Cleburne Times-Review Column for 23 July, 2006
“But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance of my son Isaac.’ The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, for he is your offspring.’”
And thus, thousands of years ago in Canaan, the pattern was set for a conflict that continues to this day. The descendants of Isaac are the Jews and the descendents of Ishmael, Hagar’s son, are the Arabs. They, along with the Christians, are the Blood of Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic); and now that blood is being spilled in the latest round of this seemingly endless fratricide. Like most flare-ups in the Arab-Israeli war that has gone on, with brief periods of calm, since 1948, there is more to this one than immediately meets the eye. Hezbollah, the “Party of God,” is a major terrorist organization formed after Israel invaded Lebanon to stop Palestinian attacks in 1982. Hezbollah is best known to Americans as the group behind the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut which killed 241 Marines. Out of the news since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah evidently feared it was losing its position as the leader of the anti-Israeli forces to other groups, like its longtime rival Hamas. If Hezbollah thought they would just grab a couple of hostages and then negotiate for the release of Palestinian prisoners like back in the old days, they sadly miscalculated the Israeli response. Iran, a country now run by a president who may have been one of the radical students who captured the US Embassy in Tehran and who is definitely a screaming anti-Semitic raving paranoid, supplies most of the funding for Hezbollah and apparently wanted to flex its muscles as a regional political power. By striking back with such overwhelming force, Israel is itself sending a message to Iran: see what could happen to you if we think you are anywhere near to getting your hands on nuclear weapons? There is also a domestic political angle, as new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tries to demonstrate the same strength as his predecessor Ariel Sharon, while also handling the Lebanese problem Sharon could not touch due to his involvement in the occupation. Perhaps the biggest victim of this brawl is Lebanon itself, a country that was once the most progressive in the Middle East, then virtually disintegrated in a bloody civil war from 1975-1990. That fighting only really ended when Syria invaded and set up what was essentially a puppet government. The US turned a blind eye to all this, evidently Haffez al Assad’s payoff for supporting America against Iraq during Gulf War One. The Syrian occupiers, though, were brutal, clumsy and oppressive. When it became painfully obvious that Syria was behind the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February, 2005, the Lebanese had had enough. They took to the streets in massive protests that eventually forced Syria to pull out and left a democratically-elected, though very weak, government in charge in Beirut. In fact, the new Lebanese government was so weak, it invited Hezbollah in, apparently hoping to eventually persuade them to dismantle their huge militia that controls most of southern Lebanon. The Fatah Party in the Palestinian Authority had the same idea about Hamas and you see how well that worked out. Now, with Israel bombing not just Hezbollah but civilian infrastructure throughout the country, Lebanese public opinion is swinging from anger at Hezbollah for starting a war without even consulting the rest of the government, to anger at Israel, ironically making Hezbollah all the stronger. Israel has stated it wants to secure its northern border and “disarm Hezbollah,” but those goals are completely unachievable with air strikes alone, and as Israel learned before, and we are learning the hard way in Iraq, it takes an awful lot of boots on the ground to successfully put down a determined insurgency. It’s hard for many people to fault the Israelis for hitting back as hard as they have; maybe if Ronald Reagan had done something, anything, after the 1983 Embassy bombing, or Bill Clinton had done more than just lob a couple of cruise missiles after bombings in Africa, there wouldn’t have been a September 11. It’s a tempting thought, but likely not accurate. Yes, Israel’s policy means that only the most determined and fanatical terrorists dare attack them, but these are the very ones who are the most dangerous. And yet, you could also argue that by pulling out of Lebanon and Gaza, Israel showed a weakness the terrorists are now exploiting. Some say Israel should negotiate; but it’s hard to negotiate with people who are pledged to kill you. Some say Israel should fight on, but that approach so far has led only to a never-ending war of terror attacks followed by military retaliation. True, it’s not war in the sense of the 1948, 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, but it sure isn’t peace, either. If you skipped to the end of this column hoping for a glib, clever answer that would solve the whole mess, you are out of luck. At this point, all I can recommend is prayer.