- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

The future soon will tell whether the 33-day war on the Israeli-Lebanese border — now grinding to a halt — becomes nothing less than a mere rehearsal for an even wider and more devastating future Middle Eastern Armageddon or serves as a prologue to a restorative and sustainable peace. It is incumbent, therefore, that serious and fair-minded world leaders and their negotiators not succumb to the temptation and simplistic hope posed by President Woodrow Wilson in his 1917 Senate plea for “a peace without victory.”

World leaders must not be satisfied and settle for a quick, narrow and short-lived cease-fire, but need instead press ahead to secure a restorative truce, looking toward an eventually sustainable peace. To carry out such ambitious and previously unattainable tasks, they must address some of the Middle East region’s ancient and prevailing ills. These primarily include the prevailing psycho-political culture of vengeance and the pervasive resort to retaliation and retribution.

The current conflict began when armed members of Hezbollah, an organization headed by Iranian-educated Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, crossed the Lebanon-Israeli border July 12 and killed eight Israeli soldiers and seized two others as hostages. The explosive global consequences and potentials were not readily foreseen.

Israel was long threatened by the Iranian regime’s fierce animosity and its declared intent to wipe out the Jewish state, and increasingly troubled by the Islamic republic’s persistent pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The presence of Hezbollah, an evident Iranian client and proxy condemned as a terrorist entity by the European Parliament, less than 75 miles from the Jewish State’s largest city, Tel Aviv, and less than 95 miles from its holiest city, Jerusalem, was intolerable. The latest Hezbollah surprise attack was the last straw. It demonstrated the Iranian threat and Iran’s proxy on Israel’s border could not be dismissed as mere political propaganda, as was done in the 1930s with regard to Adolf Hitler’s ravings about a “final solution to the Jewish question.”

Most European heads of state, as well as other political leaders and human-rights organizations worldwide have expressed concern about the scope of Israel’s response. While admitting Israel has the right of self-defense, the foreign ministers of France and Italy termed Israel’s reactions as “disproportionate” and “exaggerated.” Of particular concern was the massive damage to Lebanon’s economic and transportation infrastructures and the inordinate loss of civilian lives.

But to some even more troubled observers the conflict presented nothing less than a potential Third World War or start of the biblically forecast Armageddon.

Many have sought to judge the ongoing war, as well as the growing pressure for an immediate cease-fire, by standards of proportionality. But proportionality is, at best, an archaic and nonproductive formula. One certainly would not want to measure proportionality by the very same historical and punitive criteria of “revenge,” “retribution” and “retaliation” that Hezbollah constantly asserted to justify its continuing violence against both Israel and the West. Since its 1982 founding, Hezbollah has declared any foreign presence in what it sees as the greater and exclusively Arab and Muslim lands to “slight” Islamic honor and beliefs. The October 1983 bombing of the U.S. barracks in Beirut, killing 240 Marines who were aiding in Lebanese peacekeeping activities, was justified by Hezbollah as mere popular vengeance against all forms of foreign military or cultural interventions.

The international law of war (the so-called Humanitarian Law) determines proportionality not by retributive emotion-ladened considerations but by the utilitarian needs of armed conflicts. Customary International Humanitarian Law draws the limits of proportionality by holding that “an attack which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is excessive.” (Rule 14, ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Cambridge University Press, 2005).

But adherence to such utilitarian and misleadingly plain standards of proportionality is fraught with great hazards. Such a test is likely to support Israel’s continuing invasion and occupation of the Hezbollah strongholds as a way to dislodge a mortal enemy whose presence and threat to Israel is greatly enhanced by its Iranian connection.

But in view of President Theodore Roosevelt’s warning against “the lunatic fringe in all reform movements who wags the underdog,” what limits are to be expected from such proposed standards of proportionality in the face of Arab or any other extremists’ claims that their indiscriminate campaigns are intended to gain nothing more than “concrete and direct military advantage” against their declared enemies? It is evident International Humanitarian Law has thus far failed to produce workable and generally acceptable limits on permissible proportionality.

Much like criminal sanctions against offenders, military measures usually pursue their objectives through diverse measures. The call for primitive “retaliation” or “revenge” (and the modern equivalent “retribution”) is usually the first instinct. But such assertions of “retaliation” and “revenge” often have been advanced in support of not only appropriate and carefully targeted militant measures but also indiscriminate attacks and deliberate violence against the innocent.

