If Jews are the canaries in the coalmine of how a civilization, state, or country will treat religious or ethnic minorities, what is Israel — the only democratic state in the Middle East, and the only Jewish state in the world? For several years now, I have been asking the question: Will our culture and the international community allow us to fight the war we need to fight to prevail? An interim answer to that question is now playing out for Israel, our international canary in the darkest of mines.
Israel, which comprises some 10,000 square miles, compared with Arab countries that total over five million square miles — not including Iran — has shown itself to be a model of democracy and decency. Over one million Arabs live in Israel with full rights of citizenship, they vote and serve in Israel’s parliament. Syria wants Israel gone and Iran’s president openly calls for Israel’s destruction. With the exceptions of Egypt and Jordan, no Arab state officially recognizes Israel as a state. And yet, bereft of oil, Israel’s per capita gross domestic product tops 24,000 dollars (compared with the oil-rich Saudi Arabia whose per capita GDP hovers at 13,000 dollars), and it remains a thriving bastion of democratic liberalism in an ocean of oligarchies and dictatorships.
Israel has been the state sponsor of no terror, has kidnapped no innocent citizens of other countries, and has fought for its life ever since it was founded in 1948 as its neighboring states have started war after war to wipe it off the map. And yet, Israel is continually asked to cease defending itself by the United Nations, by the European Union, and by a coterie of other international organizations that have called on Israel’s neighbors to cease their terrorist activities and human rights violations almost never. It is an expectation of Israel that it act like a civilized nation. Fair enough. But the expectation of the terrorists is zero. A contemporary, international version of “boys will be boys” governs in the form of “terrorists will be terrorists.” That is all they have to live with, and up to, in the way of judgment. Meanwhile, it is illegal for Jews or Christians to become citizens of Saudi Arabia, it was Zionism the U.N. once condemned as “racist.”
While the formula for the long-sought-after goal of “peace in the Middle East,” has long been based on the trope of “land for peace,” where Israel would give up disputed land in exchange for peace or recognition, Israel has given up land time and again, and yet somehow one million Israelis are spending tonight in bomb shelters. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 there was no peace, when Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas took over the territory and used it as a base for rocket launches ever since.
When Hezbollah attacked Israel from Lebanon last month — kidnapping two Israelis, killing eight others — Israel responded by attempting to rid Lebanon of Hezbollah. It is worth remembering that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization whose international calling card was the slaughter of 241 American servicemen in 1983. This time, Israel responded to the kidnapping and murder of its citizens the same way the U.S. responded to 9/11, with one exception: While the U.S. moved to eliminate al Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan, Israel has not moved to remove the Lebanese government from power. And yet, Hezbollah is part and parcel of the Lebanese government, it has honeycombed itself throughout almost every institution and major city in Lebanon, and the government has done not one thing to prevent this.
Not only has Lebanon refused to eliminate or reign Hezbollah in over the past several years, it has instead allowed it to thrive. It has sat Hezbollah members in its parliament; it has allowed Hezbollah to operate in its capital city of Beirut, controlling entire neighborhoods. And, important and key parts of the Lebanese government — from the president to the speaker of the parliament — have openly supported both Hezbollah and Syria, one of the worst state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East. Last week, when Tim Russert asked Lebanon’s special envoy to the U.N. if Lebanon had the ability to disband Hezbollah, the ambassador answered more honestly than we all expected: “It’s not in our political agenda to disband of them militarily.”
Which brings us to today’s war and peace efforts. Israel is being asked by the community of nations, in the form of the Security Council and elsewhere, to cease its military campaign to wipe out Hezbollah. The Security Council — where Israel has never been seated — includes Qatar, which Freedom House rates as a “not free” country. Qatar, an absolute monarchy that recently voted against sanctions against Iran for enriching uranium, is distinguished by two exports: petro-dollars, of which millions support Hamas; and the al Qaeda television network, sometimes known as al-Jazeera. Israel, by the way, has a “free” rating, on par with the United States. As for other major world bodies, the European Union, to this day, will not label Hezbollah a terrorist organization. These are the moral giants calling on Israel to disengage from its fight right now.
The flag of Hezbollah contains a rifle held above the entire globe and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has recently screamed, “America, America you are the Great Satan… Those who have come at night, like bats, will hear Lebanon saying: Death to America!” Hezbollah’s purpose is not only an Islamist Lebanon but also the destruction of Israel and the United States. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameni, delivered a recent speech stating not only that Hezbollah is “the front line of defense for the Muslim nation and for all the peoples of the region,” but that “the Islamic world, and the Muslim youth in all the Islamic countries know that there is no way to confront the barbaric Zionist wolves and the aggression of the ‘Great Satan’ [i.e. America] except through martyrdom.”
For its part, al Qaeda has joined in — and expanded — their battlefield with Ayman al-Zawahiri stating: “The war with Israel does not depend on ceasefires... It is a jihad for God’s sake and will last until our religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq.” He continued, “The entire world is an open battlefield for us and since they are attacking us everywhere, we will attack everywhere.” This should be clear enough to us — but is it?
Since Hezbollah and al Qaeda are speaking and fighting in universal absolutes about their methods and goals, it has become important to think about the war we are all in, in those same terms. Hezbollah and al Qaeda have defined the battlefield, they will secret themselves and their weapons in mosques and among civilian centers, they will dress in the clothing of the holy and the clothing of the man on the street — and they will make use of suicide bombers (including teenagers). The moral and universal stakes could not be clearer: If Israel and the U.S. prevail, democracy and freedom will be strengthened, it will be saved. If Hezbollah or al Qaeda prevail, democracy and freedom — along with all the moral lights — will be blown out.
Yes, Israel’s war is our war. About this, our mutual enemies have no doubt. The same cannot be said of the international community. Now is the time for Israel to clean Hezbollah out of the Middle East, just as we are trying to clean al Qaeda out of everywhere else they have planted their soldiers. This is a long haul, and a dangerous war, but it will be longer and made more dangerous with appeasement and ceasefires being urged upon Israel and, for that matter, the United States.
Let Kofi Annan condemn Israel. Let ex-State Department officials wring their hands. Let the Security Council issue its condemnations if it must. But at the end of the diplomatic doublespeak and the denunciations of editorial writers here and abroad, let the countries on the frontlines, fighting for their existence, act like any normal country would under attack and save themselves. In so doing, they will save those who also strive to be normal, democratic, and free. For if Iran’s “frontline” succeeds, Israel and the U.S. will cease to exist on the globe below which Hezbollah’s rifle is held. And al Qaeda will cheer the outcome for its newfound ally.
Originally appeared on National Review Online