Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Israel's Creative Definition of Terrorism

"We are targeting Hezbollah targets. All the targets, directly or indirectly, are related to Hezbollah attacks on our civilians." Thus spoke a confident Israeli army spokesman on Wednesday, after Israel's relentless week-long bombing of its neighbor had forced more than 100,000 people out of their homes and caused at least 235 casualties. To date, only four Hezbollah fighters have been confirmed dead. Eleven were from the very Lebanese military Israel wants to confront Hezbollah.

The so-called Hezbollah targets include medical vans, a dairy factory, Beirut International Airport and two smaller domestic ones, as well as two commercial maritime ports. Numerous buildings, long abandoned by Hezbollah sympathizers, have also been leveled. Dozens of bridges and roads have been destroyed. Facilities in Christian neighborhoods, far from Hezbollah's reach or influence, have also been targeted. But all, Israel tells us, were somehow Hezbollah, directly or indirectly.

There is something almost religious, almost mythical, about the world's belief in the quality of Israel's intelligence. They are often considered the A-Team of intelligence agencies, and the air of confidence that surrounds its officers, compounded by the reverence they receive from allied agencies, is worthy of a great Hollywood satire on the profession. Put differently, there is no questioning the veracity, let alone the utility, if Israeli intelligence. It is abjectly, uncritically swallowed and acted upon, and any straying from that methodology results, as it did with me, in accusations of insubordination and lack of maturity.

From personal experience, however, there is nothing airtight about Israeli intelligence products. In fact, their intelligence apparatus is so paranoid, and the net they cast is so wide, that their intelligence becomes virtually useless. Their reports offer loads of uncorroborated material which cannot be proved or disproved. It is a case study in guilt-by-association; entire villages, families, are deemed guilty without there being one iota of information to support that claim. Of course, this is symptomatic of a perception of the world where every act in opposition of Israeli policies is irrefutably terrorism. Anyone who has read George Jonas' excellent Vengeance, on which Steven Spielberg's movie Munich is based, will know what I mean.

Extend that view to targets that can be bombed, and soon enough a picture emerges of a Lebanon that's slowly but surely turning into an earthquake zone. Every building in Lebanon can potentially hold weapon caches or be used to fire missiles at Israel from. Every van can potentially be used by Hezbollah to move operatives from one location to another. Every dairy factory can potentially hide explosives-laden cows which Nasrallah, much like the Japanese allegedly planned with explosive bats during WWII, would one day unleash against Israel. But potential alone cannot justify bombing something, especially when the attacker knows fully well that it assuredly has civilian uses. Before a rocket is launched at a target, the assailant must know beyond suspicion that whatever it is that lies underneath the crosshairs indeed represents a military target whose destruction will bring a clear military advantage.

If Israel truly had the legendary intelligence-gathering capabilities that it claims to have and which the world believes it to have, then its targeting methods could be justified. Unfortunately, it is far from being the case, and once the dust has settled the world will discover that the great majority of buildings and facilities destroyed, along with people killed, had absolutely nothing to do with Hezbollah.

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