Monday, Nov 28, 2022
×
Outlook.com
×

Can Europe Provide Balance?

European leaders, frustrated and angry as they are with Israeli intransigence, must find a way to the middle path. They must break the narrative produced in Washington and Tel Aviv. They must show that peace can't germinate from bombs and that it can

ROME

Israel started out with a surplus of world tolerance and even sympathy when it retaliated against Hizbollah’s kidnapping of two of its soldiers. Even the Lebanese were angry with Hizbollah for inviting the wrath of Israel on their country just recovering from the last war. They were angry with Iran and Syria for funnelling arms to the Hibollah militias and using their country as a bloody playground for wider Middle East politics. Israel could have punished the militant strongholds severely and walked away. 

But Israel didn’t. After nearly a month of relentless bombardment of Lebanon, more than 1,000 civilian deaths and the destruction of nearly all bridges and roads, Israel still hasn’t stopped. World leaders are appalled and anxious but unable to put any real pressure on Israel because it has the backing of the United States. Washington gave its tacit approval for continued attacks when it called for a sustainable cease-fire and lasting peace, giving Israel free play to bomb and shred Hizbollah militias.

Except Israel can’t bomb the Arabs into submission or acceptance. It need look no further than Iraq where its mentor, the United States, is engaged in a fruitless war. The belief that military muscle is the answer to Islamism lies shattered in the rubble of Baghdad. With every rocket that comes into Lebanon, a new Hamas and a new Hizbollah sprouts ensuring the future will be as dark and full of hatred as the present. The tragedy is that the US-Israel-UK axis is threatening to engulf larger and larger parts of the world in the whirlpool of turmoil. Washington seems to make its Middle East policy with blinkers and earplugs on, reading nothing, assessing nothing and ignoring all opinion from the region or elsewhere. Any criticism is deemed a "rant" and any advice rejected as unnecessary.

But there is too much at stake for the rest of the world to stand by. The poisonous fruit of this campaign will reverberate in Asia and Europe where large numbers of Muslims are watching the smoking buildings and dead children on television. It is the stuff on which jihadis feed voraciously. It is the steady diet of disappointment and humiliation that wins Hamas elections and breeds sympathy for extremist leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. European leaders, frustrated and angry as they are with Israeli intransigence, must find a way to the middle path. They must break the narrative produced in Washington and Tel Aviv. They must show that peace can’t germinate from bombs and that it can’t be one-sided.

In the end, it really is about winning the war of ideas. No amount of academic writing about how terrorists are mindless people who enjoy killing innocent people and therefore deserve nothing from the civilised world is a whole lot of delusional justification for using military muscle. To deny the history of disenchantment that large numbers of Arabs and Muslims in other countries feel about the Palestinian cause is to deny reality. By promoting regressive Arab regimes and squeezing the Palestinian leadership over decades, the world saw the slow death of moderate politics in the occupied territories. The trend is towards more radical discourse on the street. The theatre of war in Iraq has only helped to demonise the west further for the average person.

A member of the Lebanese delegation who recently came to Rome for the conference of foreign ministers aimed at crafting a call for a ceasefire -- an exercise where the US position caused an hour-long debate on the word "immediate" -- said there was no sympathy in Lebanon for either Syria or Iran. Both countries have used Lebanon mercilessly for their own ends. But at the same time, Israel’s military campaign was so disproportionate and causing so much misery for the average person, the sympathy on the street was returning to Hizbollah. Hizbollah propagandists were busy celebrating the favourable death ratio -- one Israeli to four Lebanese. The Lebanese official asked just how Israel planned to decapitate Hizbollah when its fighters and sympathisers were mingled in the general population?

It is time for a radically new approach to the horrible Middle East puzzle. Israel must be allowed to exist within secure borders without a constant threat from its unfriendly neighbours. But those unfriendly neighbours must be engaged as well. Iran and Syria must be engaged even though it may appear their bad deeds are reaping rewards. Otherwise the world will watch while Hizbollah is brought down to its knees, perhaps temporarily, Lebanon is flattened and anger grows, spilling over in the trains and market places of other countries.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement