The Risks of ‘Restraint’

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The New York Sun

When Israeli troops withdrew from Southern Lebanon back in 2000, the leaders of the Jewish state asserted that they were under no illusions. At a cabinet meeting on May 24, 2000, Prime Minister Barak stated “that Israel places responsibility for quiet in southern Lebanon on the Lebanese and Syrian governments, and that any firing on IDF soldiers or civilians within Israel’s borders would be considered as an act of war which would be met with appropriate action.”That same day, Mr. Barak wrote to his top general, “No one knows better than I that the war is not yet over. We may yet face hard days ahead, days of fire and battle.”

Well, events today are certainly proving the truth of that prediction. And the adage that retreat carries its own risks. This was underscored yesterday with the news that Hezbollah forces, coming from the buffer zone in Southern Lebanon once occupied by Israel, had seized from within Northern Israel two Israeli soldiers. And Mr. Barak was correct when he predicted in 2000 that the address where responsibility for that raid would lie is Damascus.

Damascus — and also Tehran, as the White House realized in a statement yesterday.The White House said it held Syria and Iran, “which have provided longstanding support” for Hezbollah, responsible. It said the actions of Hezbollah are “not in the interest of the Lebanese people, whose welfare should not be held hostage to the interests of the Syrian and Iranian regimes.”

It was a more sensible statement than the one issued by Secretary of State Rice, who said, “All sides must act with restraint.” It is “restraint,” both Israeli and American, that put America and Israel and the people of Lebanon in this situation. How else to explain that nearly five years into the war on Islamic extremist terrorism that began in earnest on September 11, 2001, two terror-sponsoring regimes, at Damascus and Tehran, are in power and supporting terrorism?

As far back as 1994, the State Department’s annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report said of Hezbollah that it is “Known or suspected to have been involved in numerous anti-US terrorist attacks, including the suicide truck-bombing of the US Embassy and US Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 and the US Embassy annex in Beirut in September 1984. Group also hijacked TWA 847 in 1985.” The annual State Department report has given a similar summary, under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, for 12 years. How else but “restraint” to explain that Hezbollah is operating with impunity, waging new attacks against the West from a position within a Lebanon in which its representatives hold 23 in seats parliament and a Hezbollah official is minister of energy and water.

What else but “restraint” could explain that American Christian leaders have been meeting with Hezbollah officials? One such American, a Presbyterian elder from Pittsburgh, Ronald Stone, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, after such a meeting in 2004, “When you meet Hezbollah on a Sunday afternoon, they’re not running around with guns. There are things that Hezbollah does that are a social service, such as health, education and social welfare.”

We join the prayers of all Americans and Israelis of goodwill for peace. But the words of the Israeli prime minister who undertook the withdrawal from Lebanon — “No one knows better than I that the war is not yet over” — have never been more timely. The lesson of Lebanon is that restraint is no substitute for victory. In striking Iranian-controlled targets in Gaza as well as targets in Lebanon, Prime Minister Olmert is recognizing he is engaged in a broader war, a point he also made a few weeks ago when he sent warplanes to buzz the seaside summer palace of the dictator at Damascus, Bashar al-Assad.

Tehran has been in the headlines lately for its nuclear ambitions, but its role in backing Hamas and Hezbollah is a reminder that the problem in Tehran isn’t only nuclear arms but the terror-sponsoring that can come from only an unfree regime.The Islamic republic’s ruling mullahs, emboldened by America’s efforts to engage them in direct negotiations, may hope the conflict on Israel’s borders distracts attention from their nuclear scheme. They may be trying to test Israel’s new prime minister. They may just enjoy killing Jews. Whatever Iran’s motives, or Syria’s, America’s reaction to Israel’s efforts to defend itself will be most constructive if it recognizes,as Israelis do, that while peace is the goal, restraint has its own risks. This war can’t be won with bombs alone — financial and public support for freedom fighters in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran is essential. But neither can it be won with restraint alone.

The New York Sun

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