Me, in Lebanon, at the border with Israel, summer of 1968 (Lebanon is behind me. I'm wearing the yellow shirt.)
I can not lie, so I will state here and now that what will be posted here was on the Editorial Page of today's (Sat., July 15, 2006) New York Times. I copy it here rather than write my own thoughts because this article expresses my thoughts to a t and I don't believe I could do it any better.
With the circle of violence in the Middle East expanding alarmingly, it is important to be clear about not only who is responsible for the latest outbreak, but who stands to gain most from its continued escalation.
Both Questions have the same answer: Hamas and Hezbollah. And Israel needs to be careful that its far-reaching military responses, however legally and morally justified, do not end up advancing the political agenda that Hamas and Hezbollah hard-liners had in mind when they conceived and executed the kidnappings of Israeli soldiers that detonated the fighting.
The Palestinian Authority, which Hamas controls, and the Lebanese government, in which Hezbollah is a minority participant, inexcusably failed to prevent or halt these incidents. Iran, which arms Hezbollah, and Syria, which shelters the most violent wing of Hamas also shares some responsibility.
Israel is fully justified in treating these two incidents as unacceptable acts of aggression. But it needs to better adapt its methods to the circumstances it now faces. The point is to weaken and isolate Hamas and Hezbollah, while denying them opportunities to rally broader Arab support. To that end, Israel must focus its fire much more directly at the leaders and fighters of these two groups, and do far more to minimize the damage to civilian by-standers.
Here's why: The military chieftains of Hamas and Hezbollah fully understand that their primitively armed guerrillas and limited-range unguided missiles are no match for Israel's world-class military forces. When they engage in provocative operations, like the recent kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and shelling of Israeli towns, they do not expect to win any kind of traditional military victory.
What they more realistically hope for is that the inevitably fierce and devastating Israeli military response will hand them an opportunity to radicalize Arab politics and thereby pressure moderate Arab leaders to distance themselves from Israel and embrace the guerrilla cause. That is a tactic that secular Palestinian guerrilla groups like Fatah pioneered decades ago, and that Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah now use for similar ends.
This perverse dynamic is again coming into play after Israel's wide-ranging forays into Gaza and Lebanon. Most Arabs are not blaming Hamas and Hezbollah for provoking these Israeli raids. They are blaming Israel for carrying them out.
That is not fair. But it is the way things work in the real world, and the provocateurs of Hamas and Hezbollah and their allies in Damascus and Tehran understand how to use it to their long-term advantage. Israel's political and military leaders need to understand it too and not let themselves be drawn into the provocateurs' game.