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Lessons from Lebanon Posted

After the conclusion of Israel’s “Summer Rain” campaign in Lebanon, Israelis just want to get back to normal. They emerge from the war with less belief in their leaders and less faith in their army. A majority would probably like to see a big shake up in both, but don’t have the energy to make that happen. They know the political alternatives aren’t very bright, while the army wlll take care of its own problems, at the expense of the dwindling resources of the national treasury.

The lessons that Israelis have absorbed from the campaign are that if the country needs to go to war, there should be a strong, decisive political leadership in place and an army that is better able to carry out its ambitions. Maybe more doubt will eventually seep in regarding the necessity of the “Summer Rain” campaign at all, but the overall longterm effect will probably be to strengthen the political right and increase popular sympathy for greater military spending.

No moral lessons have been learned from the war. Israelis regard morality as a frivolous luxury in the Middle East. This is a tough neighbourhood, they say. You clobber the other side to the extent that the international community will let you get away with it. If not, the enemy will clobber you even harder. Unfortunately, in a post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan, post 9-11 world, international tolerance has increased for severe attacks on the infrastructure and civilian populations of Muslim countries. In other words, western countries currently sympathize with the Israeli claim that its Middle East adversaries are a direct threat to Israel and the world. In addition, they accept Israel’s military response to this threat, since it does not depart from the norms of American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Just as the world has a doomsday clock that keeps a watch on our approach to Armageddon (the clock currently stands at seven minutes to midnight), perhaps it needs also a “moral clock” to assess the behaviour of its nations. Such a clock would provide a reality check on whether violations of the Geneva Conventions, destruction of civilian infrastructure, war crimes, pillage, colonialism, slavery and genocide are making a comeback.

Whether or not such a “moral clock” ever becomes institutionalized, it de facto exists. Israel’s and even America’s governments are influenced by its movements, despite their apparent aloofness. The effect of a higher concern for morality on the international stage is to reduce the intensity of conflicts by making many types of military activity unacceptable. The effect of a lower concern is to sanction state terrorism, to put it plainly.

Citizens of the world and shapers of policy must decide whether morality is a frivolous luxury during times of national conflict, or whether it is part and parcel of the civilization they are fighting to preserve. If the latter is true, they should make their concern something to be reckoned with by armies and governments.