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On Lebanon

With a fierce new wave of rockets falling across northern Israel and Israeli warplanes again hammering targets in Lebanon, Israeli commanders said today that fighting in Lebanon could go on for several more weeks.

In growing numbers, foreign nationals in Lebanon fled the weeklong Israeli offensive, which has killed more than 225 Lebanese, nearly all civilians, and 13 Israeli civilians, including one person killed today in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya. ~The Los Angeles Times [1]

The Vatican on Friday strongly deplored Israel’s strikes on Lebanon, saying they were “an attack” on a sovereign and free nation.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said Pope Benedict and his aides were very worried that the developments in the Middle East risked degenerating into “a conflict with international repercussions.”

“In particular, the Holy See deplores right now the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and assures its closeness to these people who already have suffered so much to defend their independence,” he told Vatican Radio. ~Reuters [2]

I first heard about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon on the radio as I was driving to Rockford one day last week.  One of my first responses was surprise that anyone would find Israel’s response very surprising.  Retaliation of some sort was to be expected.  However, it became clear fairly quickly, around the time the Israelis bombed the Beirut airport, that this had gone far beyond simple retaliation for Hizbullah rocket attacks and had become a campaign to dictate terms to all of Lebanon with respect to its internal affairs as well as attempting to end Hizbullah’s attacks.  This is why the attack on Lebanon seems so excessive to observers, to say nothing of the rather large number of civilian casualties that the Lebanese have suffered so far.  It has escalated far beyond retaliatory self-defense into pummeling a weaker neighbour to make an example of it.  Little wonder that all Lebanese have been united in their outrage.  So much, also, for the lie that democracies do not attack each other.

What has been notable about the recent crisis in Gaza and the bombing of Lebanon is how much more readily Prime Minister Olmert has been to have recourse to military force than his immediate predecessors, and how much more willing Mr. Olmert seems to be to risk large-scale escalation with Israel’s neighbours.  I suspect that this is a function of a fear in the government that Mr. Olmert lacks the credibility on security and military policy that would allow him to ride out the crisis with less heavy-handed responses.  Because Mr. Olmert does not have the military experience and reputation of his predecessors, he may be feeling obliged to lash out to convince Israel’s neighbours so that he should be taken seriously.  Regarding this possibility, here [3] is a post by Leon Hadar from the middle of last week that compares the prime ministers of Israel of 1967 and today. 

Unfortunately, if this is the case, Mr. Olmert’s credibility deficit is fast becoming a new international disaster for Israel as far as her relations with much of the rest of the world are concerned.  Commentators and pundits were keen to point out that the U.S. alone voted against the recent resolution condemning the bombing of Lebanon and that our veto kept it from passing, yet surely this raises the important question: if Israel is merely defending herself here and doing nothing more, how is it that no other nation in the world, except for America, is capable of acknowledging this?

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