Middle East Crisis Consequences
Ali Asghar Kazemi*
July 24, 2006
Israel’s excessive use of force in the current hostilities in Lebanon is a horrendous mistake both from a strategic as well as political perspective. Whoever in the political decision making system in Israel or by the same token in the United States had this poor judgment in mind that Hezbollah movement can be crashed by disproportionate use of force and wiped out from the political map of Lebanon, is in dire fault. Since, Hezbollah is before anything a concept rather than a militia group.
Without endorsing their extremist principles and tactics, and disregard of the initial context in which they were born, people connected to this movement are religious zealous who, through radical readings of religious precepts associated with Islam, have peculiar conception of life, death, world, society etc. Their world views are quite different from those of Western modern rational thinking, and their aspirations are not necessarily on the same line. That is why they don’t mind for example to detonate them-selves and go straight to paradise for the sake of their beliefs.
Israelis have been very much surprised with the resistance of Hezbollah after days of uninterrupted bombardment from air, sea and land. Whereas the war of 1967 lasted only 6 days during which Israel crashed the combined forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, there is no sign that after two weeks Hezbollah would be on the verge of defeat. This should mean that the situation has drastically changed since then and Israel is now facing a threat and challenge that can not be easily encountered through mere use of hard power. To this changing dimension we should add the dreadful way in which Israel reacted to the initial incident which raised the rage of the international community.
From Israel’s perspective perhaps, the expectation was that since every where in the world people are getting killed without mercy on the simple pretext and labeling of terrorism, world public opinion would not react to this unprecedented devastation. But, as we have witnessed, people in the West were among the first to protest against this terrible tragedy.
From an international law point of view, the whole circumstances that led to the escalation of the conflict can not be explained with simple notions of reprisal or retorsion and even “self-defense” in their ordinary classical terms. Since, one party to the conflict was not a nation-state but an armed entity presumably outside the effective authority of Lebanese government. But, Israeli forces have acted as if Lebanon was intentionally behind the incident. Even if we presume that was the case, the disproportionate military operations were quite outside the premises of international humanitarian law.
There is a consensus in international law that the right of self-defense under the U.N. Charter is subject to the minimum conditions developed in customary law. The necessity for self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” None of these criteria existed when Israel started to attack south Lebanon in the first day of crisis.
Furthermore, the 1949 Geneva Conventions stipulate a minimum human treatment to non-combatants and undefended cities and public places. As regard the Palestinians, we should refer to 1977 additional protocols to those Conventions which grant non-combatants certain fundamental guarantees, prohibiting inter alia collective punishment, intimidation, unnecessary injuries to civilian population, and destruction of power stations, dams etc.
This brief commentary was not intended to be a legal analysis of the breaches of humanitarian law during the current Middle East crisis, but just a caution to those engaged in this unfortunate conflict. Israeli politicians should realize that their harsh military retort to Hamas and Hezbollah for their act of nuisance, i.e. hostage takings for whatever reason or cause, will not put them in a better position in future. Since, it appears that now they have lost even the sympathy of moderate Moslems who believed in the Israeli rights to live in peace and quiet. Same is true with the Palestinians and the population of south Lebanon.
Hezbollah and Hamas and other extremist groups may be defeated militarily, disregard whose hands are behind them and for what purposes, but as long as the unjust conditions that led to their creation continue to prevail, the concept will probably survive in the future. Therefore, the United States and other powers who claim to struggle terrorism for the good of free and democratic societies should recognize this simple fact. They have to devise ways and means to change environment that influence the minds and souls of powerless people who are inclined to choose odd approaches to reach their objectives.
Moslems, Jews, Christians and all people of other creeds and ethnicities have the right to live without fear and fright despite their historical animosities and mutual resentment. Politicians should keep away from exploiting ethnic and religious diversities for the sake power. The world of 21st century can no longer bear this appalling burden.
* Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations at the IAU, Science & Research Branch, Tehran-Iran