Better reasoning has increasingly sought to tailor sanctions not to desired revenge and retaliation, but to the wish and hope of preventing future criminality and aggression. Plato, classical Greece’s philosopher, noted in the fourth century B.C. that: “Only the unreasonable fury of a beast punishes the evildoer for the wrong. He who desires to inflict rational punishment does not retaliate for a past wrong which cannot be undone; he has regard instead to the future and is desirous that those who are punished, and those who see them punished, may be deterred from doing wrong again. He punishes for the sake of prevention….”

Yet prevention may not be simple or inexpensive. In an age of modern psychology, prevention must be structured and executed as a two-prong effort: (1) The physical incapacitation of the criminal offender or enemy — by instilling fear of punishment or imposing isolation or similar measures, and (2) the deflation, constriction or removal of the motives for criminality or militant aggression. These two are sometimes called the “stick” and the “carrot.”

Physical confinement or other forms of dislocation and isolation, while making arms less readily available to potential criminals or belligerents, have been long among the tools of incapacitation. These are clearly some of the major objectives of Israel’s campaign in southern Lebanon. But equally important, and probably more urgent, are policies and programs of “restoration” to focus on deflating some, if not most, the underlying causes for the public and private bloodshed that has enveloped the Middle East throughout the ages.

Nearly unanimous demands are heard from the world community for immediate return of the Israeli hostages. Next are the calls for ending Hezbollah’s military occupation of Southern Lebanon. The anomaly of a nongovernmental and internationally condemned entity being allowed to gain a free range for its international aggression within a United Nations member state must be instantly brought to an end. Hezbollah’s withdrawal and disarming will undoubtedly also help Lebanon vigorously assume its historical role as an oasis of cultural and economic progress and peace in the eastern Mediterranean.

Neither removing Hezbollah combatants from the Lebanese-Israeli border, nor the more ambitious call for Hezbollah’s total disarmament, are easy tasks for the Lebanese government. Finding itself “between the rock and a hard place,” Lebanon’s fragile government needs broad international political and military support — and even more, moral inducements and economic means — to hold together a country of many distinct religious, ethnic and political communities.

The objectives of such a broad coalition of willing nations — in which other Arab and Muslims nations be prominent — should be not only to prevent marauders and explosives from crossing regional state borders to kill and harass neighbors. They should also address the educational, professional, environmental, social and economic needs of the long uprooted and politically and economically deprived Palestinians. These continue living in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere under inhumane and violence-fostering conditions.

At the urging of concerned scholars and worldwide nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the U.N. and several enlightened nations in recent years endorsed and carried out proposals for a dramatic shift from retributive to restorative goals. This aims to better address the needs and benefit all segments of society — victims, communities and offenders — in pursuit of criminal justice. The world community requires a similar reorientation on ending wars and pursuing peace.

A restorative truce and the potential for a sustainable peace on the Israel-Lebanon border, and throughout the Middle East’s historic “Bible belt,” will require immense economic, social, humanitarian and educational commitments. Yet a sustainable peace requires us to help every diverse stone and pebble in the region’s mosaic to gain a safer, better and brighter position. We must constantly remember Wilson’s 1912 aphorism that, “No one can love his neighbor on an empty stomach.”

Europe’s political, economic and social recuperation after the end of a terrifying world war was sparked by the U.S. Marshall Plan and many other generous donors. But Europe was ripe for restorative justice and peace. And similar programs in the Middle East may be blocked by forces of darkness committed to an archaic social and economic order no longer sustainable in a world racing toward globalization.

Still, the protection of the Middle East and the world community against terrorism of all kinds and security against both natural and manmade disasters will depend on what kind and how many restorative objectives, commitments and programs emerge with the winding down of this latest Middle East specter.

Nicholas N. Kittrie is professor of international and comparative criminal law at American University. Now in the Middle East as an observer for the Global Alliance of NGOs for Justice & Peace, he is editor of “The Future of Peace in the 21st Century” (Carolina Academic Press) and the forthcoming compendium on “International Crimes and Punishments: The Law of War and the Law of Peace.”

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