Politics & Policy

A Strange War

Israel is at last being given an opportunity to unload on jihadists.

Sum up the declarations of Hezbollah’s leaders, Syrian diplomats, Iranian nuts, West Bank terrorists, and Arab commentators — and this latest Middle East war seems one of the strangest in a long history of strange conflicts. For example, have we ever witnessed a conflict in which one of the belligerents — Iran — that shipped thousands of rockets into Lebanon, and promises that it will soon destroy Israel, vehemently denies that its own missile technicians are on the ground in the Bekka Valley. Wouldn’t it wish to brag of such solidarity?

Or why, after boasting of the new targets that his lethal missiles will hit in Israel, does Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (“We are ready for it — war, war on every level”) now harp that Israel is hitting too deep into Lebanon? Don’t enemies expect one another to hit deep? Isn’t that what “war on every level” is all about?

Meanwhile, why do the G-8 or the United Nations even talk of putting more peacekeeping troops into southern Lebanon, when in the past such rent-a-cops and uniformed bystanders have never stopped hostilities? Does anyone remember that it was Hezbollah who blew up French and American troops who last tried to provide “stability” between the warring parties?

Why do not Iran and Syria — or for that matter other Arab states — now attack Israel to join the terrorists that they have armed? Surely the two-front attack by Hamas and Hezbollah could be helped by at least one conventional Islamic military. After promising us all year that he was going to “wipe out” Israel, is not this the moment for Mr. Ahmadinejad to strike?

And why — when Hezbollah rockets are hidden in apartment basements, then brought out of private homes to target civilians in Israel — would terrorists who exist to murder noncombatants complain that some “civilians” have been hit? Would not they prefer to lionize “martyrs” who helped to store their arms?

We can answer these absurdities by summing up the war very briefly. Iran and Syria feel the noose tightening around their necks — especially the ring of democracies in nearby Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, and perhaps Lebanon. Even the toothless U.N. finally is forced to focus on Iranian nukes and Syrian murder plots. And neither Syria can overturn the Lebanese government nor can Iran the Iraqi democracy. Instead, both are afraid that their rhetoric may soon earn some hard bombing, since their “air defenses” are hardly defenses at all.

So they tell Hamas and Hezbollah to tap their missile caches, kidnap a few soldiers, and generally try to turn the world’s attention to the collateral damage inflicted on “refugees” by a stirred-up Zionist enemy.

For their part, the terrorist killers hope to kidnap, ransom, and send off missiles, and then, when caught and hit, play the usual victim card of racism, colonialism, Zionism, and about every other -ism that they think will win a bailout from some guilt-ridden, terrorist-frightened, Jew-hating, or otherwise oil-hungry Western nation.

The only difference from the usual scripted Middle East war is that this time, privately at least, most of the West, and perhaps some in the Arab world as well, want Israel to wipe out Hezbollah, and perhaps hit Syria or Iran. The terrorists and their sponsors know this, and rage accordingly when their military impotence is revealed to a global audience — especially after no reprieve is forthcoming to save their “pride” and “honor.”

After all, for every one Israeli Hezbollah kills, they lose ten. You are not winning when “victory” is assessed in terms of a single hit on an Israeli warship. Their ace-in-the-hole strategy — emblematic of the entire pathetic Islamist way of war — is that they can disrupt the good Western life of their enemies that they are both attracted to and thus also hate. But, as Israel has shown, a Western public can be quite willing to endure shelling if it knows that such strikes will lead to a devastating counter-response.

What should the United States do? If it really cares about human life and future peace, then we should talk ad nauseam about “restraint” and “proportionality” while privately assuring Israel the leeway to smash both Hamas and Hezbollah — and humiliate Syria and Iran, who may well come off very poorly from their longed-for but bizarre war.

Only then will Israel restore some semblance of deterrence and strengthen nascent democratic movements in both Lebanon and even the West Bank. This is the truth that everyone from London to Cairo knows, but dares not speak. So for now, let us pray that the brave pilots and ground commanders of the IDF can teach these primordial tribesmen a lesson that they will not soon forget — and thus do civilization’s dirty work on the other side of the proverbial Rhine.

In this regard, it is time to stop the silly slurs that American policy in the Middle East is either in shambles or culpable for the present war. In fact, if we keep our cool, the Bush doctrine is working. Both Afghans and Iraqis each day fight and kill Islamist terrorists; neither was doing so before 9/11. Syria and Iran have never been more isolated; neither was isolated when Bill Clinton praised the “democracy” in Tehran or when an American secretary of State sat on the tarmac in Damascus for hours to pay homage to Syria’s gangsters. Israel is at last being given an opportunity to unload on jihadists; that was impossible during the Arafat fraud that grew out of the Oslo debacle. Europe is waking up to the dangers of radical Islamism; in the past, it bragged of its aid and arms sales to terrorist governments from the West Bank to Baghdad.

Some final observations on Hezbollah and Hamas. There is no longer a Soviet deterrent to bail out a failed Arab offensive. There is no longer empathy for poor Islamist “freedom fighters.” The truth is that it is an open question as to which regime — Iran or Syria — is the greater international pariah. After a recent trip to the Middle East, I noticed that the unfortunate prejudicial stares given to a passenger with an Iranian passport were surpassed only by those accorded another on his way to Damascus.

So after 9/11, the London bombings, the Madrid murders, the French riots, the Beslan atrocities, the killings in India, the Danish cartoon debacle, Theo Van Gogh, and the daily arrests of Islamic terrorists trying to blow up, behead, or shoot innocent people around the globe, the world is sick of the jihadist ilk. And for all the efforts of the BBC, Reuters, Western academics, and the horde of appeasers and apologists that usually bail these terrorist killers out when their rhetoric finally outruns their muscle, this time they can’t.

Instead, a disgusted world secretly wants these terrorists to get what they deserve. And who knows: This time they just might.

   Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.

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