Moral Equivalency in the Middle East
Jonathan Chait is outraged by the idea that there is any equivalence between the actions of Israel and their terrorist enemies:
At Tapped, Matt Yglesias writes that Hezbollah’s rocket strikes, as compared with Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, are “equally indefensible.” Equally? Hezbollah began the crisis with an act of war that included a cross-border incursion and a kidnapping. Israel retaliated by attacking the parts of Lebanon’s infrastructure that could be used to spirit the kidnapped soldiers out of the country, and followed it up by trying to destroy Hezbollah’s artillery. In so doing they made every effort to minimize civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets warning residents to leave the targetted areas. Hezbollah has been lobbing rockets in the general direction of Israeli cities with no intent other than to kill civilians.
Hezbollah is a terrorist group (and much more) while Israel is a state. But Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers–otherwise known as “combatants” in the language of warfare–certainly doesn’t merit full scale war against state actors. While Israel has indeed chosen targets of military value for its bombing, it’s ridiculous to say that destroying the infrastructure that the civilian populations of Gaza and Lebanon rely on for survival is inconsequential. As Yglesias observes,
Whatever the intent of all this is, the actual effect is going to be to kill a lot of people, make many more into refugees (some of whom will, consequently, die), wreck Lebanon’s economy, and possibly cause that country’s already rickety state to collapse.
That this devastation will almost certainly not even have the desired strategic effect makes it even worse.
Whether the actions of Israel and Hezbollah in this narrow instance* are “equally indefensible” is largely irrelevant. Israel is a civilized state, not a criminal organization. As such, it is expected to comport itself according to the norms of international law. If there’s even a debate as to whether its actions are on the same moral plane as a group of mass murderers, there’s a problem.
*There’s no doubt in my mind that Hezbollah and its ilk are on a far lower moral plane generally. While Israel is more Machiavellian and heavyhanded than I’d prefer, they are at least motivated by the security of its people. Intent matters in the larger scheme.