Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

As the conflict deepens in the Lebanon, the word on many lips is 'proportionality'. Israel keeps being told that her actions are 'disproportionate'.

Proportionality is, indeed, a key moral concept in wars, but how is it to be calculated?

The question becomes more complicated in an age in which opponents often prefer terrorism to formal military engagement. The regular army fighting the irregulars can almost always be made to look like a sledgehammer taken to crack a nut. In this case, it is probably right to argue that Hezbollah does not, as a fighting machine, pose a threat to the territorial integrity of Israel. But it can and does train lethal rockets on a great many Israelis. It is impossible to imagine any democratically elected government allowing this to happen and staying in office, so Mr Olmert had to act. In a wider sense, the disproportion may lie the other way. Although Hezbollah may well have genuine local support in southern Lebanon, it is able to operate on a large scale only because of Syria and Iran. Both those countries undermine legitimate government in Lebanon, try to prevent the establishment of legitimate government in Iraq and back Hezbollah's commitment to the destruction of Israel. In the case of Iran, it has announced that it wishes to bring about that destruction by acquiring an atom bomb.

Seen in this light, the decision of Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000 looks disproportionately weak, since it allowed her enemies to creep back. You could argue that Israel is not serious enough about pursuing the true targets: why can Hezbollah leaders operate in Damascus safe from attack, for example? It may well be that Israel will have the worst of both worlds -- getting huge international condemnation for hitting civilians but actually only scotching the snake, not killing it. The lesson of history -- the Six-Day War, the attack on the Osirak reactor in Iraq -- is that Israel only really gets what she needs if she can hit so fast and so hard that the world does not have time to draw breath.

Early wire reports of the accident in Chester-le-Street, in which two people died on Sunday, said that the culprit was a bouncy castle. It soon emerged, however, that this was a slur on traditional styles of architecture: the fatal contraption had been 'a giant inflatable walk-in artwork'. The structure, which was 16 feet high and 165 feet square at the base, was called Dreamscape. It broke from its moorings and lifted 30 feet into the air. As so often with modern art, the victims involved were puzzled about what it was 'supposed to be'. One man said that he 'initially thought it was part of the experience' as the thing lifted him into the sky and wrapped itself round a CCTV post. It was only when it hit the ground that he realised 'this isn't right'. I am surprised that supporters of the orthodoxy that the 'purpose of art is to disturb' have not had the courage of their convictions and come forward to defend the deaths as necessary, even beneficial sacrifices in the cause. Sir Nicholas Serota at the Tate has forced taxpayers to produce hundreds of thousands of pounds for artefacts made of excrement. Why stop there? Why not arrange for the famous wobbly bridge taking visitors across the river to Tate Modern to collapse under their weight and plunge them into the Thames? …

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