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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Israel and Lebanon

This is a very good article about Israel's recent actions in Lebanon and how to approach them.

9 Comments:

  • Ah, good old Prof Geras. His blogger profiles are quite fun.

    The weakness in his argument revolves around the assertion that Israel has a just cause for war. To quote the venerable Prof: "This I don't argue for, I merely assert."

    He provides an outline of Israel's just cause:

    "It has been said by many others before me in the last two weeks: no other country on the planet would be thought to be obliged to endure missile attacks on its population from a neighbouring country, especially as coming from a movement dedicated to its destruction, and materially supported by a regional power with the same repeatedly declared intent."

    Counter example: Britain faced attacks from both the PIRA and IRA organised in the Republic of Ireland, attacks directed at military and civilian targets. These attacks were carried out even when Britain faced military defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany.

    Therefore Israel's position is not historically unique in this regard. At least one other nation has faced a similar threat and avoided war.

    Prof Geras then abandons logic in favour of as hominem attacks and sniping at the Guardian reading Hampstead set.

    In addition there are other aspects of jus ad bellum that Prof Geras disregards (although it depends to what Just War theorist you're following). These criteria can include:

    1. Probability of Success: War should not be used when the cause is futile or disproportionate measures are used.

    Given that Hezbollah has sworn not to release the Israeli POWs unless part of a prisoner exchange, it seems unlikely the IDFs actions will be successful.

    2. Last Resort: Pretty obvious. Has the diplomatic option been exhausted?

    I'd say Israel could have done a lot more on the diplomatic front. Hostilities began almost as soon as the soldiers were kidnapped. This despite the fact diplomatic solutions to the POW issue have been successful in the past.

    Anyway that was based on the position of the US Catholic Church, but fair enough, after all St. Augustine invented the theory in the first place. Most versions follow a similar set of rules. Some include proportionality as a criteria for jus ad bellum, which would further complicate the argument by Prof Geras.

    In short I'm giving Prof Geras a 2:2. I think he needs to provide a more solid case for Israel's Just Cause. Although the whole jus ad bellum/jus in bello is worth raising.

    It's like being back in Religious Studies again.

    By Anonymous Gorky, at 6:31 pm  

  • I hate blooger comments. I can't hide my stupid typos. See above: "as hominem" should read "ad hominem". Also: "Depend to what Just War theorist". Should read "Depends on..."

    By Anonymous Gorky, at 6:35 pm  

  • First of all, Prof. Geras doesn't attempt to say that Israel is the only country in history to be in this position. He merely states that 'no other country on the planet would...' - this can be easily taken to mean that in the current situation of world politics.

    Second, your point about Hezbollah saying they won't give the prisoners back is slightly odd. Hezbollah are a terrorist group, it's not like you negotiate with them on normal terms. We didn't stop fighting Hitler because he refused to back down, did we? And a good thing too. I *think* Israel might be attempting to destroy Hezbollah so much that they can't negotiate...

    Second, on the diplomatic front, would any other world leader, if their nation was bombed by terrorists who wanted to destroy their state, say 'hang on a minute guys, let's not go crazy and counter-attack, let's just sit down for a cup of tea and a hobnob with these people and see if we can sort things out over a chat'? I don't think so.

    Also, let's not forget that Norm isn't excusing what Israel is doing and alludes several times to Israel employing unjust means.

    By Blogger Bec, at 6:53 pm  

  • "First of all, Prof. Geras doesn't attempt to say that Israel is the only country in history to be in this position. He merely states that 'no other country on the planet would...' - this can be easily taken to mean that in the current situation of world politics."

    If you insist on a current example. I submit Venezuela, which has suffered military intrusions by right-wing paramilitairies linked to Colombia. The result was not a bombing of Bogota.

    However his point was that an exception was made for Israel above other nations. As the Ireland example shows Israel is not a special case. I doubt an attack by the Real IRA or similar organisation would provoke an RAF strike on Dublin if it happened tomorrow.

