Israel is a very small country with a very small population. It has no military depth. It has to follow a policy of instant and forceful retaliation against terrorists and States such as Iran and Syria using terrorism as a weapon to make its population bleed. Israel has to retaliate instantly or perish. This has to be kept in mind while judging Israel's action in taking its fight against terrorism to the Lebanese territory. Israel had no other option, but to do what it has done.
The Hezbollah, which raided Israeli territory from its sanctuaries in the Lebanon, and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006, is the surrogate of the intelligence agencies of Iran and Syria just as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) are the surrogates of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). What Israel has been facing--- not since July 12, 2006, but ever since the Islamic Revolutionaries captured power in Teheran in 1979--- is a proxy war being waged against it by the Iranian intelligence---supported by the Syrian intelligence--- by using various surrogates.
Israel has as much right to act against the intelligence agencies of Iran and Syria and their surrogates as India has to act against the ISI and its surrogates. Iran chose the present moment to use the Hezbollah against Israel to divert world attention from its military nuclear programme and to pre-empt the possibility of a strike against the Iranian nuclear establishments by the US and/or Israel----acting separately or in tandem.
Israel cannot be accused of using disproportionate force against the sanctuaries and rocket bases of the Hezbollah in the Lebanese territory. When the terrorists operate in one's own territory as the Maoists have been doing in our territory, one can use carefully calibrated force so that the force used is not more than necessary.
When the terrorists operate against you from sanctuaries in the territory of another state, it is not possible to calibrate the use of force so carefully. There could be occasions when after a specific incident, the force used may seem more than what was required by the circumstances of the incident. This cannot be called intentional use of disproportionate force.
Israel faces a particularly difficult situation in the Lebanon. The terrorists of the Hezbollah operate from the midst of the civilian population. Their rockets are fired at the populated areas of Israel from rocket launchers concealed in heavily-populated areas. In the face of this, Israel faces a cruel choice-----either leave its own civilian population unprotected due to fears of causing civilian casualties in the Lebanese territory or put these rocket-launchers out of action even at the risk of causing some civilian casualties. The primary responsibility of any State is to protect its own population. One cannot blame the State of Israel for exercising this responsibility. No State worth its salt can and should shirk exercising this responsibility.
One has to understand the compulsions behind Israel's actions--- particularly we in India who often face similar situations in our Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), where Pakistan-sponsored jihadi terrorists open fire on our security forces from inside civilian population in order to confront our security forces with a similar cruel choice.
The Iranian intelligence has been increasingly playing a dangerous game---- it has been arming and instigating different Shia militia groups to keep the pot boiling in Iraq; it has been adding to the instability in Afghanistan by helping elements opposed to the Government of Hamid Karzai; and it has been arming and advising the Hezbollah in order to destabilise the Lebanon and make the Israelis bleed. There has been one objective behind all these actions----to keep the US and Israeli forces bleeding and preoccupied in the hope of thereby reducing the chances of a military strike against its nuclear establishments.
The Hezbollah, instigated by Iran, created the present situation. If the international community has to win the war against terrorism, it has to see that the present situation culminates not in a compromise which would further increase jihadi terrorism, but in the destruction of the military and terrorism capabilities of the Hezbollah. The Lebanon has its own army, which has to be modernised and strengthened. The Hezbollah has no business to have an army of its own in the Lebanese territory.
The end of the Hezbollah is only one part of the solution. The other is to put an end to Iran's use of terrorism as a weapon to achieve its strategic objectives.
An outcome of the traumatic experience of 9/11 was a realisation by the civilised nations of the world that terrorism and State-sponsors of terrorism pose a serious threat to international peace and security. The civilian population continues to bleed in India, Afghanistan, Israel, the Lebanon and Iraq due to the activities of three recalcitrant State-sponsors of terrorism---Pakistan, Iran and Syria--- and their surrogates. The international community should unite to deal with them effectively.
This is not the time to criticise Israel. This is the time to help Israel to get over its ordeal----once and for all. At a time when we grieve over the deaths of hundreds of our nationals at the hands of Pakistan-sponsored jihadi terrorists, let us share the grief of Israel too over the deaths of its nationals at the hands of the Hezbollah and other jihadi terrorists sponsored by Iran and Syria. If our anger against Pakistan and its surrogates is justified, so is Israel's anger against Iran, Syria and their surrogates.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.)