Looking to an Endgame And What Is Proportionality

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The New York Sun

With regard to the current fighting in Lebanon, this week the zeitgeist shifted from finger-pointing to the end game.

How should the war be brought to a conclusion?

That depends whether or not you are prepared to accept a return to the status quo ante.

While well intentioned, those calling for an immediate cease-fire — a group that as of yesterday includes Secretary-General Annan — are apparently ready to see a return to the long stand-off between Israel and Hezbollah.

There’s little doubt about where the Europeans stand on the matter.

Apropos a cease-fire, U.N. special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said Wednesday that “We are in a hurry and this has to happen fast.” That same day, the E.U.’s top diplomat, Javier Solana, urged the Israeli government to show restraint in Lebanon.

The cease-fire now crowd is unwittingly at odds with itself over the Security Council doctrine regarding Lebanon which, codified two years ago in resolution 1559, requires the dismantling of all militias and the strengthening of the Lebanese army and state. These two goals are contradictory. Allowing Hezbollah to remain a viable and threatening military force is antithetical to the hopes for a stable and unified Lebanon.

There was a time when Israel’s defense minister, a democratic socialist, would have garnered some solidarity from his fellow socialists in Europe. The only other “democratic socialist” in the area is Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Lebanese Druze, who has been extremely critical of the Hezbollah. Mr. Jumblatt’s father once served as a vice president of the Socialist International, alongside Shimon Peres.

Only Tony Blair stood fast, arguing that Israel couldn’t be expected to take further risks for peace (and agree to a Palestinian state) if it couldn’t count on support when it exercised self defense.

But even Mr. Blair raised the false flag of proportionality, agreeing that Israel’s actions might have been a tad too rough.

The Bush administration has refrained from jumping in too soon, and conversations with administration officials make clear they back the Israeli efforts to inflict maximum damage on Hezbollah. That’s why there is no date certain for Secretary Rice to arrive in the region.

If she goes, I was told, she must return with a cease-fire or the press will declare it a failure, even though a cease fire that leaves Hezbollah in place merely delays the fighting to a time of the enemy’s choosing. Now add the probability that this may be the last chance to clean out this particular rat’s nest: once Iran goes nuclear, no one will allow Israel to tripwire a nuclear confrontation.

None of the alternative strategies is particularly appealing. Israel will not reoccupy Lebanon; the Lebanese army is at least half Shiite with untested loyalties; the record of U.N.-sponsored international monitors speaks for itself.

The Bush administration does not oppose an international force, but only if it is combat ready and deployed not only as a buffer along the southern border but along the Syrian border and in the ports to block any resupply of Hezbollah by Iran and Syria.

On the question of “proportionality,” one observes that Israel’s critics, even when they are balanced (demanding the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and the cessation of missile attacks on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza) completely misuse the term.

Thus, Javier Solana argued that Israel’s actions could be seen as “not proportionate.” Under international law, “proportionality” has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one party’s response is proportional in some complex measurable way to the provocation of the other. Thus, Israel’s robust reaction to the ambush and murder of eight soldiers and the kidnapping of two should not be measured by anything other than the standard as laid down under international law.

The relevant language in the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of August 1949, and Relating to the Victims of International Armed Conflicts Part IV, Article 51, part b states refers to “an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

In other words, proportionality is a concept that relates the direct military advantage anticipated (not even achieved but merely anticipated) and the pain and injury inflicted on civilian life and property.

Despite the fears of those who oppose widening the war, the best way to ensure that the Syrians (and Iranians) tighten the Hezbollah leash is to show that Israel can credibly threaten Syrian targets. Telephone talk with Italian leaders, or U.N. officials, is unlikely to count for much with Bashar Assad.

The New York Sun

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