Deja Vu In Lebanon

It’s like deja vu all over again.

Hezbollah is raining rockets on the heads of Israeli citizens, the Israel Defense Forces are counterattacking to try to end the threat for good and CNN is pounding Israel.

I don’t know what’s become of all those CNN reporters who were standing on rooftops watching Scuds fall on Tel Aviv, but for the last two weeks it seemed the only correspondents were in Lebanon. Harkening back to the old intifada coverage, the reports from Lebanon managed to find women and children looking hurt or panicked. Of course, the horrible mistake of shelling the refugee camp provided CNN with lots of gory images to project. It wasn’t reported until later, almost incidentally, that Hezbollah had been firing Katyushas from right near the camp.

Before the refugee camp fiasco, why didn’t we see reports from northern Israel showing the damage caused by Hezbollah rockets? Why haven’t reports been filed to give Americans a sense of Israeli life under siege, of children forced to live in bomb shelters? I saw lots of stories about Lebanese fleeing to escape the fighting, but must have missed any done on the Jews who had to leave their homes.

For years we’ve been told the Islamic fundamentalists are so popular because of the services they provide to their communities. Hezbollah is portrayed as a social welfare organization, like the United Way. If Hezbollah cared a whit for its community, would it put its bases in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, fire rockets from refugee camps and make its headquarters Beirut? Hezbollah’s only interest in its fellow Muslims is their value as shields.

The Lebanese morass seems to draw Israel like a magnet. But what choice did the government have? How long would any other government stand for having its civilians bombed? If Mexico started lobbing Katyushas into Texas, you can be sure we would not go to the UN to put a stop to it. Nor would we limit our counterattack to some limited action that wouldn’t hurt anyone. Remember the doctrine of Colin Powell? If we fight, we go in with overwhelming force. That’s what Israel did and should do.

The press, however, has invented the doctrine of proportionality. If Hezbollah rains dozens of rockets on Israeli citizens, the IDF may only attack the handful of guys manning the Katyushas. No one suggested the United States should use “proportionate” force in the Gulf War. Jews are expected to play by something like the Marquess of Queensberry rules against people who don’t play by any.

Another bizarre aspect of the news coverage is that Hezbollah is treated as though it were almost a separate entity from Lebanon. Hezbollah is not a country that is making war on Israel, it is a terrorist organization within Lebanon that could not exist without the support of the government of Lebanon and its Syrian masters.

Warren Christopher is running around the region like a diplomat with his head cut off trying to arrange a cease-fire. Chris, baby, this is a no-brainer. The fighting stops when the United States and its allies put the screws to Hafez Assad and tell him we want Hezbollah silenced now, today. We want the arms pipeline from Iran closed today. Everyone knows when Assad says the word, the Katyushas stop.

Instead, Christopher, Secretary of State of the most powerful nation on earth, is humiliated by Assad, forced to wait for a summons like a lap dog. The problem is that the State Department has been sucking up to Syria for so long, begging for Assad to make peace with Israel so we can reward him with all the goodies America has to offer, that he knows we’re not about to threaten him. The whole episode highlights a repeated criticism of the Clinton Administration; it just doesn’t understand how to wield power.

Still, what a difference an administration makes. Can you imagine the Bush-Baker boys during the last two weeks? They’d be apoplectic. The State Department would spend its daily news briefing bashing Israel, which, in turn, would feed the media frenzy.

To its credit, Clinton has stood by Israel. No one from his Administration has publicly attacked Israel, even after the refugee camp was shelled. He has been clear about whom America believes is to blame for the fighting. When you go to the voting booth next November, you might want to remember how America treated Israel during this episode. By the way, in case you’ve forgotten, this is not the first such test this Administration has passed.

And speaking of elections, no one knows how the Lebanon misadventure will affect the Israeli elections. You can argue the Katyusha attacks, along with the terrorist atrocities inside Israel, show Peres is incapable of protecting the nation. On the other hand, the forceful response shows he’s willing to do what’s necessary to maintain security. A mere cease-fire could be a disaster for Peres, since it will look like the fighting was for nothing. This is all the more reason why the United States, which clearly favors Peres, must insure a decisive result in the negotiations.

The coverage of the Lebanon “war” has illustrated again how the media can affect the outcome of military conflicts. Until the images of dead civilians from the refugee camp were broadcast, Israel was on the offensive, with at least a possibility of finally forcing the Syrians to rein in Hezbollah. Now, Israel is on the defensive, globally condemned for defending itself and, I fear, being forced to accept a settlement that will not guarantee security for its northern border.