Sunday, July 16, 2006

Deepening Crisis

It is not very long ago when the world celebrated Lebanon’s new freedom, after the Syrian occupation ended and the Israeli troops withdrew from the south. Before that the country had witnessed a long and bloody civil war which left much of Beirut, the capital, in ruins. All this was happening in a small country which in my youth was known as the Switzerland of the Middle East, a place where people of different religions and cultures could coexist peacefully. Unfortunately, the joy of peace proved once again to be short-lived.

As if the world wasn’t in enough of a mess already, escalating violence in areas surrounding Israel is getting out of hand. It is not hard to understand that citizens of that country have a hard time trusting their longtime enemies Hezbollah and Hamas, but, in my humble opinion, to start a war because of kidnapping of a few soldiers doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, at least without trying to give diplomacy a chance. The resulting blood bath on both sides is simply terrible. Of course it is nothing compared to the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan, but here we are talking about a much more civilized part of the Middle East. Distances are so short that a rocket flying a few miles can cause great damage inside the other country. For the Israeli air force to bomb Beirut is as simple as if New York attacked Philadelphia. Does making the Beirut airport unusable prevent further attacks by Hezbollah? Of course not: the only ones suffering are ordinary civilians. I’m by no means taking a side against Israel; the official goal of both terrorist organizations is the destruction of the Jewish state, a sick principle indeed. But there has been a lot of international pressure from all major powers to change all that; however, after recent events in Lebanon and Gaza it is harder than ever to convince the Palestinians that Israel wants peaceful coexistence. Of course, returning the soldiers unharmed would have resolved the crisis, but militants are not known for common sense and good will, no matter what side they are on.

It is interesting to note that the Palestinian neighbor countries, namely Egypt and Jordan, don’t want to open their borders to let the suffering people in, even temporarily. Muslim brotherhood goes only so far, it seems. The West Bank was a part of Jordan for a while but the kingdom was more than happy to give it up. The pro-Western Hashemite rulers are constantly afraid of the increasing Palestinian population. Egypt certainly could help the suffering Gaza population more, but seems unwilling to do so. Perhaps there is enough unrest within Egypt itself as terrorist strikes there are frequent. Hezbollah is rumored to be financed by Iran and this is where we can blame ourselves. By invading Iraq and causing complete chaos there, the United States removed the greatest threat and competitor to Iran and helped it to become a new superpower for the region. With price of oil rising daily Iran can well afford to stick its thumb up the noses of the Western countries. Financing a guerilla group in Lebanon is good PR for Iran in the Muslim world, at least in the radical part of it, and the cost of it for them is insignificant.

The March issue of the Atlantic Monthly has an excellent article about the situation in Palestine, titled ‘The Checkpoint.’ It makes a very valid observation: “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, soldiers—Israeli, Russian, and American—are learning that the hardest thing is not taking control of a territory but attempting to administer it once you are there.” I think our leaders have finally realized that, too.

At some point my daughter Anna was thinking of going to Israel this summer, just like many of her Hillel friends. I’m relieved that she chose to go to study in Guadalajara, Mexico, instead, having left for there just yesterday. Not that the political situation in our southern neighbor country is comforting: the recent election is still being contested and mass demonstrations have happened and no doubt will just grow in size. At least Guadalajara is a more peaceful place than Mexico City but certainly they will see their share of the unrest. For a political science major seeing democracy at work should be of great interest. She will hopefully be able to visit Israel during a more stable period. I try to be an optimist and believe that one day peace will be a reality. It won’t happen overnight, but one must not forget that both Jordan and Egypt have established diplomatic relations with Israel, something that a few decades ago would have seemed impossible.