    "Second, your point about Hezbollah saying they won't give the prisoners back is slightly odd. Hezbollah are a terrorist group, it's not like you negotiate with them on normal terms."

    Taking a look at the history of the region you find that Israel has negotiated with Hezbollah in the past to secure an exchange of prisoners.

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/prisonerswap012904.html

    In this case the exchange was for bodies of IDF soldiers. They also got a kidnapped businessman back at one point. Israel has also negotiated with the PFLP, amongst other groups.

    My point was that Hezbollah have said they will not release the soldiers if the attacks continue. One of the suggested criteria for a just war is that it stands a chance of achieving its objectives. If the objective is releasing the IDF POWs then this war stands a low chance of success.

    "I *think* Israel might be attempting to destroy Hezbollah so much that they can't negotiate..."

    The stated objective of the war is rather hazy and has changed from day to day. Not so useful for a neat Just War analysis. It would be fair to say that the initial objective was freeing the IDF soldiers and that this might have shifted to eliminating Hezbollah.

    If that's the case we return to the just cause criteria of probability of success. I would say that the IDF stands a low chance of successfully eliminating Hezbollah. They were previously forced out of Leanon by the group and have failed to beat them since the organisation was founded in 1982. Furthermore history shows that guerilla armies are the hardest to defeat militarily (e.g. Algeria, Vietnam, Angola).

    This makes the war a senseless waste of life and damages Prof Geras' that claim that Israel has just cause to wage war.

    "We didn't stop fighting Hitler because he refused to back down, did we? "

    This is a red herring. We are discussing if Prof Geras' criteria for declaring war amounts to a just cause. Your example refers to a war in progress, a war where the conditions for just cause were demonstrably met and never seriously in question.

    "Second, on the diplomatic front, would any other world leader, if their nation was bombed by terrorists who wanted to destroy their state, say 'hang on a minute guys, let's not go crazy and counter-attack, let's just sit down for a cup of tea and a hobnob with these people and see if we can sort things out over a chat'? I don't think so."

    The problem is we're talking philosophy here. We're trying to work out the morally correct course of action and if Israel/Hezbollah are living up to those moral expectations. The parameters were set by Prof Geras, his discussion is philosophical in nature.

    Certainly there are politicians all over the world prepared to take a variety of actions when threatened, often extreme actions.
    However, this doesn't make these actions correct. Prof Geras contests that Israel's cause for war is obviously just. I contend that one of the criteria for a just war is that diplomatic options are exhausted before military action takes place. Israel failed in this regard.

    Israel didn't attempt to talk to the Lebanese government, the UN or any third paty mediator before responding.

    This casts doubt an the proposition that the Israelis have just cause.

    Of course philosophy seeks to operate in an ordered and logical world. Prof Geras's argument is logically constructed, apart from the parts which degenerate in to name calling.

    You're right to point out that in the real world plenty of politicians don't give a stuff about ethics or diplomacy and if their country is hit they hit back harder and sod the ethics.

    Poor old Karl Marx got frustrated with all those dreaming philosophers and lambasted them for their abstractions: "The philosophers have only interepreted the world, the point is to change it." Being an ex-Marxist Prof Geras should probably know that quote, but he's
    decided to dream about ethics a bit.

    Fair play to him.

    By Anonymous Gorky, at 8:13 pm  

  • Firstly, it annoys me how people frequently use the terrorism in Ireland in comparison with the terrorism in the middle-east. I honestly believe that the terrorism against Israel is pretty much unique in the sense that Israel is simply fighting for its right to exist. I think if you look at the situation like this then you go a long way towards justifying the principle of Israel's recent actions. However, the main aim of this post is to refute the comparison of IRA and Hezbollah.

    It is clearly evident from looking at the aims and objectives of Hezbollah and of the IRA that these cases of terrorism are quite different.

