By Isaac Herzog, minister of tourism and a member of Israel’s security cabinet (THE GUARDIAN, 25/07/06):
Some may wonder how, as a man of the left and Israel’s peace camp, I can at the same time be a member of a government now fighting a war in Lebanon. The answer is the same one that Clement Attlee or even Harold Wilson would have given: when your very existence is under threat, you have the right to defend yourself, and the responsibility to your people to defend their security. Let’s be clear: Hizbullah is a terrorist organisation. This is not a political issue, it is not an ideological issue; it is a matter of survival. That is why I and the vast majority of the Israeli population support this military response.
Israel today is facing a sustained onslaught from one of the world’s most dangerous and effective terrorist organisations. In the past few days, 1,000 rockets and 1,200 mortar rounds have been hurled across the border by Hizbullah at hospitals, schools and homes. Their intention is the killing and maiming of Israelis in general.
Israel is fighting back. Israel’s use of force is entirely proportionate to the extent of the threat that Hizbullah poses. A third of our people are in immediate danger of Hizbullah missiles and are sheltering for fear of their lives. The whole of the north of our country has in effect been shut down. International law recognises the right to respond to the extent of a threat, and Israel has therefore acted within international law.
Our goals are clear. Israel was forced to enter this conflict after an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah terrorists across the border, in which three soldiers were killed, and two kidnapped. The attack, one of many in recent years, was made possible because of an abnormal political situation in Lebanon. Since May 2000 the southern part of that country has effectively been hijacked by a terrorist organisation. Hizbullah controls the border, and administers every aspect of life for the residents of southern Lebanon. The organisation is armed, trained and kept afloat by foreign powers – Iran and Syria are at the forefront.
This terrorist organisation openly desires the destruction of Israel. Its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, is an anti-semite, and is one of the most cynical leaders in the region. He uses Lebanon as a launch pad to pursue his own agenda with a wilful disregard of the hardship and pain he has brought on his fellow countrymen and women in Lebanon.
This situation is unacceptable. It will not continue. Israel’s goal, first and foremost, is to ensure that, when our operations end, Hizbullah no longer controls the border with Israel, and may not reignite fighting at its whim. This is why a simple ceasefire, as attractive as it sounds, is not enough. It would allow Hizbullah, as it has done for six years, to rest, regroup, replenish supplies, and then start the fighting all over again.
The goal of ending Hizbullah’s capacity for aggression can be achieved in a number of ways. From our point of view, the obvious solution would be the deployment by the Lebanese army of its forces throughout the entirety of Lebanese territory. This is in accordance with the norms of life in sovereign countries. It is also required by Lebanon’s obligations according to UN resolution 1559. We are told, however, that the Lebanese army is weak and small, and contains within its own ranks a considerable number of Hizbullah sympathisers.
So be it. Clearly, it is imperative that the international community endeavours to help the Lebanese government to reach a situation where it is able to effectively police its territory, and prevent it from being seized by armed organisations in the pay of foreign states.
The international community has already proved that with solid, unified support it helped Lebanon rid itself of Syrian occupation. The same international will must now be garnered to rid Lebanon of Hizbullah. For the interim period, however, Israel could accept the deployment of a sizeable, effective international force along the border.
Hopefully, the Israeli action of recent days has disabused Hizbullah and its backers of the notion that Israel is a “paper tiger”, lacking the will to act in its citizens’ defence. If this lesson has not been absorbed, and the aggression recommences, Israel will be prepared, if necessary, to mobilise once again.
It is to be hoped that arrangements of this type, along with the immediate return of the kidnapped soldiers, will now be enforced upon Hizbullah. The lives and dignity of the people of both Lebanon and northern Israel have for too long been forfeit to the whims of a terror group in the pay of a neighbouring dictatorship. It is time for this situation to end. Hizbullah’s immoral and illegal behaviour must end so a new era may dawn on the region.