Israel and World Opinion
Does the world support Israel’s bombing offensive in Lebanon? Or are they alienating even those inclined to support them? These dueling headlines renew that question:
Israel says Wednesday’s decision by key world powers not to call for a halt to its Lebanon offensive has given it the green light to continue.
Foreign ministers from key countries – including the US, Britain and regional powers – attended emergency talks on the crisis in Rome on Wednesday. They did not call for an immediate ceasefire, vowing instead to work with the “utmost urgency” for a sustainable truce.
“We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world… to continue the operation,” Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said. Mr Ramon – a close confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – said “everyone understands that a victory for Hezbollah is a victory for world terror”. He said that in order to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers battling Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, villages should be flattened by the Israeli air force before ground troops moved in. He added that Israel had given the civilians of southern Lebanon ample time to quit the area and therefore anyone still remaining there could be considered a Hezbollah supporter. “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah,” Mr Ramon said.
At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight. Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.
The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington. An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.
Even Al Qaeda, run by violent Sunni Muslim extremists normally hostile to all Shiites, has gotten into the act, with its deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, releasing a taped message saying that through its fighting in Iraq, his organization was also trying to liberate Palestine.
Time will tell. The second story certainly seems more plausible.