    Hezbollah does not recognise the state of Israel. This is a fundamental part of the underlying philosophy of Hezbollah and it is certainly fighting with the the elimination of the state of Israel firmly set in its mind. However, if you consider the IRA, I think it would be wrong to say that the IRA intends the complete destruction of the UK. Indeed, the IRA was seriously threatening the UK in the sense that they wanted NI to be removed from the Union, but they certainly did not reject the rights of *all* British people to have their own state. Perhaps if the IRA were fighting for this cause, then the British government may have thought that a tougher stance was necessary and justified. Or perhaps if NI was a state on its own and not part of the Union, then its government would have acted in a similar way to the Israeli government has. Nevertheless, this is not really getting to the crux of the difference between these two terrorist groups.

    The IRA situation seriously differs from that of the middle-east in the sense that NI citizens were actually, to some degree split over the IRA fundamental belief and objective (a united Ireland). It was not the case of simply terrorists from one nation hell-bent on the destruction of another i.e. Lebanon against Israel. It was certainly not RI v NI. The existence of NI was threatened from within. There was a genuine split amongst the citizens of the country between those that wanted their country to become part of a united Ireland and felt "Irish" and those that felt they were Northern Irish and/or British. Crucially, the people of the former kind wanted union and not elimination. Indeed, if it were true that there was no split and all NI people genuinely felt "Irish" and wanted the union of NI and RI, then perhaps the the IRA's *objective* (not its actions) could be justified.

    Imagine a world in which every single citizen of NI had wanted to remain as part of the UK or just as NI. In such a world, the existence of NI would indeed have been just as threatened by an IRA that wants a united Ireland as Israel's is by Hezbollah now because the result of a union would be tantamount to occupation or elimination. I think only in such a world could you prescribe the same treatment to both situations.

    To conclude, whilst on the surface it could seem that both cases are similar and thus should logically be dealt with the same way, they are simply not. Israel is fighting for its very existence. The UK was not. You could argue that NI was fighting for its existence, but the country itself was split so it's simply not the case of the destruction of one nation from outside.

    I think I have gone on enough about this quite small area, but I feel I have illuminated one key point: The key premise - Israel is fighting for its existence. I believe from this fundamental premise (although not exclusively from it), it is certainly possible to justify Israel's invasion of Lebanon

    By Anonymous Glassoman, at 12:21 am  

  • In my first post I noted that the IRA allied itself with Nazi Germany during WWII. The IRA aided a country that sought an end to the existence of Britain, at least as we know it. If it's existential threats you're talking, there you go.

    However, I don't think Hezbollah constitutes an existential threat to Israel. Certainly one of their long term objectives is to see an end to the state of Israel, but that is an impossible dream. Israel is more powerful than any other state or organisation in the region for the following reasons:

    1. Israel has a large military, most of the adult Israeli population can be mobilised at short notice. Israel also has the latest military technology at her disposal.

    2. Israel is the only nuclear armed power in the Middle East. Nuff said really.

    3. Israel enjoys economic and diplomatic support from the world's only superpower - the USA.

    4. Eygpt and Jordan have been pursuing a policy of rapprochement with Israel for sometime. The only actively hostile neighbour of Israel is Syria - a country sandwiched between Israel on one hand an the military of the United States in Iraq on the other.

    By contrast Hezbollah is a small guerrilla army, equipped for the most part with primitive arms. The Katushya missiles, for example, are WWII vintage. Hezbollah (or any state in the region for that matter) poses no threat to Israel's existence.

    Furthermore the latest conflict started because Hezbollah kidnapped an IDF soldier. Their stated aim was to secure a prisoner exchange. The context was a series of IDF provocations on the Lebanese border. It was not the first move of a war to end Israel's existence, unless Hezbollah is destroying Israel by kidnapping one citizen at a time.

    By Anonymous Gorky, at 5:54 pm  

  • I simply don't believe that Hezbollah is merely an "existential threat" to Israel. Indeed you are right to say that alone, at the current time, Hezbollah cannot achieve its long term objective of the destruction of Israel, but it can certainly cause serious damage trying.

