John Le Carré on Lebanon
Take a moment to answer this question, please. When you kill a hundred innocent civilians and one terrorist, have you won or lost the war on terrorism? “Ah,” you’d answer, “but this terrorist could have killed two hundred people, or a thousand people, or even more!” So I ask another question: If in killing 100 innocent people, you create five new terrorists and give them a popular base that then vows to give them aid and support, have you guaranteed an advantage to future generations or have you created an enemy you deserve?
On July 12, the Israeli Chief of Staff gratified us with a glimpse into the subtleties of military thinking in that country. The military operations in Lebanon, he says, “are going to push that country back 20 years”. Well, I was in Lebanon twenty years ago, and it wasn’t pretty. Following the statement, the general kept his word. I am writing this exactly twenty-eight days after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, such a highly fashionable military practice the Israelis use it themselves.
Over these twenty-eight days, nine hundred thirty-two Lebanese were killed and more than three thousand wounded. Nine hundred thirteen thousand people became refugees. Israeli victims were eighty-two dead and sixty-seven wounded. During the first week of combat, Hezbollah launched ninety rockets a day at Israeli. A month later, despite eight thousand seven hundred sorties by the Israeli Air Force unmet by the slightest resistance that paralyzed Beirut Airport and destroyed power stations, fuel depots, fishing fleets, one hundred forty-seven bridges and seventy-two highways, the daily Hezbollah missile launch decreased to to sixty-nine. And the two Israeli soldiers who were the official justification for the war have not been returned.
And yes, as we were warned, Israel did to Lebanon what it had done twenty years earlier. It wrecked its infrastructure and inflicted collective punishment on a fragile, multicultural and resilient democracy which was trying to reconcile its confessional differences and to live in harmony with its neighbors.
Barely a month ago, Lebanon was held out by the United States as a model for the rest of the Middle East. With a possible excess of optimism, it was thought that Hezbollah would cut its ties to Syria and Iran and transform itself into a political, and not merely a military, force. But today all of Arabia celebrates this armed militia and the reputed military superiority of Israel lies in tatters and the image of dissuasion so important to it no longer dissuades anyone. The Lebanese have become the latest victims of a global catastrophe that is the work of misguided zealots for which there is no end in sight.