Forward from a Fragile Cease-Fire

Article excerpt


The future soon will tell whether the 33-day war on the Israeli-Lebanese border now grinding to a halt becomes nothing less than a mere rehearsal for an even wider and more devastating future Middle Eastern Armageddon or serves as a prologue to a restorative and sustainable peace. It is incumbent, therefore, that serious and fair-minded world leaders and their negotiators not succumb to the temptation and simplistic hope posed by President Woodrow Wilson in his 1917 Senate plea for "a peace without victory."

World leaders must not be satisfied and settle for a quick, narrow and short-lived cease-fire, but need instead press ahead to secure a restorative truce, looking toward an eventually sustainable peace. To carry out such ambitious and previously unattainable tasks, they must address some of the Middle East region's ancient and prevailing ills. These primarily include the prevailing psycho-political culture of vengeance and the pervasive resort to retaliation and retribution.

The current conflict began when armed members of Hezbollah, an organization headed by Iranian-educated Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, crossed the Lebanon-Israeli border July 12 and killed eight Israeli soldiers and seized two others as hostages. The explosive global consequences and potentials were not readily foreseen.

Israel was long threatened by the Iranian regime's fierce animosity and its declared intent to wipe out the Jewish state, and increasingly troubled by the Islamic republic's persistent pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The presence of Hezbollah, an evident Iranian client and proxy condemned as a terrorist entity by the European Parliament, less than 75 miles from the Jewish State's largest city, Tel Aviv, and less than 95 miles from its holiest city, Jerusalem, was intolerable. The latest Hezbollah surprise attack was the last straw. It demonstrated the Iranian threat and Iran's proxy on Israel's border could not be dismissed as mere political propaganda, as was done in the 1930s with regard to Adolf Hitler's ravings about a "final solution to the Jewish question."

Most European heads of state, as well as other political leaders and human-rights organizations worldwide have expressed concern about the scope of Israel's response. While admitting Israel has the right of self-defense, the foreign ministers of France and Italy termed Israel's reactions as "disproportionate" and "exaggerated." Of particular concern was the massive damage to Lebanon's economic and transportation infrastructures and the inordinate loss of civilian lives.

But to some even more troubled observers the conflict presented nothing less than a potential Third World War or start of the biblically forecast Armageddon.

Many have sought to judge the ongoing war, as well as the growing pressure for an immediate cease-fire, by standards of proportionality. But proportionality is, at best, an archaic and nonproductive formula. One certainly would not want to measure proportionality by the very same historical and punitive criteria of "revenge," "retribution" and "retaliation" that Hezbollah constantly asserted to justify its continuing violence against both Israel and the West. Since its 1982 founding, Hezbollah has declared any foreign presence in what it sees as the greater and exclusively Arab and Muslim lands to "slight" Islamic honor and beliefs. The October 1983 bombing of the U.S. barracks in Beirut, killing 240 Marines who were aiding in Lebanese peacekeeping activities, was justified by Hezbollah as mere popular vengeance against all forms of foreign military or cultural interventions.

The international law of war (the so-called Humanitarian Law) determines proportionality not by retributive emotion-ladened considerations but by the utilitarian needs of armed conflicts. Customary International Humanitarian Law draws the limits of proportionality by holding that "an attack which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is excessive. …