    Furthermore, you are still trying to compare the IRA and Hezbollah and I still think that this is impossible. Terrorists act in ways that will most effectively achieve their aims/objectives and because IRA and Hezbollah have such fundamentally different aims, they will naturally act in different ways. I believe that for this reason, it is impossible to prescribe the same treatment for one type of terrorism that you prescribe for the other.

    Even though the IRA allied itself with the Nazis during WWII, its underlying objectives and aims remained the same - and these did not include the destruction of the UK. The IRA may have indeed thought that they could more effectively achieve their objectives by allying itself with the Nazis, but it does not therefore follow that the IRA shared the objectives that the Nazis did, or had any fundamental grievance with the self-determination of English, Welsh and Scottish people.

    Furthermore, *because* the IRA has/had no such grievance as their fundamental objective, it has been much easier to deal with in the long-term: diplomatic dialogue has been possible and the IRA has to some extent disarmed. Do you really think this would have been possible if the IRA had honestly wanted the destruction of the UK?

    Hezbollah on the other hand is utterly different. Its fundamental objective is the destruction of Israel and therefore it will act in the most effective way to achieve that aim. Therefore, it has indiscriminately attacked Israel to maximise civilian casualties and *because* of its underlying aims, it will not stop or disarm until Israel is destroyed.

    So many people think that if Hezbollah and Hamas are left alone then they will simply go away. This is rediculously naive. If you leave Hezbollah alone, they don't forget about their underlying objective, they merely re-arm and strengthen and are therefore able to do more damage to Israel in the long-term. It is the unfortunate trade-off that Israel is faced with; they either lay off the terrorists and watch them get stronger and entrench themselves; or they invade, destroy the terrorist infrastructure but lose the battle for hearts and minds. Unfortunately, there is no option where if you leave them alone the terrorists simply go away. It is this sort of naive view that gives so many terrorists sympathy in west. Israel left Hezbollah alone for a decade and instead of disarming, they built up infrastructure. They thoroughly entrenched themselves in the civilian infrastructure knowing that because of Israel's unwillingness to target civilians, they could get away with it. Another impossible position that Israel has found itself in.

    Although Hezbollah alone cannot destroy Israel, it can and will kill as many innocent civilians as possible. The IRA may have targetted innocent civilians, but certainly not to the same degree as Hezbollah. Most alarming of all is that Hezbollah is not really alone in the desire to destroy Israel - it is being funded by Syria and Iran who could very well be capable of destroying Israel in the future. However, regardless of that issue, I still believe that no state should be told to not act when it is faced with a terrorist organisation, harboured in a neighbouring country, that has an active and ongoing objective to destroy it.

    So to conclude my whole argument. I still believe that the IRA and Hezbollah can't be compared because their differing objectives necessitate different actions against them. I've tried to explain that because of their objectives, Hezbollah has acted in a much more severe way than the IRA and unlike the IRA, has not weakened but only strengthened - furthermore, diplomatic dialogue is not possible with a group that has such a racist aim. The differences between these two terrorist groups inevitably mean that they should be dealt with differently - in the case of Hezbollah, I think an incursion was necessary to weaken the terrorist infrastructure. Perhaps at the moment Hezbollah is not strong enough to destroy Israel, but it's like a cancer - if you leave it alone, it will only worsen and grow. With the help of Iran and Syria, in the future it may well possess the strength to irreparably damage Israel and its people.

    By Anonymous Glassoman, at 12:00 am  

  • "I think I have gone on enough about this quite small area, but I feel I have illuminated one key point: The key premise - Israel is fighting for its existence. I believe from this fundamental premise..."

    This by your own admission Hezbollah is not a threat to Israel's existence:

    "Indeed you are right to say that alone, at the current time, Hezbollah cannot achieve its long term objective of the destruction of Israel..."

    That was your cornerstone argument for justifying the war (although you aluded to other arguments). You've admitted that at the moment it is isn't true.

    I'm not going to wade into the Ireland debate again because you're intent on repeating the same points again and again without moving the debate forward, well apart from a dash of Straw Man arguments. We'll just have to agree to disagree.

