Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Washington fiddles, Lebanon burns

Imagine if, as a result of the Mumbai bombings, the Indian government assumed Pakistan was to blame and, without consulting any of its allies, laid waste to the international airport in Islamabad -- or worse. Or imagine Japan deciding that one more North Korean missile test over its waters or land was too many, before attacking North Korean missile bases.

Would a reasonable person expect Washington to respond to such actions with the line, "We respect the right of [insert name of country] to defend itself"? No: Americans would be expected to deplore acts of revenge and retaliation that are out of all proportion to the provocation because of the long-term instability that this feeds, if not triggering outright war.

But this is not the case with Israel and Lebanon.

Israel's bombing of the international airport in Beirut and residential areas nearby, killing at least 60 innocent people, would in any other part of the world be considered an act of war.

Israel seems to think it bombed the Hezbollah International Airport for the capture of its soldiers. In doing so, the Israelis have thumbed their noses at the safety of not only innocent Lebanese, but also the substantial community of foreigners in Beirut, as well as the safety of airlines and their passengers. Tel Aviv has also vividly nationalized what should have been a response against a specific group.

Indeed, the outrageousness of the attack is compounded by the typically muted reaction of the US and other world powers. Though US President George W. Bush has said that the Israeli attack might weaken the Lebanese government and that he would press for the offensive to stop, the primary message from Washington is simply this: "Israel has the right to defend itself," and that, ipso facto, bombing an international airport constitutes self-defense.

Witness this exchange between a member of the Washington press corps and US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack on Thursday:

Question: "You've talked a lot about the need for Syria, Iran and other countries to recognize Lebanese sovereignty under 1559 and other UN resolutions. If you're not holding the Lebanese government responsible for these actions [Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers], do you think that the Israeli actions are an affront to Lebanese sovereignty?"

McCormack: "Look, we have made very clear that we, as well as others in the region, want to see this situation resolved. We would hope that it does not escalate. All of that said, we all understand Israel's right to defend itself."

A pathetic non-response to a crucial question.

Israel has been subjected to horrific and despicable attacks by people who have lost all sense of humanity such that they would dismember the bodies of civilians of all faiths. But Israel has also perpetrated unjust treatment against Palestinians for which it is rarely held to account. Perhaps it is only ever a matter of time before this kind of situation so degrades the morality of nations -- even a region -- that the unthinkable becomes the next best option.

It is critical that a powerful mediator be firm but fair to both sides. The US, however, continues to play down Israeli excesses while effectively rebuking all Palestinians -- and now all Lebanese -- for the actions of extremist minorities.

If the US continues to rationalize acts of excessive aggression, perhaps Taiwan's military may take some comfort from the possibility that strikes against major Chinese infrastructure such as the Three Gorges Dam and residential areas can be put on the table. Actually, there is no comfort to be had whatsoever, because Taiwan has much more to lose if such atrocities become feasible.

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