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Friday, July 14, 2006 

Just keep saying it: Israel has the right to defend herself.

Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself.

Well, at least that's what George Bush added to the debate yesterday. It's also pretty much been the line of all the Israeli spokesman who've blessed us with their presence. The one on Newsnight seemed increasingly incredulous as Emily Maitlis (I think?) asked whether he thought the Israeli response had been "disproportionate". "What are we supposed to do? Sit back and let them attack us?" (I paraphrase slightly.) No, and no one was suggesting you should. On the other hand, repeatedly bombarding an airport, attacking TV stations deep inside civilian areas, pumping out propaganda or not, and blockading the whole country because an organisation in the south of Lebanon decided to show some solidarity with the people of Gaza and maybe free some of its prisoners in the bargain, is not just disproportionate, it is as the Guardian leader says, highly dangerous, destructive and illegal. As Juan Cole also points out, the emphasis on Beirut and the ever familiar collective punishment ethos of the Israeli army meant that Hizbullah managed to fire at least 70 (Wikipedia suggests 700, but that is wildly out of wack with the BBC reports) katyusha rockets into Israel, killing 2 people (The BBC now reports 4) and injuring many more, as illustrated in the previous post.

All of this could have been expected. The Palestinians in Gaza have now been suffering for almost three weeks - they are mostly without power, sewage is pouring into the sea, and rubbish is building up on the streets. Only small amounts of food are being let in by the Israelis, with no Palestinians being allowed in or out. At least 80 Palestinians have been killed in the violence since Hamas and other Palestinian military groups jointly seized the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit, killing 2 other soldiers in the process. The raid itself had been planned for seemingly a long time, but it came in response to repeated assassination attempts by the Israeli military with jets and helicopters firing missiles into the Strip, as well as the beach massacre, caused by an errant Israeli shell which killed Huda Ghalia's 7 relatives. Hamas broke its military ceasefire, which had held for nearly a year and six months, as a result.

Not that Hamas and Hizbullah are blameless in all of this, far from it. Hamas's failure to stop the pointless Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza was part of the Israeli excuse given for their return to the Strip. Hizbullah saw an opportunity with the Israeli army seemingly being occupied in Gaza for an attack which could similarly lead to the agreement which Hamas wants over their captured soldier: the freeing of prisoners from Israeli jails. They knew full well that Israel was bound to overreact as it always does, especially now as it led by Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, both of whom lack the military background which almost all other Israeli prime and defence ministers have had. As a result of Hizbullah's indefensible action, solidarity or not, the whole of Lebanon is feeling the similarly indefensible power of Israel. Israel's response, bombing the airport, launching missiles at the roads leading to Syria, defended by the Israelis as "to stop Hizbullah from moving the soldiers to Iran" have left not just the population of Lebanon with few places to hide, it is also holding the tourists and visitors to the country to ransom for the acts of Hizbullah.

As it always is with the Middle East, things are incredibly complicated. UN resolution 1559 orders the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbullah and for the militia to disband, something which it both is unwilling to do and incapable of doing. Israel holds this as part of its justification, while she herself is also in breach of numerous UN resolutions, ones that require immediate action or not. Yet the Lebanese government is the same one much praised by Mr Bush and America for its "cedar revolution" of last year, which succeeded in expelling the Syrian military, if not entirely its security officers. The Americans would not be pleased to see it overthrown as a result of the Israeli attack, which is why Condoleeza Rice called for restraint, and why Bush is now said to be "urging Israel to avoid civilian casualties." For the Israelis however, this is a perfect opportunity to lump in all their enemies in one go. Iran and Syria, while providing assistance and money to Hizbullah, do not by any means have complete control over it. The talk has been of an axis of terror - itself a reference to the infamous Axis of Evil state of the union speech by President Bush - all of which is calculated to draw the world into believing this is all part of the so-called war on terror. For their part, the US played the role they have many times before of neither full support nor full condemnation, yesterday vetoing a UN resolution condemning the violence in Gaza (the United Kingdom abstained) for being unbalanced.

Mostly though, things continue as normal: (apart from those in sight of Israeli missiles and Hizbullah rockets) European governments hand-wring without doing anything to alter the situation, and the Americans, hearing no evil, seeing no evil and speaking no evil as ever, continue to mutter to themselves: "Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel does not target civilians. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the right to defend herself. Israel has the rigsifhghds... Israel has ththehs... Israel...."

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