The kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah on the Israel-Lebanon border and the killing of eight others was an unprovoked act of war. Israel is now involved in a two-front confrontation with well-armed Islamist organisations that have powerful state backers.
The disengagement from Gaza last September was undertaken by Israel because of its conviction that no credible partner for negotiation existed on the Palestinian side. Nevertheless, embedded in Israel’s strategy of unilateralism was an assumption of a sort of baseline rationality among the Palestinian leadership. It was assumed that the absence of Israeli soldiers and civilians from Gaza would enable the construction of a normal life for its residents. This, it was hoped, would create a pragmatic interest in maintaining quiet. This assumption was flawed.
A massive increase in Palestinian paramilitary activity took place after the disengagement. In the first three months of this year 500 Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza on to the towns of the western Negev. About 280 attempted attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip were recorded in December 2005, compared with 48 in October that year. The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority defended the April 17 terror attack in Tel Aviv, calling it a “natural result of the continued Israeli crimes”.
In southern Lebanon, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal to the international border in May 2000 was expected to lead to a situation of managed enmity between Israel and its northern neighbour. The Lebanese government chose, however, to reject UN security council resolution 1559, which calls on the government to disarm all militias and extend its “full sovereignty over all Lebanese territory”.
Instead Hizbullah, a client of Syria and Iran, retains control of a stretch of territory along Lebanon’s southern border. It has used the time since 2000 to build up a formidable arsenal and to emit an endless stream of anti-Israel and anti-semitic propaganda. On July 12 the organisation chose to renew its war with Israel. Hizbullah rocket teams are now targeting Israeli civilians.
The actions of Hamas and Hizbullah initially seem counterintuitive. Organisations supposedly committed to the welfare of their peoples have thrown away a chance for peaceful development in favour of war. Israel, determined to restore deterrence, is responding vigorously, and the suffering will not be on the Israeli side alone.
Hamas and Hizbullah’s actions become comprehensible when considered within the framework of their aims and those of their backers in Damascus and Tehran. Both organisations are informed by radical Islamist ideology and hold to a strategy of ongoing guerrilla and terrorist activity, with the intention of destroying Israel.
They do not act independently. Hizbullah is dependent on its Iranian and Syrian backers for its continued existence and for its hardware. It is unlikely that the incursion of July 12 could have taken place without the nod from the real masters. Arab intelligence sources quoted in the New York Times yesterday asserted that help for the Hamas kidnapping also came, via Hizbullah, from Tehran.
So the renewed crisis is a move by Israel’s enemies in Iran and Damascus to raise the temperature of the confrontation. Israel will act to restore its badly damaged deterrent capability.
Ultimately, however, the problem goes deeper. Powerful states, movements and ideologies in the region place greater importance on killing Israelis than on developing their own failed societies. For as long as this remains the case, armed confrontation and needless suffering on all sides will continue.