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Friday, July 14, 2006

Israel: Act of War

Israel - Hezbollah conflict"This was an act of war." Thus Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert succinctly summarized the facts, the law, and the consequences of the raid Wednesday by the Lebanese terrorist group-cum-governing-partner Hezbollah into Israeli sovereign territory that resulted in the abduction of two Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers.

The article, Israel: "Act of War" was reposted with permission from the editors of TSC Daily.

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By J. Peter Pham & Michael I. Krauss : BIO 13 Jul 2006

Olmert is correct in the careful distinction that he made, one that has been unfortunately lost on many in the media and even on the White House. The Hezbollah action was "not a terrorist attack but the action of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation" -- that is, a pure casus belli. As Olmert patiently tried to explain to the media, "Lebanon is responsible and it will bear responsibility." After Hamas's incursion near Gaza, Israel has been attacked in two locations, by two governments.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Sinioura's claim that his government was "not aware of and does not take responsibility for, nor endorses what happened" at what he conceded was "the international border" of another sovereign nation rings hollow considering his was the first ever government in Beirut to bring Hezbollah into its cabinet. The Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who claimed responsibility for the attack on Israel was Mr. Sinioura's chief interlocutor in the negotiations to set up his cabinet last summer.

In fact, since then, as we have previously noted, the Lebanese government has allowed Hezbollah to control Lebanon's border with Israel, and to act as a government in the largely Shiite southern part of the country. In so doing, Beirut ignored a United Nations resolution calling upon it to assume control of its frontiers and to disarm the terrorist group. Note that pleas of helplessness are unacceptable; the Lebanese government has never invoked its inability to control its territory or asked for foreign assistance in fulfilling its obligations. No, Hezbollah controls its territory as part and parcel of Lebanese sovereignty. That case is closed. Israel was invaded by a foreign power. That foreign power killed Israelis and kidnapped soldiers. Israel has demanded the soldiers' safe return (and, we presume, the rendition of the invaders for punishment in Israel). Lebanon has declined to help, which would have been the only way to rescind the casus belli. Israel is now free, indeed obliged by its own sovereignty, to use all necessary force to accomplish this goal.

Beyond Lebanon's responsibility, of course, Syria and Iran are also sine qua non causes of the invasion of Israel. The former, despite its much ballyhooed withdrawal from Lebanon last year still, exercises considerable influence and enables Iran, as we pointed out last week, to reinforce its Hezbollah client. A strong legal case can now be made that Iran and Syria have become legitimate targets of Israeli self-defense.

So war it is -- a war of self-defense against unlawful Lebanese aggression in which the Israeli government has the obligation to its citizens to inflict maximum damage to the infrastructure of those who have attacked them. But this responsibility is not Israel's alone. If the international community wishes to vindicate those most sacrosanct principles of national sovereignty and the right to self-defense, it must assist Israel. It must condemn the attack and demand both the safe return of the IDF soldiers and the bringing to justice of all Lebanese officials who have been complicit in this act of war. It must demand the dismantling of the Hezbollah infrastructure, which it has already (toothlessly) called for.

Of course, we do not hold our breaths for the UN to do what it must. Its new Human Rights Council was elected in May with high hopes that it would stop coddling human-rights abusers tolerating atrocities (e.g., Darfur) as its predecessor, the disgraced Human Rights Commission, had done. With streamlined membership and new rules, there were claims that things would be different. The UN's new council finished its first session recently. So how did it do? Did it call on the world to get tough on human-rights abuses in China? Oops. No. China's on the Council panel. How about the abysmal state of women's rights in Saudi Arabia (see our description here)? Sorry. Saudi Arabia's a member too. Russia? Cuba? Sorry. They're members. No, the Council panel took direct aim at a familiar target: Israel.

The Cold War preceding World War III arguably began when Iranians occupied the US Embassy in Tehran under Jimmy Carter. It's just heated up immeasurably, as a bastion of the West has been formally attacked twice. Time for all good nations to come to the aid of freedom.
J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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