Magazine article The Spectator

Israel's Right to Retaliate

Magazine article The Spectator

Israel's Right to Retaliate

Article excerpt

No country can be expected to sit idly by while its citizens are slaughtered by suicidal fanatics, as those of Israel are. Moreover, virtually by definition, the fanatics themselves cannot be deterred, since they court death rather than fear it. It follows that only the sponsors of the fanatics can be deterred, for they are usually rather more attached to their own lives than the people they send into so-called battle. Martyrdom is for others, not for them.

The European condemnation of Israel for its air raid on Syria in response to the latest suicide-bomb attack in Haifa is therefore unreasonable, unrealistic and offensive in its tone of moral superiority, which is so easy to assume from a safe distance. Israel, like other states, has the right of retaliation, provided it chooses the right targets. Israel's intelligence about the region is generally a great deal better and more accurate than that of most Western states, because, among other reasons, good intelligence is a matter of life and death for it, and it is concentrated on one subject alone. Nothing concentrates the mind like a threat to survival.

Syria can hardly play the role of the injured innocent. It has supported groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad for many years, indeed decades. It proves its innocence of the attacks on American soldiers in Iraq by stating that the people of Iraq are quite capable themselves of resisting foreign occupation, and do not need Syrian assistance. Its protestations of a change of heart with regard to terrorism and promises of good behaviour are not to be taken at face value. Not only does Syria have a long history of deception, but the collapse of its former sponsor and patron, the Soviet Union, from which it obtained most of its arms, has left it militarily weak and vulnerable vis-a-vis Israel: and deception and double-dealing are the natural responses of the weak but belligerent.

Of course, Israel's own dealings are not without reproach. It is distinctly two-faced about the settlements, on the one hand accepting that they will have to be given up in return for peace, and on the other allowing them to continue to be built. This will have to change. But there is an intrinsic asymmetry between Israel and the Arab states that confront it, and therefore a great moral difference: while Israel is fighting for its very survival, the Arab states are not. At most, regimes of little legitimacy, such as Syria's, are manoeuvring to obtain prestige in the eyes of their own citizens and of the world at large by enmity towards Israel.

Nor can the Syrian government plead impotence with regard to the terrorist organisations. …

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