Deadly Restraint

Dr. Richard L. Benkin – Asian Tribune

The question on so many lips around the world right now is, “What has led to the current round of Middle East fighting.” People ask that of me everyday. The answer is neither as complex as some would think nor as simple as others would have us believe.

Common answers rest on sloganeering demonizing entire religions and are bound to lead us down a cul de sac of destruction. Those that require either directly or de facto the destruction of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state are destined to be a road map to eternal strife. Although a much more accurate answer requires some explanation, it can be expressed simply with one word so blithely bandied about these days: restraint. As used now, the restraint is urged on one party alone, Israel, and generally as a demand if the Jewish state is to get any chance for international acceptance. The fact is that today’s fighting is the result of yesterday’s restraint; and restraint today will only insure more fighting tomorrow.

Genuine advocates of restraint (as opposed to those who cynically use it as a tactic) fall back on it because they long for a mere cessation of hostilities: a hollow peace at all costs. But that will only ensure future hostilities unless the root cause of the Middle East conflict is addressed and addressed honestly without regard to rhetoric. That root cause is first and foremost the near unanimous Arab rejection of a viable Jewish state in the Middle East. That was the cause of hostilities in 1948, and it is the cause of hostilities in 2006. A peace process must begin with that reality and acknowledge that until it changes among the Arab people, the Middle East conflict will remain a conflict.

Restraint? Diplomacy? Compromise? The conflict remains because they have been the province of one side only. In 1948, the United Nations ordered that British Palestine be partitioned into Jewish and Arab states. The Jews accepted the division; the Arabs did not and tried in vain to destroy the Jewish state the day it was born.

In 1967, the Israelis begged Jordan's King Hussein to stay out of any Middle East war, telling him that the two countries could co-exist in peace. As subsequent events showed, it was not out of weakness but strength that Israel sought peace. Hussein and his fellow Arab leaders instead chose war; after which Israel offered to give back the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai immediately in exchange for a real peace. Arabs could use the land for a Palestinian state or anything else, but their oft quoted response was "No peace, no negotiations, no recognition."

More recently, in 2000, the Israelis offered the Palestinians all of Gaza, 95 percent of the West Bank, and some of pre-1967 Israel in exchange for peace. Not only did the Arabs reject it, but they followed rejection with a terror war against Israeli civilians.

During discussions about the holy site, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, holy to Jews and Muslims, the Arabs rejected arrangement after arrangement that recognized both religions’ legitimate ties to the Mount. Every suggestion, however, would mean mutual recognition of equivalent rights, so no fellow Arabs criticized the rejected peace. A negotiated peace is not possible if one side presupposes what the outcome must be.

So Israel voluntarily left places (Lebanon in 2000, Gaza in 2005), and after regularly shelling Israeli civilians as thanks for the withdrawals, Arab terrorists have in 2006 launched unprovoked cross-border attacks, killing, wounding, and kidnapping Israelis. Now Israel has gone to battle against them, but numerous Israelis have confirmed that they are not happy about fighting the Lebanese. But, they have said, they have no choice.

The situation places Israel in a difficult situation in which they have to do enough damage to end Hizbollah’s threat to their civilian population, but too much damage could help topple Lebanon’s democratic government and see a radical or pro-Syrian one emerge in its stead.

The dilemma, however, could have been averted if the international community was not perpetually genuflecting to Arab oil and Islamist terrorism. Israel had occupied Lebanon from their common border up to the Litani River. Their purpose was to establish a 20-mile buffer zone to prevent rocket file and cross-border attacks on its civilians. They withdrew with the understanding that the Lebanese army would replace them and prevent such attacks on innocent Israeli civilians. There is even a UN Resolution, 1551, that has Lebanon disarming Hizbollah and taking control of the country’s south. But the UN and the international community never went beyond periodic requests. No UN resolutions condemned the ongoing attacks by Hizbollah on the Israeli north. And there was no action when Hizbollah justified its actions by accusing the Israelis of continuing to occupy Lebanon (in the area known as Shebaa Farms), even though the UN had certified that the Israel had quit Lebanon completely. That was the key, no one cared, no one protested, no one insisted; for the victims were “only” Israelis.

