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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

October 24, 2002

The Pride

A strong show of support for Israel and what it is undergoing. A look at the clash of civilizations, suggested by Oriana Fallaci's new book.
I'd spent ten days in Israel, and there had not been a (successful) suicide bombing since I arrived. In fact, there hadn't been a successful bombing since September 19. Peaceful times, you might say. Until, that is, rush hour at roughly 8 a.m. on a Thursday, when a driver stopped his bus and--with a medic who happened to be nearby--ran to help a man who'd fallen from the vehicle's back entrance and hit his head on the street. It wasn't until they loosened the man's clothes to help him breathe that they saw the belt strapped with explosives. The medic and the driver pinned the bomber to the ground and shouted for everyone to run. Finally, once the passengers and the crowd had largely dispersed, these two everyday heroes let him go ... to paradise, I suppose. (You can read about the incident in riveting--and affecting--detail in an article by TNR alum James Bennet in The New York Times, October 11.)

It's difficult to imagine a people more practically alert to danger or a people more determined to triumph over it than the Israelis. For years, U.S. editorialists and talking heads have been prophesying that Israel would be sundered by pressure from without and differences from within. Instead, the country has never been more united. And what most galls those critics who ring their hands over Israel's inner soul--but care not a fig for its defense--is that this unity is to a large extent the work of the man they hate most, Ariel Sharon. The intifada seems to have summoned in him the capacity to govern from Israel's emotional center, which means he is--like the country--fierce when necessary, accommodating when possible, sober always. When the time is right, I suspect he will surprise his enemies again by proposing a reasonable political and territorial peace.

Ehud Barak was no pushover either. But he misjudged not only the Palestinian leadership but Israel's Lebanese neighbors as well. When he withdrew Israeli troops from a narrow security zone in southern Lebanon 29 months ago, he assumed that Beirut would reassert its sovereignty. That hasn't happened. Look across Israel's northern border, as I did last week, and you see Hezbollah rather than Lebanese government flags. Abutting two Hezbollah encampments were two utterly passive platoons of Ghanaian troops attached to the mostly "avert-your-eyes" UNIFIL units--whose handling of the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli soldiers just after Barak's withdrawal is another stain on Kofi Annan's resume, a resumé already tarnished by his shameful inaction in Bosnia and Rwanda.

Is there a border anywhere like that between Lebanon and Israel? There is no no-man's-land between the two countries, no protective zone. The children of Misgav Am, Manara, Metzuba, Metullah, and Margalit--legendary kibbutzim and moshavim of the northern Galilee--now face, up close, the barbarous killers of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards besides. When I came to the border, militiamen photographed me from the other side--something they do every time a strange face appears on the Israeli side. Huge billboards with photographs advertise the savagery across the border. One showed a Hezbollah recruit carrying the decapitated head of an Israeli soldier.

But Hezbollah does not limit itself to one-on-one killing. It now possesses an estimated 10,000 rockets, many long-range--these provided not by Iran via Damascus, as in the past, but by Syria itself. In other words, they are the direct work of Dr. Bashar Assad, the "new generation" leader who was supposed to bring moderation to Syria. The rockets are capable of hitting Haifa and thus seriously damaging Israeli industry. This is the shield behind which Hezbollah, in one of its rare joint ventures with the Lebanese government, has now embarked on a scheme of diverting the waters of the Wazzani River from the reservoirs of Israel. Hezbollah wants to provoke Israel in advance of the impending U.S.-U.K. war on Iraq. For now, Sharon will likely exercise restraint. But only for now.