- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

The death of 28 civilians (not 60 as initially reported) in the terrorist-controlled village of Qana was indeed a tragic event — not only because of the death toll, but also because it helped the propaganda effort of Hezbollah, which, admittedly, had been doing rather well anyway. It was helped by, among others, the one-sided reporting of CNN (one wonders how CNN would have reported World War II had it existed at the time.)

With only the United States providing focused leadership, Qana also was grist to the mill for those, like the United Nations and various self-styled human-rights organizations, as well as most of the Europeans (except Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and, markedly, Tony Blair’s Britain) who apparently prefer to stop the Israeli anti-terrorist offensive in its tracks rather than try to solve the problems that caused the present conflagration in Lebanon. But the Qana incident was also exploited as a means to disguise the real nature of Hezbollah’s terror regime in southern Lebanon.

To give an indication of the bestial nature of Hezbollah, one may cite David Brooks’ recent article in the New York Times, in which he recounts that before the current war there were gift shops in the area glorifying acts of terror and bloodshed against Israelis — “with, in at least one place, a poster showing a Hezbollah fighter lifting a severed Israeli head.” Hezbollah likes to present itself as a popular “resistance group,” but in fact it is a terrorist organization with distinct political and Islamist aims. As Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora described it, it’s a “state within a state.”

If Israel’s current military operation were allowed to proceed as planned, it may in fact not only curtail Hezbollah’s capability of launching missiles at Israeli civilians, but could also help to free hundreds of thousands of innocent Lebanese — Christians especially, but also Druze, Sunni, and even Shi’ite Muslims — from being the unwilling hostages of Hezbollah’s ministry of fear. This is because all of Hezbollah’s missiles are aimed at civilian targets (contrary to the Israeli military’s efforts to concentrate its fire on terrorist objectives) even though many Lebanese civilians are indeed being killed and maimed as a result of Hezbollah’s practice in using civilians as “human shields,” an act specifically prohibited and criminalized by the law of war as “perfidy.” But never mind, Israel gets the blame.

Of course, Hezbollah’s agenda for its present aggression against Israel goes much further than just to terrorize the Jewish state’s population. In fact, the terrorists’ leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, must have discovered by now, to his great discomfort, that Israel’s civilian population won’t be easily cowed by his Katyusha rockets. But this was really never the main issue.

Just like with Hitler and Stalin in the Spanish Civil War, “Hezbollah” is a surrogate for a genocidal Iran, abetted by Syria. And in addition to Tehran’s overall strategy to foster an Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite fundamentalist hegemony in the wider Middle East, the specific purpose in this case was to create a diversion from the growing confrontation between Iran and the international community about the former’s nuclear plans.

In this light, it takes a great deal of naivete, or disingenuousness, to propose, as some European diplomats and commentators do, that Tehran and Damascus — which initiated the present crisis — should be asked to help in solving it. This would guarantee the continued destructive role of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and would resuscitate Syria’s hold on the country and give the fundamentalist leadership in Tehran a major political victory with long-term negative consequences.

Significantly, Walid Jumblatt, leader of the most powerful clan in Lebanon’s Druze community, understands this better than others, accusing Hezbollah in an interview with the British Financial Times of “working to an Iranian and Syrian timetable” when it kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12, triggering the present crisis. In the process, he added, “Hezbollah had stolen the hopes of young Lebanese whose protests last year helped force Syria to withdraw its troops after 22 years in Lebanon.”

Israel’s experience over long years with all sorts of international peacekeepers has been less than happy (in 1967 the U.N. contingent in southern Sinai was withdrawn overnight at the demand of Egypt’s President Nasser — while U.N. “observers” in Lebanon often interpreted “observance” as turning a blind eye toward terrorist activities against Israel). But Israel has now agreed to the formation of an international force to prevent south Lebanon from continuing to be used as a staging area of cross-border attacks.

Only after this force will be in place will the Israeli military leave the security zone it presently holds.

But for this international force to be more than a temporary placebo, it must have real fighting ability — and willingness — and not be subject to political shenanigans at the United Nations. Also, its eventual withdrawal must be subject to agreement by both Israel and the legitimate government of Lebanon.

Unless these conditions are met, and without additional effective steps against Hezbollah, the situation will continue to deteriorate, eventually poisoning the whole Middle East — and beyond.

Zalman Shoval served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 1990-1993 and from 1998-2000.

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