    One observation, a lot of your post is couched in terms of the future (or more accurately some product of your fevered imagination) regarding threats to Israel's existence.

    Well, unless you have a crystal ball that doesn't provide moral justification for what Israel is doing now. Perhaps you are a fan of the Tom Cruise film The Minority Report since you seem determined that nations and organisations can be found guilty of "future crimes".

    What I find interesting about this debate is that Lebanon's right to exist isn't up for the discussion. They've been systematically bombed by Israel for weeks, they don't have an airforce or air defences capable of challenging the IAF. That's before we think about Israel's historic role in Lebanon, inflaming the civil war, collusion in war crimes etc.

    By Anonymous Gorky, at 2:44 pm  

  • I apologise if you think I've constructed Straw Man arguments and maybe I got carried away answering points that were never part of the issue in the first place. Nevertheless, I will concentrate on what I have argued is the fundamental issue of Hezbollah's threat to Israel.

    Firstly, let me clarify my argument to help you understand my point of view on exactly how Israel is at 'threat'. I believe that when talking about the threat of slmost any terrorist org, it is possible to identify two different types of threat that they pose:

    (1) the 'terror' threat i.e. missiles, bombs, civilian casualties etc - this is almost always a real threat

    and

    (2) the 'objective' or 'intention' threat i.e. the underlying objective of the terrorists - what the terrorists are aiming for. In the case of Hezbollah, this is the destruction of Israel and I admit this may only be an unrealistic threat.

    * I also must point out that (1) is always caused by (2). The terrorist org exists because of (2) and carries out (1) because of (2).

    What you correctly point out and what I'm agreeing with is that (2) may indeed (in the case of Hezbollah) be an unachievable objective and thus not a 'real' threat to the state of Israel in itself. But crucially what I am arguing is that (1) is very much a 'real' threat to Israel. And because (1) is always brought about by (or caused by) the existence of (2), it means that Hezbollah may not be able to achieve the destruction of the state of Israel, but that they still pose a threat through the use of terror, and this is because of its endless pursuit of this objective.

    Thus your claim that "by your own admission Hezbollah is not a threat to Israel's existence." is fallacious because although I believe that Hezbollah is no 'threat' in (2) it *is* a threat in (1) and because (1) is caused by (2), the existence of the initial, unachievable objective (2) is enough to cause the threat of real terror (1) that Israel suffers.

    Thus you are right in saying that (2) is really an unachievable threat, but it doesn't follow that Israel's existence is therefore not threatened. It is really threatened by (1) which is caused by (2).

    Terrorist orgs in general rarely have a realistic chance of achieving their political objectives, but you fallaciously try to entail from this that these terrorists somehow pose no 'threat' to do so. Hezbollah need not have any chance whatsoever of achieving its long-term objective but it can still be a 'threat' to the state of Israel in the sense of (1) even if (2) is unachievable.

    What is true about any terrorist orgnisation is that you do not measure the level of threat by analysing how close the terrorists can come themselves to achieving their fundamental objective. You measure their level of threat by how much terror or (1) they cause. Indeed Hezbollah is one of the best terrorist organisations at causing (1) - it threatens by killing civilians, blowing up buildings and generally causing fear amongst the Israeli population. This threat exists no matter how far from possible the destruction of the state of Israel is.

    So to conclude, when Israel is fighting Hezbollah, it is indeed fighting for its existence. This is true regardless of whether Hezbollah have any ability to achieve this aim of theirs - it is true because that is what Hezbollah's objective is. Hezbollah fights Israel with the aim to destroy it. This, you may point out to be an unachievable and not a real threat, but crucially it is this unachievable threat that is the direct cause of the real threat. Without the unachievable threat the real 'terror' threat (1) would not exist. So even by dismissing Hezbollah's threat of the destruction of Israel as merely nominal, you would still be ignoring the real threat caused by it.

    By Anonymous Glassoman, at 6:49 pm  

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