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ROJANKSY Critics of Israel: Try a Role-Playing Exercise
by Matthew Rojansky
[author, consultant] 7/26/06

Imagine you are Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel. Your state, which was created by a vote of the United Nations General Assembly in part to accommodate Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, is roughly the size of New Jersey, with a population smaller than that of Los Angeles. You are a tiny democratic island in a sea of hostile authoritarian Arab and Muslim regimes which have sworn to destroy you. You have prevailed—sometimes only barely—in five defensive and preemptive wars against overwhelming odds, thanks in large part to your conscript army of young Israeli men and women, and to the usually strong economic and strategic support of your one faithful ally, the United States of America.

Matthew Rojansky

The author was a Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and a Public Relations Consultant for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. [go to Rojansky index]

Since 1993, your government has taken unprecedented steps to make peace with its Arab neighbors and even with the Arab and Islamist terrorist groups whose top priority has always been the absolute eradication of the Jewish presence in the Middle East. In exchange for their promises to stop terror attacks and their grudging formal acknowledgment of your right to exist, you have withdrawn from territories captured at great cost in legitimate defensive wars. You have handed over sovereignty on your very doorstep—the Palestinian “West Bank” literally encircles your capitol city, Jerusalem—to known terrorists, and permitted the international community to arm and supply Palestinian “security forces,” in the hopes that these quasi-legitimate organs of a quasi-state would at least rein in Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups which threatened their own control as well as your country’s safety.

In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered a full withdrawal from a five-mile-wide buffer zone in Southern Lebanon, which Israeli forces had held since the 1982 war with Lebanon to guard against rocket attacks by Hezbollah’s terrorist militia. For the first time since 1948, the United Nations “approved” of Israel, by certifying the withdrawal and demanding a halt to rocket attacks and the disarmament of terror groups. Two subsequent UN Security Council Resolutions have called for “the disbanding and disarmament” of all militias in the country. In 2005, over the objection of his own party and to the world’s surprise, your predecessor in office, Ariel Sharon, ordered a complete withdrawal of Israeli civilians and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, a territory held since Egypt’s invasion of Israel in 1967. Even though Gaza’s northern border is less than fifty miles from Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, the area is now under the Palestinian sovereignty, with Hamas exerting the most palpable influence.

Today, your country is embroiled in yet another bitter war, this time on two fronts. The two territories from which your predecessors withdrew their soldiers have, predictably, become launching pads for renewed attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. Last month, Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel from Gaza and attacked Israeli border guards with automatic weapons and explosives, taking hostage a young Israeli soldier they had wounded and captured in the attack. Two weeks later, while your attention was engaged in Gaza in an effort to locate the captured soldier, Hezbollah operatives crossed your northern border and attacked another guard post, this time bringing back two soldiers as hostages.

You know that Hezbollah has thousands of mobile mortars and rockets, including sophisticated and powerful missiles provided by the group’s Syrian and Iranian backers. You also know these weapons are capable of hitting your third-largest city, Haifa, and some may even be able to reach Tel Aviv. In coordination with its own and allied cells inside Israel and the Palestinian territories, Hezbollah can also carry out ruthless suicide attacks against civilians anywhere in the country, without any chance of warning or defense. It is clear to you that beyond the hundreds of casualties they may cause, these weapons are designed to terrorize the Israeli populace, so that millions will stay cowering in bomb shelters, and the economy will grind to a halt.

What are your options? You know that any government in the world, faced with such provocation, would not hesitate to exercise its legal and moral right to self-defense with all appropriate and available military means. Yet your circumstances are different from those of most other states. Your attackers have extremely powerful allies, with massive military stockpiles of their own and huge diplomatic influence born of their chokehold on the world’s oil supply. You know that your response will be judged by a far higher standard that that applied to your attackers or to almost any other government in the world.

You cannot do nothing and hope the threat will disappear. After all, giving such groups what they wanted in the past has only shown them and the world that terrorist methods are the best means to any political end. You can remind the Lebanese government of its legal obligation to find the captives and bring the kidnappers to justice, but your counterpart, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, has admitted himself that Hezbollah calls the shots. You will get no help from Syria or Iran, the terrorists’ main backers, since your state’s total annihilation is a basic platform and longstanding policy of both regimes. Will the United Nations respond to an Israeli plea with decisive action and swift justice? It never once has. Moreover, UN’s Israel-Lebanon peacekeeping mission was supposed to have prevented these kinds of provocations in the first place, but like the rest of Lebanon, they too are powerless against Hezbollah.

Many in the international community will advise you to act with restraint, to limit your response in order not to cause civilian casualties among the Lebanese populace. Indeed, they argue, to endanger Lebanese civilians will only harm Israel’s own interests, as it will radicalize the “Arab street” against Israel. Yet you know that to declare any particular type of target absolutely off limits will simply give Hezbollah a safe harbor of which they will not fail to take full advantage. This is, after all, a terrorist group known to conceal its fighters and munitions in homes, schools, and hospitals for just that reason. As for radicalizing Arab civilians, you know that the best way to help ordinary Lebanese stand up for peace and democracy, and against Hezbollah is to show them that the terrorists will not win. Not even the bravest politician will be foolish enough to rally people against Hezbollah if they know its fighter will remain armed and organized after an ineffective Israeli response. And this is Lebanon, where no figure, even the Prime Minister, is beyond the reach of the assassin’s bullet.

With reluctance, not only to send thousands of young Israelis into bloody battle yet again, but to give the terrorists the war and destruction they crave, you nonetheless recognize that you have only one choice. You must ask Lebanese civilians to evacuate, to distance themselves physically and politically from the terrorists in their midst, and to do their best to stay hidden and sheltered during any fighting. But you must also use all possible force, including overwhelming airpower and targeted raids, backed by a relentless bombardment from the ground, to show Hezbollah leaders that they cannot possibly profit from killing or kidnapping Israelis. Indeed, your top priority by the end of the conflict is to leave Hezbollah an unarmed, leaderless and disorganized rump. Only then can your people have any hope of living in safety and security, and only then will the Lebanese themselves have a prayer of throwing off the terrorists’ yoke.

You know, as usual, that while Israel can choose the means of fighting this war, it cannot choose the endpoint. Some time soon, international pressure will force the United States to exert its influence for an immediate ceasefire, no matter how many or how few Israeli objectives have been achieved. With your ally’s prestige and credibility on the line, you will have to call off the assault, giving whatever remains of Hezbollah the opportunity to withdraw, regroup, and dissolve into the civilian population. Of course you cannot ever totally eliminate Hezbollah. It is a movement that thrives on chaos, suffering, and above all, hatred of Israel, your people and your home. But if they have been sufficiently weakened by the time President Bush or Condoleeza Rice imposes a ceasefire, there may be a chance, in time, to make a lasting peace. CRO

copyright 2006 Matthew Rojansky






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