When I was traveling in south and east Lebanon six years ago, it was hard to think of the place as Lebanon rather than as some Ayatollah-worshipping, America-hating Iranian outpost that had taken the place hostage. Images of Ayatollah Khomeini and whatever Iranian mullah was hip at the time hung from utility posts and at Hezbollah checkpoints. One image sticks with me to this day: The picture of a turbaned mullah against a backdrop of Baalbek's famous Roman ruins, like two reflections of the same ambitions two millennia removed. My guess is, most Lebanese would take Roman legionnaires over Hezbollah's Party of Goons any day.
Hezbollah -- Arabic for "Party of God," one of those ironies of Holy Land proportions -- is a Lebanese militia and political party that amounts to the Shiites' version of the Taliban. Its power is strong but limited to the southern third of the country. The rest of Lebanon has settled for hard-won peace and prosperity after 15 years of war in exchange for leaving Hezbollah alone, and, more to the point, getting Hezbollah to leave the rest of Lebanon alone. Not the best of bargains, but every country has its Missouri Compromise.
Don't be fooled: Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon have nothing in common except opportunism and anti-Semitism. One is fundamentalist Sunni, the other fundamentalist Shiite. Hezbollah claims to have captured those Israeli soldiers in solidarity with its Hamas "brothers" in Gaza. But Hamas and Hezbollah would, on the same territory, be blowing up each others' mosques and cutting each others' throats with as much savagery as their "brothers" are doing in Iraq. The common denominator here is Allah-addled Islamism, the kind co-evil with fanaticism, not sympathy for Palestinians or Arab solidarity. A few diehard imbeciles in Lebanon may be cheering Hezbollah as a "resistance" organization. Most Lebanese aren't. They see Hezbollah for the puppet it is, doing Syria's and Iran's dirty work while regressing Lebanon's claim to being more cosmopolitan than your off-the-rack Arab autocracy.
That doesn't mean that in this case, as the old saying goes, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." No Lebanese in his right mind, if he can hear himself think over the din of Israeli bombs, is cheering the Israeli assault. Not by any stretch of a self-defense rationale does the kidnapping of two soldiers justify the killing of 30 civilians a day, the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, the blockade of the entire nation, the demolition of an economy that had finally, finally put itself back on its feet after a 15-year war, and the conditioning of a cease-fire on what a rogue militia does, and what a Lebanese government cannot control.
Israel can't at the same time claim that Iran and Syria are calling Hezbollah's shots while punishing the Lebanese and making it contingent on their impotent government to stop Hezbollah.
In a remarkable moment at the United Nations Security Council last week, Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador, quoted plenty of Hezbollah-badgering by one Lebanese official after another, then looked at the Lebanese ambassador, who sat there, stone-faced, and said: "I would like to make a personal appeal to my esteemed Lebanese colleague. Your excellence, you know deep down that if you could, you would add your own brave voice to those voices of your brave compatriots and colleagues. You know deep in your heart that if you could, you would be sitting here right next to me right now, because you know that we are doing the right thing, and that if we succeed, Lebanon will be the beneficiary."
The words sound right. The logic sounds right. The sincerity is unquestioned. But aren't these very words what Israel told its esteemed colleague in 1982, when it invaded Lebanon to rid it of the Palestinians' state-within-a-state, killing 18,000 Lebanese civilians in a matter of 12 weeks along the way and seeding the rise of Hezbollah in the PLO's wake? Aren't these very words the words the Bush administration used in its defense of the Iraq invasion, and uses still, in the name of "doing the right thing" for other people?
Spare us the opportune rationales. Spare us the false moral metrics. You don't answer savagery with savagery -- not in Iraq, not in Lebanon, not in Gaza. There is no excusing Islam's little franchises of barbarians all over the Middle East. But there's no excusing their enablers, either. And that's what Israel has been, what the Bush administration has legitimized -- not only taking the bait of those Islamic fanatics and their terror-toting vermin, not only playing into their hands and perversely reinforcing their causes by responding in spades, but laying waste to lands and lives that don't give a grape's wrath about bleeding their part so the appearance of resolve can live another day. The notion of a proportionate response is derided only because it is made to look like a lesser alternative by trigger-happy leadership. But it's been all disproportion, especially since 2001. It shows. And with our own "stay the course" fanatics still calling the shots, it's bound to get worse.
Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Email to: email@example.com.
© 2006 News-Journal Corporation