When Israel left Gaza in 2005, the world expected the Palestinians to use the opportunity to build a society—with a great deal of international aid, including some from American Jews—on which Israel and they could build a real peace process leading to a comprehensive agreement and two thriving states living side-by-side. But from the start, Gaza took on an uncivilized personality, glorifying terrorists and issuing one complaint after another about how all the help it received was insufficient. Internecine warfare between Fatah and Hamas continued to devastate the population and the economy. The Palestinians could not even make use of the advanced Israeli agricultural products (hothouses) American Jews purchased for them. Sporadic terrorist attacks on Israel, ongoing smuggling of arms and Katushya rocket attacks on Israel all were allowed to proceed with impunity. Even the suggestion of an Israeli defense was greeted with cries of “foul” and condemnation.

Then, in 2005, the Palestinians elected Hamas to rule. Israel had begged the international community to exclude groups that were committed to war, that refused to acknowledge the possibility of two states living side-by-side. But the international community spurned their requests and accorded the terrorist Hamas greater legitimacy than some of them grant to Israel. The Katushya attacks became daily occurrences and covered more Israeli territory. But the world did nothing.

The lack of action, more, the tacit support for ongoing hostilities by these groups is what emboldened them to attack Israel in 2006. Experience showed them that Western Europe and the UN especially would likely force Israel to cave into their demands. It is also significant that both Hamas and Hizbollah are dedicated to Israel’s destruction and therefore opposed to a peaceful solution of the Middle East situation. This placed Israel in a terrible bind. They had the choice of confirming the terrorists’ suspicions that they could attack Israel with impunity or take effective action against them. The fact that both Hamas and Hizbollah deliberately locate themselves among densely populated civilian areas meant that any Israeli action would invariably result in civilian casualties—something Israel knew would damage its standing and create animosity among the populations of Lebanon and Gaza.

Asked whether the current hostilities could have been prevented, Israeli Knesset member and defense expert uval Steinitz responded, “Over the last year, Israel's deterrence has been badly damaged. It began with Hizbullah strikes from Rajar to abduct Israelis, which was met by a tactical military response. It continued with Hamas and its Kassam missile strikes on Sderot. Over the last year, there was a range of provocations in which Israeli responded tactically and with great restraint.”

By the way, these remarks are not directed towards those who in essence do not believe Israel is a legitimate state and that the world would be better off if it were destroyed. For they have come to a position of pure evil, and one that I would counsel not wasting any time arguing or negotiating with them. It is a position that must be utterly destroyed. But if that is not one’s position—and support for the so-called Arab right of return is tantamount to the Jewish state’s destruction—then the opportunity for peace exist

Because no one else acted, the Israelis felt they had to do so. Hamas and Hizbullah also failed to account for changing circumstances. As the two terror groups are openly affiliated with Iran, their actions received a mixed response even among Arab states, which had never criticized fellow Arabs in their fights with Israel. But this time was different. So-called moderate Arab states—Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and even Saudi Arabia—all publicly blamed Hizbullah for the fighting and refused to let the Arab League issue a statement in their support. Moreover, their acquiescence meant that other nations could act without fear of disrupted oil supplies. Those nations and most of the world have come to recognize Iran as a far greater threat to them than Israel. A victorious Hizbullah would mean a huge increase of Iranian influence among their populations. And this commentator already has reported on Iranian activities intended to undermine these governments.

The conventional wisdom is that Israel has about another week of heavy fighting before civilian casualties force aggressive action on a cease-fire. With perhaps 40 percent of Hizbollah’s firepower destroyed, that should be sufficient for Israel to finish the job.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin is an American Jew and a Zionist. He is also an international activist and was responsible for freeing a falsely imprisoned journalist in 2005. He also works toward real interfaith dialogue based on mutual recognition and respect. He can be contacted through his web site:

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