- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

The reactions and media coverage coming out of the West regarding this latest war in the Middle East are as bewildering as they are instructive.

Rep. John Dingell, Michigan Democrat, for example, recently said, “I don’t take sides for or against Hezbollah or for or against Israel.”

Meanwhile, the Western news agency Reuters, responding to scrutiny by bloggers, withdrew wire photos taken by a freelance photographer of a smoky and burning Beirut. Reuters had failed to catch the freelancer’s doctoring of the photos to emphasize unduly the damage from Israeli bombs.

And the Associated Press notes that initially reported Lebanese claims of 40 “civilians” killed by Israeli air strikes at Houla, Lebanon, in fact, were mistaken — and that the latest reports have lowered the death toll to one.

In Qana, where the Israeli military had hit an apartment building (and were quickly censured by European statesmen), the number of civilian fatalities reported also kept decreasing as reports were scrutinized. Plus, we have learned that several hours lapsed between the dropping of the bombs and the fatal collapse of the building, raising further questions about the relationship between the bombing and the fatalities that followed. Finally, based on photographs from the scene, the onsite rescue appeared staged for reporters.

These discrepancies suggest we have little idea what actually happened on the ground there — other than that Qana has been a favored missile-launching site against Israel, as a recent deadly aerial assault from there on Haifa attests.

There is a depressing pattern here. The sources for Western erroneous reports and faked pictures always seem to exaggerate the damage to Lebanon — but never to Israel.

Likewise, Western news agencies rarely list a precise number of Hezbollah losses, instead lumping them in with civilian fatalities. Does that mean that someone who launches a missile in Levis and sneakers is not a combatant?

In addition, the history and nature of Hezbollah do not matter to many in the West.

Knowingly or not, news outlets continue to spread Hezbollah’s propaganda. One wonders if Westerners remember or know that, until September 11, 2001, Hezbollah had killed more Americans than had any other terrorist organization.

Most ignore as well that Hezbollah precipitated the present crisis by kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers, and launching missiles against Israel’s cities.

In retaliation, the Israeli Defense Forces use precision bombs to target combatants and try to avoid civilian casualties (though the latter is nearly impossible against an enemy who doesn’t wear uniforms and uses non-combatants as “human shields”). In contrast, every random missile launched by Hezbollah is intended to hit a civilian target.

On one side of this conflict is a true democracy that was attacked. On the other are terrorists who hijacked the sovereign government of Lebanon, instituted theocratic rule over a third of the country — and started a war.

Hezbollah, of course, has been enabled in large part thanks to Iranian petro-dollars and intimidation. But the nature of Hezbollah’s patrons doesn’t seem to matter to many Westerners, either.

Those now calling for “dialogue” with the “major players” ignore that Iran promises to wipe out Israel. The French foreign minister was quick to praise the regional role of theocratic Iran as “stabilizing.”

Then there’s Hezbollah’s other patron, Syria, a country that brutally occupied Lebanon, harbors terrorists and is suspected of being behind the assassination of Lebanese reformist Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

So, what then does matter to so many Westerners about this war?

Our fear, of course. We want to avoid messy complications like stirring up another September 11 or Madrid bombing, spiking oil prices to over $80 a barrel, or treading on politically incorrect ground by criticizing the “other” of the former Third World.

The Western press — usually so careful to condemn hate speech — is utterly silent about Arab racism. But a European paper recently published a cartoon portraying Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a Nazi, secure that no rabbi would issue threats that could cost the editors their heads.

Still, when this is all over, we should not worry about the survival of Israel. For weeks, pundits have been lecturing how canny and adept Hezbollah has proved — and how a clumsy Israel could only respond by destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure. Yet, when the dust settles, the world will learn that Lebanon outside Hezbollah’s domain is not destroyed. And, one hopes, those who have suffered in the Hezbollah-controlled south will reexamine their support for a terrorist organization that has brought them — and itself — to near ruin.

Instead far more worrisome is the moral crisis in the West itself. If so many of its politicians, intellectuals and media will not or cannot fathom moral differences in this war, they will hardly be able to see them anywhere else.

Victor Davis Hanson is a nationally syndicated columnist and a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and author of “A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.”

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