Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

The Terror Factory

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, July 25, 2006 --  

Israel's assault on Lebanon goes completely against American interests. Worse yet, American taxpayers are getting the bill.

Since Israeli forces began their punishing attacks on Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of two soldiers by Hezbollah, America's alliance with the small nation has held firm. While Western countries the world over have decried the "disproportionate" nature of Israel's attacks, the United States has stubbornly refused to reign in its ally. With each day that the conflict continues, America's interests suffer.

Nobody can argue against Israel's right to defend itself, but the manner in which it has counterattacked is indefensible. Since the latest conflict began, civilian casualties in Lebanon have taken center stage, with the death count surpassing 350 on Monday, according to the Lebanese Prime Minister.1 The vast majority of these deaths, by most accounts, are civilians. To some degree this is because the Israeli military accepts abysmally high rates of collateral damage. But it is also because Israel has targeted civilian infrastructure such as the Beirut Airport, sea port and bridges throughout the country.

Israel's spokesmen call these targets "strategic." But this is utter nonsense. Blowing up bridges and other pieces of civilian infrastructure do little to affect the scattered militant fighters of Hezbollah and much to harm the average Lebanese. The strategic label is but a disingenuous figleaf attempting to conceal the Israeli military's real motive: collective punishment of the people of Lebanon for failing to stop Hezbollah's harassment of Israel.

To the extent that Israel's military has intentionally targeted civilians, outraged Arabs are justified in labeling Israel's actions terrorism. And their furor is not directed at Israel alone, but at America for financing Israel's killing.

Every bomb that falls on Lebanon -- killing far more civilians than Hezbollah fighters -- has a label reading "Made in America" and is paid for by U.S. taxpayers. The Lebanese and other Arabs know this. Each year, America gives Israel $2.2 billion in military aid,2 and on Saturday, the New York Times reported that the U.S. is making a rush shipment of precision guided bombs to Israel to support the campaign in Lebanon.3 This may be page six news to most Americans, but to Arabs, it is the lead story.

As outraged and powerless Arabs see wounded children on the television news, wailing for their dead parents, their anger turns to hatred at not just for Israel, but for the Americans who paid for the weapons that killed the children.

Just as Israeli brutality in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon generated the angry backlash that created Hezbollah, the current action will also have its consequences. The American-financed attacks will serve to recruit anti-American Islamic terrorists across the Arab world. The embattled villages of south Lebanon will become a terror factory.

To be sure, a righteous war that serves American interests might be worth even this great cost. But Israel's actions in Lebanon are completely contrary to both American ideals and interests. After recently undergoing an American-backed democratic revolution that ousted its Syrian occupiers, Lebanon has recently been a shining star of the Bush administration's dream of a democratic transformation of the Middle East.

The Hezbollah militants running amok on the country's southern border were widely despised by most Lebanese. But Israeli attacks have changed this equation, swinging popular support toward the militants who dare fight what the public sees as Israeli brutality. And to the extent that U.S. backing exposes the American people to a heightened risk of terrorist attack, Israel is abusing its friendship with America.

Of course, none of this is to say that Israel has no beef with Hezbollah. The Israeli deaths -- many of them victims rockets fired by Hezbollah at northern Israeli cities -- are largely civilian as well, amounting to 40 as of Monday.4 And Israel's defenders are right to point out that Hezbollah has been at least as brutal and indiscriminate in its attacks as has the Israeli military.

But as a Western-oriented democracy that receives massive American support, Israel had better be held to a much higher standard of behavior than its terrorist enemies. A free society like Israel cannot maintain its soul while executing a war in a way that accepts outrageously high collateral damage to civilian targets in Lebanon.

The simple truth is that Israel's morally dubious and counterproductive war in Lebanon should not be America's war. By failing to oppose it, Americans risk not just their souls, but their skins as well.


1. The Daily Telegraph, Rice Ceasefire Plan 'Rejected', July 25, 2006

2. Congressional Research Service, Israeli-United States Relations, April 28, 2005

3. New York Times, U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis, July 22, 2006

4. Associated Press (As printed by the Jerusalem Post), UN Humanitarian Chief Blasts Hizbullah, July 25, 2006