Dr. Khaled Batarfi
War is hell, explained Yankee Gen. William T. Sherman as he burned Atlanta during the American Civil War. Today, the Israelis are saying the same thing as they burn Gaza and Lebanon. They have been in this hell-making business for ages and have forgotten what it is like to be at the receiving end.
This time, it is different, for a change. Israelis are feeling the heat they used to export, just like the Serbs did at the end of the Kosovo War. And like the Serbs, they kept brutally pushing to advance their gains, until the tide finally turned against them.
So what happened here? The Israelis pushed Hamas to a corner. Put simply, they didn’t like what democracy brought — a government they hated to do business with. Characteristically, they tried to change the environment to their liking. As they overran the democratically elected Arafat government, they sought to overrun its successor too. The Palestinians are punished once more for making the wrong choice. According to Israeli rules, Arabs must elect not those who serve their best interests, but those who serve the interests of the Israelis. Hamas definitely didn’t fit the bill.
According to another Israeli rule, no rules, moral or legal, are applicable to the Jewish state. And since Hamas arrogantly refused to accept the role of yes, sir, they may all go to jail or hell, ministers and legislators included. They get killed or kidnapped until they agree to Israeli terms. This was easier done with the under-the-thumb Palestinian Authority. Hezbollah, however, is another story.
You see, the Israeli Army has got so used to flex its muscles on civilians that it has lost its ability to wrestle with soldiers. Operating missiles and jet fighters to bomb cities and villages from far and above is not the same thing as going down and dirty to fight real men. The surrounding environment helped. In the largely unarmed Lebanon and Palestinian territories, they could hit anywhere and fly over any place without even the pretense of a resistance. The Arabs also got used to being at the receiving end of the death and destruction assembly line. This changed a little bit with Hamas, and more so with Hezbollah. Escaping a humiliating war in south Lebanon, Israel had to withdraw in shame and shambles. The lesson they learned the hard way was: Stick with aerial bombardment and never try your super army with Arabs carrying primitive guns and superior determination. Your soldiers end up bleeding and running.
So, it was inevitable that Israel would want so badly to disarm and dislodge the unyielding, disobedient and out of control armed group from the inconvenient location it occupies. And since Israel is never alone, it uses its political capital and connections to get the big powers of the world to back it up in its quest.
Hezbollah and its backers, Syria and Iran, were acutely aware of these maneuvers. After the dislodging of Syria from Lebanon, time was dangerously short for the group. Disarming Hezbollah would have demoted it from its prominent position as the one and only militarily capable unit to a toothless political party. With West-backed government in Lebanon and collaborating Arab governments, the grip was tightening. So a script, like the one Osama Bin Laden wrote for the West, had to be executed in the hope that Israel will play along, as the West did.
The insulted and agitated Israeli government eager to show that its civilian leader is no less war criminal than his predecessors easily and eagerly complied. In the hasty and overkill response they weakened the same force they relied on — the Lebanese government — to neutralize the group. However, Hezbollah has escaped, so far, safe and sound. In fact, they became politically stronger in the Arab and Muslim world. Like other radical groups, they become more popular and credible with every outrageous action from the enemy camp. When forced to choose, no true Muslim or Arab will ever choose Israel over a brethren.
Armed with its military and political successes, Hezbollah will be a more important player in the region. All they need to do in this test is to survive. With their vast stocks of missiles and tested expertise in guerrilla warfare, this is almost a given.
The question Israel and its allies and friends must ask themselves, as they should have in Iraq and Afghanistan is, how they could complain and claim to be mystified about the rise of radicalism and Iranian dominance in the Muslim world if they serve them so well with such inhuman and barbaric actions as targeting civilians from Kandahar to Haditha to Beirut? The ignorant and arrogant, says an Arab proverb, is his own worst enemy.