Subject: Editorial -- The Australian
Editorial: Self-defence is a universal right
July 20, 2006
THE tyranny of distance still afflicts Australia, or at least certain segments of the Australian commentariat. For from a distance of nearly 15,000km, many local media outlets look at the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and see a decidedly one-sided affair. Last week, The Sydney Morning Herald headlined a front-page story declaring Lebanon "UNDER SIEGE" by what its correspondent called "Israeli attacks causing soaring civilian death tolls in Gaza and Lebanon", setting the tone for the paper's coverage of the conflict. Meanwhile, at the ABC on Tuesday night, Tony Jones badgered former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak over Israel's refusal to call a ceasefire, while the UK Independent's Robert Fisk regularly rants against Israel on the nation's broadcaster. Yet the closer one gets to the front lines, the less Israel cops the blame. In the Middle East, the normally anti-Israeli Saudi Arabian Government has said Hezbollah bears "full responsibility for . . . ending the crisis". In Lebanon, there is even more support for Israel's actions. On Tuesday night's 7:30 Report, of all places, several Lebanese officials placed blame for the current conflict on Hezbollah – not Israel. The question that comes to mind, then, is whether those who effectively suggest Israel should meekly accept its neighbours' attacks actually support the Jewish state's right to exist? It's a legitimate question. Certainly Israel should not be immune to criticism. But if Israel's right to exist is accepted, then the exercise of its corresponding right to protect itself should not be treated with such outrage. Since Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has become more powerful in southern Lebanon, thanks to its friends in Iran and Syria. During this time it has also subjected Israel to regular harassment – even as Israel has, until the kidnapping of two of its soldiers last week, been restrained in retaliation. One wonders how those who criticise Israel's response to Hezbollah would urge the Howard Government to respond were a foreign enemy seizing cops and dropping artillery shells into Balmain in Sydney or Fitzroy in Melbourne. Those who condemn images of Israeli girls writing messages on artillery shells are rarely if ever heard denouncing the relentless propaganda that brainwashes Palestinian children to hate their Jewish neighbours and celebrate the deeds of suicide bombers. Meanwhile, the ancient idea of proportionate response has lately become a rhetorical cudgel for those who would hobble Israel. Yet in taking the possibility of overwhelming retaliation off the table, the doctrine encourages bad behaviour on the part of Israel's enemies who know they would never be called to account. In retaliating against Lebanon and evicting that country's Shia interlopers, Israel is simply behaving as a rational actor. And in doing so it strikes a blow for the principle that all states should be treated similarly. This is the only way forward for Israel in dealing with the Palestinians: if Hamas wants to be recognised as the legitimate government of the Palestinian people, then the world should go along with this and no longer accept "rogue state" claims that Qassam rockets and suicide terrorist missions launched from its territory are not its responsibility. Violent internal politics or historic grievances about dispossession and occupation do not excuse bad behaviour. The situation is still fluid in the Middle East. And any attack on Tel Aviv by Hezbollah would radically change the equation. But the quick defeat of Hezbollah – and by extension its mad backers in Tehran – would not just be a win for Israel but for Lebanon and the region as well.