is the only party that is calling for something different than the present government is doing, including members of the Labor party, who are also now saying there is no one to talk to. [Education minister and a dovish Labor MK] Yuli Tamir was attacked in a women’s forum held yesterday at the Van Leer Institute…. ‘There is no one to talk to’, she said, and voices in the audience yelled, ‘Let the women go talk to Hamas’.”
As with Gaza, Israel clearly has the right to respond militarily to attacks, but there is an issue of proportionality and the appropriateness of targets. A commonsense view, voiced on NPR this morning, from a bystander stranded by Israel’s violent shutdown of Beirut’s international airport: “Why don’t they attack the people who took the prisoners?”
This echoes my feeling as well, that Israel should not be warring with all of Lebanon but against Hezbollah alone. I may be wrong, but I find it unlikely that Israel will be able to pressure the weak and divided Lebanese government (of which Hezbollah is a component political party) to disarm the Hezbollah militia and secure Lebanon’s border with Israel, as was dully agreed upon and promulgated by the UN Security Council.
As with its total offensive in the Gaza Strip, paralyzing all of Lebanon with air strikes may instead cast Israel as a bully, rather than the aggrieved party that it is. But it’s too early to know for sure. The tone of BBC coverage this morning was to indicate that the Lebanese government does indeed need to rein in Hezbollah.
Ami Isseroff’s Mideast Web article, “Israel: Returning to Lebanon?” , indicates that Hezbollah may have been motivated to assault Israel to prevent an imminent deal to end the Gaza crisis, through the mediation of Egyptian President Mubarak. Isseroff quotes from a Haaretz piece to this effect: “There were ‘other parties,’ President Mubarak said, that had led to the failure of Egyptian mediations to resolve the tension in Gaza. He did not specify who these parties were, but his comments were apparently referring to Syria, which is host to the top leadership of the Hamas militant group.
“(Hamas) was being pressured by opposing elements, and other elements that I don’t want to name interfered in the negotiations. This led to the abortion of an agreement which was close to being finalized,” said Mubarak, and added that “It is no secret that I had worked to bring the crisis to an honorable solution.”
The following, just in, is a communication from Gershon Baskin of IPCRI, a friend of Meretz USA who was (apparently) way too optimistic about the peace-making potential of Kadima and the Olmert government. Here, again, his rapid timetable for an “easy” solution to the current crisis, involving a rapidly phased and conditional freeing of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, sounds overly simple, but I do think that freeing at least harmless women, children and older prisoners should be on the table.
“Ending the crisis without killing anyone”
Gershon Baskin, Hanna Siniora, Khaled Duzdar, Yossi Ben Ari
Thursday, July 13, 2006
The most desired end of the current crisis would be a return of the Israeli kidnapped soldiers from Lebanon and Gaza, the release of prisoners in Israeli jails, an end to cross border attacks, including rockets – in both directions – on the Israeli-Gaza border and the Israeli-Lebanese border, and the strengthening of moderates and the weakening of extremists.
The current strategy to end the crisis employs extreme long-term violence and escalating threats against civilians that may or may not end with the release of the kidnapped soldiers and prisoners in Israeli jails. It may or may not end the cross border attacks; it will most likely strengthen extremists and weaken moderates and will cause vast damage and human suffering.
At times when anger rules, it is difficult to think logically, nevertheless; there is a more rational course that could be advanced that might have a better chance of achieving the desired results written above. Our proposal is as follows:
Prime Minister Olmert will immediately meet publicly with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and tell him the following:
1. Once Corporal Gilead Shalit is released from Gaza, Israel will immediately release all of the women and children prisoners in Israeli jails (without blood on their hands).
2. Israel will declare a ceasefire including the end of all shelling in Gaza, all targeted killings, and all arrest campaigns in the West Bank. If the Palestinians adhere to a ceasefire on their side, effective for all of the factions, after one month of full ceasefire, Israel will release all of the Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel since before September 1993. If the ceasefire holds for another month, another several hundred prisoners will be released, etc.
3. Olmert will also tell Abbas that if the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizballah will be released, Israel will release all of the Lebanese prisoners being held in Israeli prisons.
According to this plan, there are no negotiations and there are no mediators. Israel can take the initiative, strengthen Mahmoud Abbas, weaken Nasrallah and Mashal, bring the soldiers home and achieve a ceasefire. It is cheaper than any military plan, it doesn’t kill anyone, and it has the chance of ending the crisis faster than any other possible way.