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Thu. February 21, 2019
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Israel: Weakness in Strength
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Lessons for the Region from the Region Pope John Paul II, according to Former Vatican Ambassador Raymond L. Flynn, said “In any conflict, it is always the powerful that must give way to the weak if justice is to be achieved.” Modern Popes may have little credibility with those who believe decisive force is often the only possible response to a threat, but he is right. Replace “justice” – a word too idealistic for the harsh, gray morality of the Middle East – with “peace” or “victory” and John Paul may have the only useful advice for a region that embraces conflict with murderous tenacity. Who is ‘powerful’ in that arena? Israel, in conventional terms: yet the terror of the street, of open and subterranean alliances, and of Global Opinion are set against it. If all parties to the Lebanon crisis – unlikely as it might be – took foreign policy cues from the Sermon on the Mount, we would have a cease-fire. But what if Israel alone embraced the advice of Jesus (in situations like these a hard nosed bit Realpolitik, as it turns out) and, when struck on the right cheek, offered the left? The cliché of violence begetting violence has never been more true than in this conflict – peace is an illusion unless this circle is broken. Since the cycle cannot be broken by more violence perhaps it is time to try less. Those people of the Middle East who truly want peace are hostage to their radical fringes, so “non-violence” can only be pursued as a unilateral strategy, ignoring deadly provocations from the enemy. Israel’s strength, though often overrated by its critics, makes it the only actor with the means to pursue such a strategy. A calculated willingness to play the role of sacrificial lamb could, over time, erase every vestige of moral legitimacy from Israel’s enemies. Historically, the Palestinians have played this card much more effectively (and even without renouncing violence), casting themselves as Davids in the eyes of the Arab world and among westerners who love a good bit of propaganda. To play the lamb without actually being sacrificed is of course the hard part. While no elected Israeli government can not respond to a military threat or terrorist attack, that response need not always be eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth. Israel, under rocket assault because the international community sold it a deal with Hezbollah it would not enforce, through its campaign of retaliation appears the destroyer of the Lebanese nation. It must be seen instead as its rescuer. How? By not just facilitating but giving charitable assistance in the most-ravaged towns; by securing international support for peacemaking not just peacekeeping, bringing public and private relief agencies into Southern Lebanon under military guard (preferably international). By refusing to play Hezbollah’s game of launching attacks from civilian quadrants and avoiding those quadrants even though ‘military necessity’ would dictate otherwise. By advertising all of this to the world with the glossiest PR offensive possible (where’s Steven Spielberg when you need him?). It may be naïve to think Israel could, even slowly, turn World opinion – at least Western opinion – more towards it, against the combination of latent left-wing anti-Semitism and higher expectations that makes Europe keep some distance (seeing Israel as obliged to uphold Western standards in its brutal corner of the globe). Yet Israel’s long strategy of ‘offensive defense’, which worked in a multipolar world, is sadly counter-productive in an age of stateless societies. Purely defensive measures, such as erecting fences and walls, have PR problems too but are a logical, though partial, solution. While Israel and its regional settlements are not contiguous territory, defensive barriers at least reduce the terrorists’ impact on the Israeli people and allow more measured responses. Continuing to move the settlements, which share some blame for impeding Israel’s ability to respond flexibly to external threats, also advances Israel’s long-term geopolitical interests. Only when Israel can respond to physical threats in ways that moderate Arabs and Muslims cannot froth over with ease, can the ground be laid for a regional accord that may last. The duty to unite moderate voices lies not with Israeli politicians, who will do the peoples’ will. It is for those who educate, shape, and form public opinion to elevate those demands to a higher moral plane. Sometimes not to respond in kind to violence is not a sign of weakness, but strength. In this case, Israel is the only actor strong enough to so respond – and that may well be Israel’s best hope. Although “hope”, like “justice”, is an awfully taxed word in that part of the world. Jens F. Laurson is Editor-in-Chief of the International Affairs Forum. George A. Pieler is Senior Fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation.

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